Following the NFL draft and subsequent free agency period, the New England Patriots currently have 89 of a possible 90 players under contract. However, only 53 of them will be able to survive roster cutdowns on September 5 and ultimately make the active team. Over the course of spring and summer, just like we have in years past, we will take a look at the players fighting for those spots to find out who has the best chances of helping the Patriots keep their dynasty alive in Year One after Tom Brady.
Today, the series continues with one of New England’s second-year players.
Name: Adarius Pickett
Jersey number: 35
Opening day age: 24
Size: 5-foot-11, 200 pounds
Contract status: Under contract through 2020 (2021 ERFA)
What is his experience? Before arriving in the NFL as a rookie free agent in 2019, Pickett spent five seasons at UCLA — growing from special teamer and backup defensive back to the Bruins’ starting safety. All in all, Pickett appeared in 50 games over the course of his college career and spent the last two years before leaving school as the a starter. Along the way, he registered a combined 274 tackles as well as seven interceptions, a forced fumble, two recoveries and also a blocked a field goal attempt on special teams.
Despite his solid numbers and being named second-team All-Pac 12 for his 2018 senior campaign, however, Pickett did not hear his name called in the draft. Instead, he spent time with the Chicago Bears and Los Angeles Chargers before eventually arriving in New England. One year into his professional career, he does not have any in-game playing time during the regular season or playoffs on his résumé.
What did his 2019 season look like? After not getting selected in the draft, Pickett decided to join the Bears on a standard three-year free agency deal. However, his tenure with the club came to an end just three days after his signing was officially announced by the club. It did not take long for the rookie to find a new home, though: after he was invited to participate in the Chargers’ rookie minicamp, the team offered him a contract and he went on to spend the entire training camp and preseason in Los Angeles.
Pickett appeared in all four of the Chargers’ preseason games, seeing regular action as both a deep and a strong safety along the way. All in all, he played 159 of a possible 276 defensive snaps (57.6%) and allowed five of nine passes thrown his way to be completed for a combined 60 yards. He also registered an interception in the preseason finale against the San Francisco 49ers. While he did have some success over the exhibition schedule, and also was used in the kicking game, L.A. decided to release Pickett during roster cutdowns.
After initially remaining unsigned, he returned to the Chargers in mid-September via a practice squad contract. Just two weeks later, however, he was released again and once more had to spend time on the open market. It took until early December for the Patriots to pick him up through their own practice squad. Pickett spent the remainder of the regular season — three weeks — as well as the team’s lone playoff game on the scout team, and was signed to a futures contract after New England’s season ended.
What is his projected role? Pickett was used in a versatile setting during his only four games in an NFL setting so far, but appears to be best suited to serve as a strong safety in the same basic role as fellow Patriots Patrick Chung and Adrian Phillips: the second-year man has the size to succeed when playing downhill as a run defender, and could also be used in coverage against tight ends or running backs.
What is his special teams value? The Chargers used Pickett on all four kicking game units — especially on kickoff and punt coverage — as well as their field goal and extra point block teams, and he registered a pair of tackles even though he failed to carve out a consistent role on any of them during last year’s preseason. That said, he does have some value as a coverage defender and potentially a returnman as well: Pickett ran back 23 punts in college for an average of 8.7 yards per returnn.
Does he have positional versatility? As noted above, Los Angeles opted to use Pickett in a multi-faceted role during his short tenure with the team — a usage that could also be on the Patriots’ mind: he played 67 snaps as a strong safety/linebacker hybrid during the preseason, as well as 38 as a deep safety and 36 in the slot. While he did not excel in any of the roles, Pickett does offer some value as a versatile depth option.
What is his salary cap situation? Before his practice squad contract with the Patriots was scheduled to expire earlier this offseason, the team signed Pickett to a one-year futures contract to keep him in the fold through the 2020 season. As a result, he currently hits the team’s books with $610,000 — a number that does not qualify him for the top-51 stipulation and will only count against the salary cap if he is on the 53-man roster after cutdown day.
What is his roster outlook? The Patriots invested some considerable resources in their safety position this offseason, which in turn creates a difficult environment for Pickett: four safeties — Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Kyle Dugger and Adrian Phillips — are either locks or near-locks to make the team, leaving little room on the roster for the 23-year-old. He will therefore have to find his way onto the squad via special teams or hope to make the practice squad again. The second scenario is more likely, but also far from a guarantee.