When looking at who the New England Patriots draft, the first connection is anticipating which players they lost in the current offseason and which they could stand to lose next offseason. Bill Belichick prefers not having to utilize rookies to fill out roster holes, as they already have a lot on their plate to begin with. Usually, he drafts a player a year early with the intent of using them to replace a potential free agent loss since they’ll have a year in the system and know how to play the role they’ll be in. It doesn’t work out perfectly in some situations, but that’s the general idea in trying to figure out their intentions in the draft.
So with that in mind, let’s take closer look at the Patriots’ 2020 draft class and how it could factor into long-term considerations about the roster.
(cap space and compensatory draft selections calculations from overthecap.com)
Kyle Dugger: Terrence Brooks and Patrick Chung
The Patriots have had a weakness against tight ends in the passing game the past couple of seasons and were interested in making a change. Patrick Chung will be 33 in August and the Patriots could move on from as early as this year. As a post-June 1st cut, the team could stand to save $3.5 million on this year’s cap, although he would obviously be replaced by a lower-compensated player on the roster so we’re probably talking in the ballpark of $2 million. Next offseason, the Patriots could move on for $2.4 million on the cap. I believe Chung will either be released or retired after the 2020 season to accommodate an increased role for Kyle Dugger in Year Two.
Last offseason, the team signed Terrence Brooks to be its third/fourth safety and the team’s offseason moves imply some unsatisfaction with his level of play from 2019. The Patriots signed Adrian Phillips to a two-year, $6 million deal, with 80% of his 2020 salary guaranteed, and drafted Dugger with their top selection 37th overall. Those two moves put Brooks on the roster bubble, perhaps even on the outside looking in, despite getting paid a $200,000 roster bonus in March. Releasing Brooks would save the Patriots $1.53 million on the cap.
Josh Uche and Anfernee Jennings: Jamie Collins Sr, Kyle Van Noy, and John Simon
The Patriots lost Collins (3-year/$30MM) and Van Noy (4-year/$51MM) in free agency, which should net the team a pair of fourth-round compensatory selections in next year’s draft. In addition, the Patriots could potentially stand to lose John Simon in free agency next March. Simon was outstanding as a heavily-used rotational edge rusher and is one of the team’s best values for a measly $2.675 million in taken up cap space. Given the perfect scheme fit, I won’t rule out an extension or re-signing for him, but the team will be covered if he walks.
I did not include Dont’a Hightower on this list because neither selected player has a similar skillset to Hightower, plus I believe they’ll either extend him or draft his replacement next year. The current player on the roster who has the closest skill set to the ninth-year linebacker is Ja’Whaun Bentley, who is still under contract for two more years.
Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene: Matt LaCosse and Benjamin Watson
With Watson’s retirement and LaCosse’s inability to carve out a role, the Patriots have zero reliable players at the position and had to get someone. Asiasi could stand to take on Watson’s role as the top in-line tight end and Keene to potentially replace LaCosse before the end of the year.
Justin Rohrwasser: Stephen Gostkowski
After moving on from Gostkowski, the Patriots were going to spend one of their Day Three draft selections on the kicker. In the fifth round, they took Rohrwasser out of Marshall. With a range that extends up to 58 yards and being a career 14/14 on fourth quarter/overtime field goal attempts, the Patriots took a chance on him. He’ll be the Patriots placekicker in 2020 and hopefully beyond that.
Michael Onwenu and Justin Herron: Joe Thuney
The Patriots would take two players in the sixth round as depth along the interior offensive line. Both have potential starter traits, with Onwenu being less of a projection as a rookie than Herron. The Patriots elected to put the franchise tag on Joe Thuney not long before the deadline and have about nine weeks to discuss a long term deal before the tag becomes binding. Any sort of extension would change the calculus for New Egnland’s interior line options. If the team is unable to hammer out a long-term deal, either Onwenu or Herron could stand to replace him at left guard.
Dustin Woodard: Ted Karras and David Andrews
The Patriots lost Ted Karras to a one-year, $4 million deal with the Miami Dolphins despite offering a multi-year contract to their former backup interior lineman. At the time, it wasn’t sure if David Andrews was going to play again which is why I considered the interior offensive line as a Day Two need. Thursday’s news that Andrews was cleared to return to the field quickly changed the team’s strategy as it elected to wait until Day Three to address the position.
Woodard is an intriguing selection, with similar traits as Andrews’ as a draft prospect: he enters the NFL a multiple-year starter who was decently athletic but could stand to add more muscle to his frame to unlock his ceiling. Woodard has a longer path to the starting role than Andrews had five years ago, although the Patriots can afford to develop him for a season.