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Patriots vs Texans rookie review: New England’s first-year players have an up-and-down day

Related: Patriots vs Texans snap counts: Stephon Gilmore’s return does not save New England’s pass defense

New England Patriots v New York Jets Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

The New England Patriots played a disappointing game against the Houston Texans in Week 11, falling with a final score of 27-20. Along the way, the team once again saw some considerable contributions from its rookies — at least from the four who made the game day roster and actually participated in the contest — even though the end results were not always perfect.

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

OT Michael Onwenu

  • Offensive snaps: 69 of 69 (100%)
  • Special teams snaps: 4 of 27 (15%)

New England’s sixth-round rookie faced a daunting challenge in Week 11, going against three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt on a considerable number of snaps. Onwenu did hold his ground as a pass protector, and surrendered only one hurry all day, but he was a bit more inconsistent in run blocking: he helped pave the way for the Patriots’ first touchdown of the day, but also surrendered a stuffed run.

Nevertheless, he continues to play at a high level overall — and to prove why he could become a foundational piece in New England’s offense for years to come.

S Kyle Dugger

  • Defensive snaps: 46 of 61 (75%)
  • Special teams snaps: 17 of 27 (63%)

For the second week in a row, the Patriots’ highest-drafted rookie this year played a prominent role on both defense and special teams. On the defensive side of the ball, Dugger played three-fourths of snaps, and once again lined up all over the formation: the Lenoir-Rhyne product was employed mostly as a box safety/linebacker hybrid, but he also played in the slot and on the perimeter. Dugger did have some notable moments a run defender, registering one tackle for loss, but he also surrendered three catches for 47 yards on four targets.

His tremendous upside is still regularly on display, despite the expected growing pains. This is also true in the kicking game where Dugger has established himself as a four-unit player: after being used more rotationally earlier during the season, he is now part of New England’s coverage and return units on both punts and kickoffs.

LB Josh Uche

  • Defensive snaps: 22 of 61 (36%)
  • Special teams snaps: 14 of 27 (52%)

With Shilique Calhoun on injured reserve and Derek Rivers no longer on the team, the Patriots have started to use Josh Uche more as a true outside linebacker rather than an off-the-ball option. Serving as the de facto number three at the position behind Chase Winovich and John Simon, the second-round pick continued to see rotational snaps as a pass rusher against the Texans — a role he also played at Michigan. However, he did not make much of a difference.

Uche did see his most action yet in the kicking game, though: he was on the field for 14 snaps spread out over the Patriots’ two return teams and the place kick blocking unit. All in all, he is turning into a valuable role player.

LB Anfernee Jennings

  • Defensive snaps: 6 of 61 (10%)
  • Special teams snaps: 5 of 27 (19%)

While Josh Uche is used primarily on the edge, Anfernee Jennings continues to serve as a backup inside linebacker behind Ja’Whaun Bentley and Terez Hall. As such, he played just six rather inconsequential snaps against the Texans and five more on special teams. While the Alabama product was featured prominently in Weeks 6 and 7, he has been relegated to spot duty since. All signs point towards that remaining the case for the remainder of this season.

CB/S Myles Bryant

  • Inactive

With Stephon Gilmore returning after a three-game absence, Myles Bryant had to return to game day inactivity. The undrafted rookie, who was employed as a rotational cornerback during Gilmore’s recovery from a knee injury, was the odd man out in the secondary yet again. His standing on the team is therefore that of an emergency option — albeit one that apparently has enough upside to be kept on the 53-man roster over more experienced players elsewhere (as illustrated by the recent releases of Derek Rivers and Hjalte Froholdt).

RB J.J. Taylor

  • Inactive

After being inactive a healthy scratch against the Baltimore Ravens last week, Taylor was ruled out heading into the weekend because of an illness. While the undrafted free agent, who last saw the field in in Week 3, remains as a developmental emergency option at this point the fact that Rex Burkhead suffered a season-ending knee injury does change his standing on the roster: he is now the fourth option behind Damien Harris, Sony Michel and James White. Whether or not that leads to more playing time remains to be seen, though.