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Patriots vs Bills rookie review: J.J. Taylor shows his potential against Buffalo

Related: Unsung heroes from the Patriots’ loss to the Bills

Buffalo Bills v New England Patriots Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

The New England Patriots’ Week 16 game against the Buffalo Bills was a major disappointment — even though the team was already eliminated from playoff contention before its 38-9 defeat. The Patriots’ rookie class was no exception, with the group having its share of ups and downs while seeing two of its most prominently featured members to down with injuries.

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, however, and instead review the first-year players’ performances against the Buffalo.

LB Anfernee Jennings

  • Defensive snaps: 37 of 72 (51%)
  • Special teams snaps: 21 of 28 (75%)

For the third time in the last few weeks, Anfernee Jennings was prominently featured on both defense and special teams. Before leaving the game because of what appeared to be an ankle injury in the fourth quarter (Jennings was listed on Wednesday’s injury report with a shoulder issue, however, for what it is worth), the third-round draft pick played a solid albeit comparatively quiet game as a move linebacker both on and off the line of scrimmage — a step in the right direction compared to his more inconsistent previous outings.

Jennings also saw regular action in the kicking game, playing on both return teams and the punt coverage unit as well as both place kicking teams on offense and defense. After a quiet start to his first NFL season, the 23-year-old is gaining some valuable experience lately.

S Kyle Dugger

  • Defensive snaps: 43 of 72 (60%)
  • Special teams snaps: 13 of 28 (46%)

The Patriots’ highest draft pick this year played his usual brand of football on Monday night. He lined up all over the defensive formation and showcased his raw athleticism on more than one occasion. While his consistency was a bit shaky at times, Dugger continues to show that he has all the tools to develop into a potential difference maker for New England for year’s to come — both on defense and possibly the kicking game as well.

OT/G Michael Onwenu

  • Offensive snaps: 50 of 50 (100%)
  • Special teams snaps: 2 of 28 (7%)

New England’s sixth-round draft pick continues to play some impressive football in his first season. Again starting at right tackle but moving to the right guard position for his final 20 snaps — starter Shaq Mason was lost to a foot injury, prompting the move — Onwenu did not allow a single quarterback disruption and also had a strong game as a run blocker. While it remains to be seen which spot along the line he ends up playing next year, we already know that he will likely be a quality starter regardless of position.

TE Devin Asiasi

  • Offensive snaps: 47 of 50 (94%)
  • Special teams snaps: N/A

While he split snaps with fellow third-round pick Dalton Keene the last two weeks, Asiasi was on the field for all but three of the Patriots’ 50 on Monday night as the team’s number one tight end. Once again, however, he did not convince. Not only was Asiasi rather inconsequential as a blocker, he also was unable to haul in either of the two passes thrown his way. So far in his career, the 23-year-old therefore has four targets and zero receptions on his résumé.

OT Justin Herron

  • Offensive snaps: 44 of 50 (88%)
  • Special teams snaps: 2 of 28 (7%)

For the second week in a row, Justin Herron started as the Patriots’ left tackle in place of the injured Isaiah Wynn (he did not go wire-to-wire, though, as veteran Jermaine Eluemunor filled in for six snaps). And for the second week in a row, Herron showed some inconsistencies as both a run blocker and a pass protector. While more experience should help him in both areas, he has been a clear downgrade from Wynn the last few games — making the line as a whole a weaker one as a result.

LB Josh Uche

  • Defensive snaps: 31 of 72 (43%)
  • Special teams snaps: 4 of 28 (14%)

Just like Anfernee Jennings, Josh Uche also was unable to finish the contest against the Bills. He suffered a leg injury in the second quarter and despite never officially being ruled out did not return to the game. Before the injury, Uche saw some prominent playing time as a move linebacker similar to the role held by Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins in 2019: he played both on the edge and off the ball, and saw action versus the pass and run.

While it is obvious that Uche is still growing into his respective roles, the team trusting him to wear more than one hat can be seen as an encouraging sign.

CB/S Myles Bryant

  • Defensive snaps: 22 of 72 (31%)
  • Special teams snaps: 3 of 28 (11%)

With Stephon Gilmore missing the rest of the season due to a partially torn quad, Myles Bryant again saw some regular action on defense: the youngster played 22 of a possible 72 snaps and for the first time all year was used prominently as a perimeter cornerback. Bryant again was quite serviceable — the fact that not a single pass was thrown his way in eight coverage snaps speaks for itself.

RB J.J. Taylor

  • Offensive snaps: 16 of 50 (32%)
  • Special teams snaps: N/A

After not seeing the field even once between Weeks 3 and 14, and having a quiet comeback last week versus the Miami Dolphins, J.J. Taylor showed his potential once more versus Buffalo. The undrafted rookie finished the game with six carries that he took for 38 yards and an average of 6.3 yards per attempt. While he won’t make people forget about the injured Rex Burkhead yet, his upside as a potential change-of-pace back cannot be denied — and Monday night’s game was another glimpse at it.

LB Cassh Maluia

  • Defensive snaps: 8 of 72 (11%)
  • Special teams snaps: 6 of 28 (21%)

Maluia was elevated from the practice squad ahead of Monday’s contest and saw some rotational action on both special teams and defense. While his kicking game contributions were limited to three snaps each on the punt and kickoff return units, he actually played the first eight defensive snaps of his career versus Buffalo: with New England’s linebacker corps suffering four injuries, the sixth-round rookie took the field in the fourth quarter in an off-the-ball capacity.

TE Dalton Keene

  • Offensive snaps: 3 of 50 (6%)
  • Special teams snaps: N/A

Dalton Keene’s disappointing rookie season continued versus Buffalo. After splitting reps with Devin Asiasi the last two weeks, the third-round selection was on the field for only three snaps against the Bills. On one of those snaps he surrendered a quarterback hurry, while the other two were of no consequence either. At this point in his career, Keene remains a developmental option more than anything.