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

Related: Patriots vs Chiefs snap counts: Coverage-heavy game plan helps slow down Kansas City’s offense

New England Patriots v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

The New England Patriots’ chaotic weekend ended on Monday night, when the team took on the Kansas City Chiefs in a highly anticipated matchup between the last two Super Bowl winners. The Patriots, who had to fly to and from Missouri on the same day as the game, came up short but they did see considerable contributions by members of their 2020 rookie class.

With that being said, let’s review New England’s first-year performances from the 26-10 loss.

G Michael Onwenu

  • Offensive snaps: 75 of 75 (100%)
  • Special teams snaps: 2 of 23 (9%)

Michael Onwenu’s role continues to evolve depending on the needs of the Patriots’ offensive line. After seeing most of his time as a rotational right tackle and jumbo tight end during New England’s first two games, and coming off his first career start at left guard against the Las Vegas Raiders in Week 3, the 182nd overall selection in this year’s draft lined up at right guard — the position he played in college — against the Chiefs.

Just like he was the previous week, Onwenu was again ready for the challenge. In fact, he did not surrender a single quarterback disruption while again looking solid as a run blocker. Despite having to play next to a new center and right tackle, the 22-year-old continued to show his upside. For what it’s worth, he also was Pro Football Focus’ highest-rated member of New England’s offense for the second game in a row.

OT Justin Herron

  • Offensive snaps: 75 of 75 (100%)
  • Special teams snaps: 2 of 23 (9%)

During pregame warmups, Jermaine Eluemunor took his regular (at least this year) spot as the Patriots’ starting right tackle. However, he eventually ended up playing not a single snap due to a migraine he apparently suffered at one point shortly before the game. With Eluemunor effectively out, the Patriots turned to another sixth-round rookie to fill his spot: Justin Herron, who had played a combined 17 snaps over the first three weeks of his pro career, was inserted into the starting lineup.

While not as consistent a performer as Onwenu — Herron surrendered four quarterback pressures, including a costly sack at the end of the first half (that was only partially his fault, though) — the Wake Forest product still fared well given the circumstances. Even with two rookies manning the right side of the line, New England’s blocking was mostly solid all game long.

S Kyle Dugger

  • Defensive snaps: 16 of 56 (29%)
  • Special teams snaps: 17 of 23 (74%)

The Patriots’ highest draft pick this year continues to be a valuable role player on both defense and special teams who is seeing regular action in both phases. On defense, Dugger was once again primarily used as a rotational box safety: playing the second most snaps at the position behind veteran Adrian Phillips, the second-round pick had his positive moments.

That said, he also was responsible for a drive-extending pass interference call on a 3rd-and-10. Plays like these, however, are also learning experiences. New England’s coaching staff still seems to trust the Lenoir-Rhyne product, who also was again employed on both kickoff units and the Patriots’ punt return team. Dugger also played on the field goal/extra point blocking teams for the first time this season.

LB Anfernee Jennings

  • Defensive snaps: 14 of 56 (25%)
  • Special teams snaps: N/A

After being declared inactive in Week 3 against the Raiders, Anfernee Jennings returned to the lineup against the Chiefs. The third-round selection fared generally well in his role as a rotational outside linebacker: Jennings looked good pushing the pocket in the passing game, and also set a solid edge against the run. Like Onwenu, he finished the game as Pro Football Focus’ highest-rated Patriot on his side of the ball.

LB Cassh Maluia

  • Defensive snaps: N/A
  • Special teams snaps: 12 of 23 (52%)

Sixth-round rookie Cassh Maluia continues to exclusively be used on special teams, but he too 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 was above 50 percent in back-to-back weeks. Only seven players saw more action in the game’s third phase than the Wyoming product, who was employed on both kick coverage teams and the punt return unit.

WR Isaiah Zuber

  • Offensive snaps: 9 of 75 (12%)
  • Special teams snaps: N/A

For the second week in a row Isaiah Zuber was elevated from the practice squad. While this week’s transaction was a bit different — he essentially replaced Cam Newton’s spot on the roster under the NFL’s Covid-19 protocols and therefore still has one standard elevation available — his impact was not: Zuber played a handful of snaps on defense, and once again touched the football. After a 13-yard run against Las Vegas, he added an 8-yarder versus the Chiefs.

TE Devin Asiasi

  • Offensive snaps: 8 of 75 (11%)
  • Special teams snaps: N/A

While Ryan Izzo had some struggles as New England’s number one tight end, he still took the vast majority of tight end snaps. Third-round rookie Devin Asiasi, meanwhile, was again serving as the number two option behind him. While he again registered no statistics, his role did change a bit: for the first time in his young career, he played more snaps split out as a receiver (6) than in-line (2). Whether or not this is a sign of things to come remains to be seen, but it might be a clue as to how the Patriots view him.

RB J.J. Taylor

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

Despite being on the game day roster for the contest against the Chiefs, Taylor did not play even a single snap — one of three players to suit up but not take the field. With Damien Harris taking over as the top early-down back after his return from injured reserve, and with James White also back coming off a two-game absence, there simply were no snaps available for Taylor.

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 third 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. It remains to be seen when or if the youngster gets a chance this season, but with Stephon Gilmore on the Reserve/Covid-19 list following his positive Coronavirus test on Tuesday there might be an opening for Bryant.