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Patriots rookie review: How have New England’s first-year players fared four games into their careers?

Related: Patriots vs Chiefs rookie review: New England starts two first-year players along the offensive line

NFL: SEP 27 Raiders at Patriots Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Even after a series of free agency departures and Coronavirus opt-outs, the New England Patriots entered the 2020 regular season with one of the most experienced rosters in football and a team well set at most starting positions. Nevertheless, the team’s rookie class still made considerable contributions over the first four games of the season. And with the Patriots now on their bye, it is time to look back at them and assess how New England’s first-year players have fared four games into their respective pro careers.

Let’s start with the team’s draft class — without seventh-round selection Dustin Woodard, who retired before the season began — and then continue by taking a look at the undrafted free agency that were also brought aboard.

2-37 S Kyle Dugger

  • Defensive snaps: 86 of 240 (35.8%)
  • Special teams snaps: 54 of 100 (54.0%)

With Patrick Chung opting out of the season and Duron Harmon getting traded to the Detroit Lions, there was a lot of potential for the team’s offseason additions to seize the second and third safety spots alongside team captain Devin McCourty. While veteran free agent Adrian Phillips carved out the number two role — essentially serving as a de facto linebacker/safety hybrid — the Patriots’ second-round draft pick also saw regular playing time.

Dugger was on the field for 86 of a possible 240 defensive snaps through four games, and was trusted with some challenging assignments over the weeks: he helped defend the Las Vegas RaidersDarren Waller and the Kansas City ChiefsTravis Kelce in back-to-back weeks. While he was not always perfect, the Lenoir-Rhyne product has adapted well to the competition he has faced. No play exemplifies this better than a tackle he made against the Chiefs, when he stopped Kelce short of the line to gain on a third down. A tremendous play by a rookie whose potential is already on full display.

2-60 LB Josh Uche

  • Defensive snaps: N/A
  • Special teams snaps: N/A

The Patriots’ second-round draft pick was also in a good spot entering the season: the team had lost plenty of talent at linebacker and no clear options to replace it, especially off the ball. However, Uche has yet to take the field after being inactive early on during the season and later getting moved to injured reserve in late September because of a foot ailment. He is expected to return to the 53-man roster, but it remains to be seen how big of an impact he will eventually have on New England’s defense.

3-87 LB Anfernee Jennings

  • Defensive snaps: 25 of 240 (10.4%)
  • Special teams snaps: N/A

The second linebacker picked by the Patriots in this year’s draft also saw some inconsistent playing time, but at least he made the game day active roster on three of four occasions. Jennings did not necessarily stand out in Weeks 1 and 2, but he did have an encouraging performance versus the Chiefs last Monday night while serving as an outside linebacker behind starters John Simon and Chase Winovich. While his off-the-ball and special teams impact was limited so far, Jennings has plenty of value as a rotational edge defender.

3-91 TE Devin Asiasi

  • Offensive snaps: 56 of 280 (20.0%)
  • Special teams snaps: N/A

With the Patriots using veteran Ryan Izzo as their number one tight end option through four games this season, playing time opportunities were limited for the team’s rookies at the position. The first tight end picked by the team in April was Devin Asiasi, who did see action in all four contests but was used rather sparingly: he played one fifth of New England’s offensive snaps and has yet to appear on the stat sheet.

That said, the team did give him different looks to work with. Asiasi lined up primarily as an in-line option, but he also was moved to the slot and the perimeter on occasion — possibly a sign of things to come.

3-101 TE Dalton Keene

  • Offensive snaps: N/A
  • Special teams snaps: N/A

As opposed to Asiasi, Dalton Keene was unable to crack the game day team even once this year. He started the season dealing with a neck injury, but even when not listed on the practice report was unable to make the active squad as a third tight end option behind Izzo and Asiasi. Keene, at this point in time, appears to be a developmental player who might have an impact further down the line but was not ready to see any meaningful action over the first quarter of the regular season.

5-159 K Justin Rohrwasser

  • Special teams snaps: N/A

New England invested a fifth-round pick in Rohrwasser but the youngster struggled in training camp before eventually being released on roster cutdown day. He did clear waivers, though, and eventually reverted to the Patriots’ practice squad. Rohrwasser has been there ever since, with veteran Nick Folk taking over place kicking duties on game days. Folk has been inconsistent, however, which makes his position on the team anything but secure.

6-182 G/OT Michael Onwenu

  • Offensive snaps: 195 of 280 (69.6%)
  • Special teams snaps: 18 of 100 (18.0%)

No member of the Patriots’ rookie class has played more snaps this season so far than Michael Onwenu. The sixth-round selection has not just seen the field for 195 of a possible 280 offensive snaps, he also was used in the kicking game for 18 more. His most notable contributions, however, came as a member of New England’s offensive line — a rotational one at first, but a starter over the last two contests.

Onwenu began his pro career in a rotation with Jermaine Eluemunor at right tackle. While Eluemunor was the starter in lieu of veteran Marcus Cannon opting out of the season, Onwenu did see some action at the position despite never having played it in college. He also was employed as a jumbo tight end on goal line and short yardage situations. His usage, however, changed in Week 3 after center David Andrews was placed on injured reserve.

With Andrews out for at least three weeks, the Patriots shuffled their offensive line by moving Onwenu back to the interior. He started Week 3 at left guard but was moved to the right side of the line against the Chiefs one week later. No matter where he lined up, however, the Michigan man looked not just like an NFL-level blocker but a starting-caliber lineman both in the running and the passing game.

6-195 OT Justin Herron

  • Offensive snaps: 92 of 280 (32.9%)
  • Special teams snaps: 6 of 100 (6.0%)

As opposed to Michael Onwenu, Justin Herron saw only spot duty over the first three weeks of his NFL career. He was, however, also eventually elevated to a starting position: before the Patriots’ Week 4 matchup with the Chiefs, starting right tackle Eluemunor suffered a migraine that kept him out of the contest. Herron was inserted into the lineup and looked good as well. All in all, the first month was an encouraging one for both of New England’s sixth-round linemen.

6-204 LB Cassh Maluia

  • Defensive snaps: N/A
  • Special teams snaps: 31 of 100 (31.0%)

After originally starting the season on the practice squad, Maluia was elevated to the active roster after defensive tackle Beau Allen was moved to injured reserve. Since then, the Wyoming product has seen increased action on special teams: Maluia was used on all four kicking game units — punt and kickoff coverage as well as return — and appears to be growing into a core special teams role for the Patriots. His defensive contributions have been nonexistent so far, but his value cannot be denied.

UDFA RB J.J. Taylor

  • Offensive snaps: 25 of 280 (8.9%)
  • Special teams snaps: 12 of 100 (12.0%)

The lone undrafted rookie to survive cutdown day this weekend, J.J. Taylor has an up-and-down season so far in terms of playing time: he saw plenty of action in Weeks 1 and 3, played only one offensive snap in Week 2, and did not see the field at all in Week 4. When inserted into the lineup, however, he has looked solid. All in all, Taylor has carried the football 16 times for 70 yards while also catching a 4-yard pass, returning one punt 11 yards and running back three kickoffs for a combined 69 yards.

UDFA CB/S Myles Bryant

  • Defensive snaps: N/A
  • Special teams snaps: N/A

Myles Bryant was promoted from the Patriots’ practice squad to the active roster in mid-September but has yet to take the field. His consistent status as a game-day inactive is no surprise, however, considering that New England has arguably the deepest secondary in all of football. Stephon Gilmore’s Coronavirus diagnosis might change his status in Week 6, but Bryant should still not be expected to make too big an impact this season.

UDFA WR Isaiah Zuber

  • Offensive snaps: 15 of 280 (5.4%)
  • Special teams snaps: N/A

The third undrafted rookie free agent to see some snaps this season, Zuber is currently on the Patriots’ practice squad. He was elevated to the game day roster in back-to-back weeks against the Raiders and Chiefs, but has one such elevation left given that he was used as a Covid-19 stand-in versus Kansas City. All in all, Zuber has played minimal snaps but he did register two carries for a combined 21 yards.

UDFA LB/TE Rashod Berry, UDFA TE Jake Burt, UDFA DT Bill Murray, UDFA LB Michael Pinckney, UDFA FB Paul Quessenberry, UDFA WR Kristian Wilkerson

The other rookie free agents that were brought aboard since the draft are currently either on the practice squad without yet having appeared in a game, or, in the case of Bill Murray, on the Patriots’ Reserve/Covid-19 list.