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Patriots vs Broncos rookie review: Anfernee Jennings has the most active game of his career

Related: Patriots vs Broncos snap counts: Chase Winovich’s limited role raises some questions

NFL: OCT 18 Broncos at Patriots Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The New England Patriots played a disappointing game against the Denver Broncos on Sunday, especially on the offensive side of the ball: the unit failed to generate momentum for most of the game and eventually ended up scoring only 12 points in the 18-12 loss. As bad as the Patriots played on the offensive side of the ball, they still saw some major contributions from their rookie class — and not just there: New England’s first-year players also contributed on defense and in the kicking game.

With that being said, let’s review their performances from this weekend.

G Michael Onwenu

  • Offensive snaps: 57 of 57 (100%)
  • Special teams snaps: 2 of 24 (8%)

Michael Onwenu has seen snaps at three positions along the Patriots’ offensive line over the first four games of the season, and against Denver he played all all of them in one game: Onwenu started the contest at right guard, later moved to right tackle after Jermaine Eluemunor was knocked out with an ankle injury, and in the second half played the left guard position as New England reshuffled its offensive line once again.

The youngster, just like the rest of the makeshift line, had an up-and-down performance. He surrendered two quarterback disruptions and also was inconsistent as a run blocker. While Onwenu played arguably his worst game since taking over a starting role in Week 3, he still had some solid moments and again showed his tremendous upside.

OT Justin Herron

  • Offensive snaps: 57 of 57 (100%)
  • Special teams snaps: 2 of 24 (8%)

Just like fellow sixth-round rookie Onwenu, Justin Herron also went wire-to-wire against the Broncos and moved from one position to another during the game: after starting out as the Patriots’ left tackle — Isaiah Wynn had moved inside to play left guard — he was moved to the right side of the line in the second half of the game. Herron also had his ups-and-downs while spending considerable time alongside backup Hjalte Froholdt, who saw his first ever NFL action.

All in all, the Patriots’ two rookie linemen faced a difficult situation given all the moving parts up front. They did about as well as can be expected under circumstances like these.

S Kyle Dugger

  • Defensive snaps: 27 of 64 (42%)
  • Special teams snaps: 18 of 24 (75%)

The Patriots’ highest draft pick again saw plenty of action on Sunday, and continues to be used as the team’s number three safety alongside Devin McCourty and Adrian Phillips. Once again, he was used primarily as a box defender in the mold of Phillips but moved around all over the formation again: Dugger played slot cornerback, free safety and even lined up on the line of scrimmage as a de facto outside linebacker for one snap. Along the way, he surrendered one catch on two targets for 27 yards.

On top of it all, he also saw extensive snaps in the kicking game as well: the Lenoir-Rhyne product played 18 snaps — fourth most on the team — while being used on both return units as well as New England’s kick coverage and field goal/extra point blocking teams.

LB Anfernee Jennings

  • Defensive snaps: 28 of 64 (25%)
  • Special teams snaps: 6 of 24 (25%)

After a slow start to his career — he played a limited role over the first three weeks of the season — Jennings saw increased action in back-to-back weeks: he was on the field for 14 defensive snaps against the Kansas City Chiefs on the other side of New England’s Week 5 bye, and doubled his output against the Broncos. The third-round pick was used primarily as an outside linebacker, but also saw action as an off-the-ball option alongside number one Ja’Whaun Bentley.

For the first time in his career, Jennings was furthermore also used on special teams: he played six snaps on New England’s place kick blocking unit.

TE Devin Asiasi

  • Offensive snaps: 24 of 57 (42%)
  • Special teams snaps: N/A

Devin Asiasi did again not show up on the stat sheet, but the Patriots’ third-round draft pick continues to see regular action as the team’s number two tight end behind Ryan Izzo. As such, he played 24 snaps — his second highest output of the season in terms of snaps, and tied for his highest in playing time percentage — and was again used in more than one spot: Asiasi played both in-line but was also moved to the slot and flexed out wide. In fact, he saw considerable more action in a receiving alignment (18 snaps) than an in-line tight end (6 snaps).

LB Rashod Berry

  • Defensive snaps: 4 of 64 (6%)
  • Special teams snaps: 8 of 24 (33%)

After being elevated from the practice squad to the Patriots’ game day roster over the weekend via the NFL’s new standard elevation addendum, Berry saw the field for 12 combined snaps — all of which coming on either defense or special teams after he was used mostly as a tight end at Ohio State. The undrafted rookie did not register any stats, but he was trusted for four snaps as an outside linebacker as well as two on punt returns and four on New England’s kick blocking unit.

LB Cassh Maluia

  • Defensive snaps: N/A
  • Special teams snaps: 12 of 24 (50%)

Sixth-round rookie Cassh Maluia continues to exclusively be used on special teams, but he appears to be trending in a positive direction despite again not showing up on the stat sheet: after playing only 19 total snaps during the first three weeks of the season, his playing time share remains above 50 percent in three straight games. At this point in his career, he is a core special teamer after again being employed on both kick coverage teams and the punt return unit.

WR Isaiah Zuber

  • Offensive snaps: 5 of 57 (9%)
  • Special teams snaps: N/A

Isaiah Zuber was elevated from the practice squad for the third straight game, and once again touched the football in limited action: after a 13-yard run against the Las Vegas Raiders in Week 3 and an 8-yarder versus the Chiefs two weeks ago, he registered his first career reception when he caught a short pass and took it a total of 16 yards. While Zuber cannot be elevated from the developmental team via the SEA — players can only be brought up twice a year that way — there appears to be a realistic chance he gets promoted to the 53-man team in case a spot opens up.

RB J.J. Taylor

  • Inactive

For the second week in a row, J.J. Taylor did not contribute to the Patriots’ offense. After making the game day roster but not playing a single snap versus the Chiefs, he was deactivated altogether against Denver. Even with Sony Michel still out — he was moved to injured reserve before later being diagnosed with the Coronavirus — the undrafted rookie is unable to carve out a consistent role in New England’s backfield, despite some promising moments earlier during the season.

TE Dalton Keene

  • Inactive

While Keene appears to be fully healthy again after dealing with a neck injury earlier during the regular season, he is, for one reason or another, still not ready to hit the field in a game setting just yet. With Ryan Izzo remaining as the number one tight end at this point in time, and with Devin Asiasi seeing regular action in the TE2 role, there is a chance that Keene continues to be inactive for the foreseeable future. There are only so many spots open on the game day roster, after all.

CB/S Myles Bryant

  • Inactive

For the fourth week in a row, Bryant was declared a healthy scratch. This is no surprise given his status as an undrafted rookie free agent, and the fact that the Patriots have arguably the deepest secondary in all of football. And with Stephon Gilmore returning from the Reserve/Covid-19 list following his positive Coronavirus test, there will likely not be a spot on the game day roster for the youngster anytime soon.