Change is the dominant theme of the New England Patriots’ 2020 offseason: led by quarterback Tom Brady, the team’s list of free agency departures includes fellow 2019 cornerstone players such as linebackers Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins as well as center Ted Karras and special teamer Nate Ebner. Meanwhile, safety Duron Harmon was traded while kicker Stephen Gostkowski was released.
Given New England’s limited financial flexibility, however, the team was unable to replace all of its big-name departures by bringing in veteran players from the outside either through free agency or trade. Instead, the draft appeared to be the Patriots’ best avenue to fill the numerous roster holes that were created over the last two months and to add both quality depth and youth to a team that would very much benefit from both.
So, how Bill Belichick and company do? In order to answer that question, let’s go back to an article concept from earlier this week about the team’s position-to-position needs.
(Needs are assessed on a five-step scale from very high to very low)
Players under contract (2): Jarrett Stidham, Brian Hoyer
Pre-draft analysis: Even though the Patriots lost the greatest quarterback of all time in free agency, they appear to be comparatively well-equipped to move on without him. Second-year man Jarrett Stidham showed promise during his first season with the team and currently is first in line to take over for Tom Brady in 2020, with veteran Brian Hoyer offering depth behind him. That said, New England could look to the draft for another option to challenge Stidham or at least serve as developmental depth.
Draft picks: --
Post-draft analysis: This year’s draft class draft class lacked quarterbacks capable of making an immediate impact, as only Joe Burrow and Tua Tagovailoa were seen as potential Day One starters. With both men out of their range, however, the Patriots decided not to roll the dice with one of the other early-round options such as Utah State’s Jordan Love. They also did not add a developmental option in the later rounds, showing confidence in both Stidham and Hoyer heading into 2020.
Players under contract (8): Sony Michel, James White, Rex Burkhead, James Develin, Brandon Bolden, Damien Harris, Danny Vitale, Jakob Johnson
Need: Very low
Pre-draft analysis: The Patriots’ offensive backfield is one of the strongest position groups on the roster, and could play a pivotal role in 2020 and with a new passer under center. The running back spot remained unchanged in free agency, while the team added fullback Danny Vitale to the equation. Vitale could serve as insurance in case veteran James Develin is unable to return from a neck injury that forced him to end the 2019 campaign on the sidelines. All in all, New England’s offensive backfield does have a good level of depth.
Draft picks: --
Post-draft analysis: Given the depth of the Patriots’ offensive backfield, it was no surprise to see them forgo the running back position during this year’s draft. That said, third-round tight end Dalton Keene has experience serving the H-back role and could see some snaps out of the backfield as well.
Players under contract (10): Julian Edelman, N’Keal Harry, Mohamed Sanu, Matthew Slater, Jakobi Meyers, Damiere Byrd, Marqise Lee, Gunner Olszewski, Quincy Adeboyejo, Devin Ross
Pre-draft analysis: Even though their wide receiver group struggled in 2019, the Patriots did not make any big-name additions in free agency: the only moves were signing Damiere Byrd and Marqise Lee. New England will therefore likely turn to a deep draft class at the position to bolster its current wideout depth chart behind roster locks Julian Edelman and N’Keal Harry — despite already investing a first-round pick in Harry just one year ago.
Draft picks: --
Post-draft analysis: This year’s wide receiver class was seen as one of the deepest in recent memory, but the Patriots did not dip into the talent pool. New England appeared to have come close on Day One, but the Minnesota Vikings’ decision to snag Justin Jefferson with the 22nd overall pick prompted Bill Belichick and company to instead trade out of slot No. 23 in order to gain ammunition and flexibility in the early/middle-round area of the draft. Even at that point, however, the team decided not to add to its current group of players.
Players under contract (2): Matt LaCosse, Ryan Izzo
Need: Very high
Pre-draft analysis: No position on the current roster is as devoid of quality depth than the tight end spot — one the Patriots did not address in free agency. It therefore seems likely that the team will invest in at least on tight end during the draft. Whatever New England will do, the team will likely not head into 2020 with Matt LaCosse and Ryan Izzo as the only tight ends under contract and risk bringing itself in a similar situation as last year’s.
Draft targets: Devin Asiasi (3-91), Dalton Keene (3-101)
Post-draft analysis: From a pure depth perspective, tight end was arguably the Patriots’ most pressing need heading into the draft. While the class was not seen as a particularly strong one, New England still came away with two players in the early rounds: UCLA’s Devin Asiasi and Virginia Tech’s Dalton Keene were chosen within 10 picks of each other in the third round, bringing some quality depth and developmental upside to the room. Furthermore, they will challenge the standing of both Matt LaCosse and Ryan Izzo on the team.
Players under contract (4): Isaiah Wynn, Marcus Cannon, Yodny Cajuste, Korey Cunningham
Pre-draft analysis: The team’s offensive tackle depth chart is in solid shape. Isaiah Wynn and Marcus Cannon are locked in as the starters at left and right tackle, respectively, with 2019 third-round draft pick Yodny Cajuste the front-runner to take over the swing/backup role after a year-long stint on the physically unable to perform-list. New England could opt to add more developmental depth with the long-term outlook in mind, though, but the positional need is still comparatively low.
Draft picks: --
Post-draft analysis: The Patriots showed confidence in its offensive tackle group by not addressing the position during the draft. Unless the team adds another option in free agency that goes on to surprise over the summer, Isaiah Wynn and Marcus Cannon will continue to serve as the one-two punch at the position with Yodny Cajuste the front-runner to earn the number three/swing tackle role behind them.
Players under contract (6): Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Hjalte Froholdt, Jermaine Eluemunor, Najee Toran
Pre-draft analysis: New England’s interior offensive line remains somewhat in flux, even though the team used the franchise tag on starting left guard Joe Thuney. The 27-year-old’s long-term outlook and starting center David Andrews’ rehabilitation after missing all of 2019 due to blood clots in his lungs, however, will impact how big of a need the interior spots are heading into the draft. For now, the need remains moderate: Thuney is under contract in 2020, and Andrews’ outlook appears to be positive. If one of the two change, however, the Patriots might be willing to add additional pieces to the equation.
Draft picks: Michael Onwenu (6-182), Justin Herron (6-195), Dustin Woodard (7-230)
Post-draft analysis: Even though New England received some positive news recently in regards to David Andrews’ status — he has been medically cleared to return to the field — and decided to hold onto Joe Thuney, the team still addressed the depth along its interior O-line on Day Three of the draft: Michigan’s Michael Onwenu and Wake Forest’s Justin Herron were picked in round six, with Dustin Woodard being added out of Memphis in the seventh. The trio will compete with the returning depth players (Hjalte Froholdt, Jermaine Eluemunor, Najee Toran) for what projects to be two or three backup spots on the active roster this year.
Players under contract (6): Lawrence Guy, Adam Butler, Beau Allen, Deatrich Wise Jr, Byron Cowart, Nick Thurman
Pre-draft analysis: The Patriots lost Danny Shelton in free agency but invested in Beau Allen as a potential replacement option. The position should therefore be set for 2020, even though its long-term outlook remains somewhat unclear: both Lawrence Guy and Adam Butler are scheduled to enter unrestricted free agency next offseason. As a result, New England might opt to add another body to the equation with the future in mind.
Draft picks: --
Post-draft analysis: The Patriots did reportedly sign two defensive tackles in rookie free agency, but they decided not to add any talent to the group via the draft. As a result, the expectation is that Lawrence Guy, Adam Butler and Beau Allen will form the starting-level group in 2020, with the other players competing for backup roles and rotational playing time.
Players under contract (6): John Simon, Chase Winovich, Shilique Calhoun, Derek Rivers, Keionta Davis, Tashawn Bower
Pre-draft analysis: New England’s number one edge defender from a year ago, Kyle Van Noy, will play in Miami for the foreseeable future. While John Simon and Chase Winovich are quality replacement options, adding another body to the equation — especially considering that the depth behind the two is unproven — seems to be a priority: Van Noy was the Patriots’ best pass rusher in 2019, after all, and a player capable of setting the edge in the running game as well.
Draft picks: Josh Uche (2-60), Anfernee Jennings (3-87)
Post-draft analysis: The Patriots added more developmental upside to the defensive edge on Day Two of the draft when they decided to invest in both Michigan’s Josh Uche and Alabama’s Anfernee Jennings. How they will eventually be used within the defensive system — one that was primarily 3-4-based last year but could see a move back to more 4-3-principles in 2020 — remains to be seen, but both players should be able to earn prominent spots in the rotation right away.
Players under contract (5): Dont’a Hightower, Ja’Whaun Benley, Brandon Copeland, Brandon King, Terez Hall
Need: Very high
Pre-draft analysis: The Patriots lost two members of their off-the-ball linebacker corps during free agency in Jamie Collins and Elandon Roberts, and will therefore likely address the depth at the position in this week. Signing free agent Brandon Copeland as a Collins-like move option alongside Dont’a Hightower helped, but the team still needs to replace Roberts’ former role and get more athletic overall.
Draft picks: Cassh Maluia (6-204)
Post-draft analysis: The inside/move linebacker position had some intriguing talent in this year’s draft but New England opted not to add to the group until the sixth round: the Patriots picked Wyoming’s Cassh Maluia with the 204th overall selection, presumably to fill the early-down off-the-ball role previously held by free agency departee Elandon Roberts. The need may have been only partially met, but a return to a 4-3-based defense could help address it and eliminate the need for more three-down options alongside Dont’a Hightower.
Players under contract (8): Stephon Gilmore, Jason McCourty, J.C. Jackson, Jonathan Jones, Joejuan Williams, Justin Bethel, D’Angelo Ross, Lenzy Pipkins
Need: Very low
Pre-draft analysis: The best cornerback depth chart in the NFL remains intact for the 2020 season. Led by reigning Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore, the group is as deep and talented as any in the league — both on the perimeter and the slot. While the Patriots could opt to add a low-risk/high-reward player in one of the later rounds or undrafted free agency, the team has no need to do so considering the current depth at the position.
Draft picks: --
Post-draft analysis: Seeing New England add a developmental player in one of the later rounds would not have been a surprise, but the club decided to not even do that. Even without an infusion of youth via the draft, the Patriots appear to be very well equipped at cornerback both in the short and the medium/long term.
Players under contract (8): Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Terrence Brooks, Adrian Phillips, Cody Davis, Obi Melifonwu, Malik Gant, Adarius Pickett
Pre-draft analysis: Even though the Patriots lost Duron Harmon and Nate Ebner, signing Adrian Phillips and Cody Davis should help with the losses. Together with Devin McCourty’s two-year contract extension, New England therefore has only minimal need to address the position in the draft even though he and Patrick Chung are turning 33 in August. Would it be surprising to see the team add another safety? No. Would it address a direct need if doing so? Again, no.
Draft picks: Kyle Dugger (2-37)
Post-draft analysis: Even though the Patriots had no direct need to draft a safety, they did do so anyway. Kyle Dugger, the team’s highest draft choice at No. 37, projects to give the team some long-term stability at the position with both Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung on the wrong side of 30. The Lenoir-Rhyne product may not have an immediate impact on New England’s defense and maybe see more playing time on special teams early on, but his developmental upside and athletic skillset are tantalizing.
Players under contract (2): Jake Bailey, Joe Cardona
Need: Very high
Pre-draft analysis: The punter and long snapper positions are in the safe hands of Jake Bailey and Joe Cardona, respectively, but the release of Stephen Gostkowski created a void at place kicker. While the Patriots could turn to the open market to fill it — Nick Folk, the third and final replacement for an injured Gostkowski last year, is still available — the draft seems like the best avenue to travel.
Draft picks: Justin Rohrwasser (5-159)
Post-draft analysis: The Patriots did what they were expected to do in one of the middle rounds: draft a kicker to fill the vacancy created by releasing Stephen Gostkowski. That kicker turned out to be Marshall’s Justin Rohrwasser, who is built like a linebacker at 6-foot-3, 230 pounds, and has the strong leg to find success in the difficult conditions he surely will encounter in New England.
How would you grade the Patriots’ 2020 draft class?
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