The New England Patriots, who are currently in their middle of their 2019 training camp, have 89 players on their active roster at the moment. However, only 53 of them will be able to survive the cutdowns on August 31 and ultimately make the team. Over the course of the summer, we will take a look at the players fighting for those spots to find out who has the best chances of helping the Patriots defend their Super Bowl title.
Today, the series continues with one of New England’s draft picks.
Name: Byron Cowart
Position: Defensive tackle/defensive edge
Jersey number: TBD (offseason #59)
Opening day age: 23
Size: 6’3, 300 lbs.
2018 review: After transferring from Auburn to Hillsborough Community College in the fall of 2017, Byron Cowart finally found the consistent playing time he was looking for when he joined the University of Maryland ahead of last season: the senior started all twelve of the Terrapins’ games as a versatile defensive tackle/end hybrid, and finished his final college campaign as the school’s leader in quarterback sacks with 3.0.
In Maryland, the nation’s former top defensive high school recruit was at least somewhat able to shed the ‘bust’ label that followed him during his time at Auburn. He proved himself productive not just against the pass — Cowart also registered 4 quarterback hits as well as 21 additional hurries, according to Pro Football Focus, and intercepted two passes — but also versus the run as his 7.2% run-stop rate illustrates.
Not all was perfect along the way, though, as Cowart also proved himself to be a rather raw defender when it comes to applying his technique and being able to shed blockers. At the end of the day, however, his lone year at Maryland was still a successful one for Cowart. Not only did he make the All-Big Ten team as an honorable mention, his frame and natural athletic skillset showed up on a regular basis as well.
As a result of his 2018 season, Cowart decided to forgo his final year of college eligibility and enter the NFL’s pre-draft process. He was invited to the Senior Bowl and the NFL’s scouting combine. But despite showing occasional flashes of his talent, he headed into the draft as little more than a developmental late-round prospect.
2019 preview: On day three of this year’s draft, the Patriots sent the 162nd and 239th overall selections to the Minnesota Vikings to move up three spots in the fifth round and pick Cowart 159th overall. Despite the trade-up, however, the 23-year-old is far from a lock to make the team: too raw is his talent at this stage in his career, and two deep New England’s interior defensive line rotation.
With three players — Lawrence Guy, Adam Butler, Mike Pennel — locked into roster spots, only a maximum of two open ones remain. In order for Cowart to earn one of them, he will need to improve his hand usage and footwork and take advantage of his ability to play multiple techniques along the defensive line. If he can do all those things, he at least should give himself a shot as one of New England’s depth options along the interior line.
If not, however, the practice squad seems like an ideal destination as Cowart might benefit from more coaching and time. Ultimately, it would therefore not be a surprise to see him remain in New England this year — even if not on the 53-man roster.