Leading into their Week 3 showdown against the Las Vegas Raiders, the New England Patriots had to send the first member of their draft class to injured reserve: linebacker Josh Uche, who was selected in the second round back in April, has to sit out at least three weeks after hurting his foot. Even without Uche, who has yet to appear in a game this season, the Patriots’ rookies had a solid overall performance during the team’s 36-20 win.
With that being said, let’s review New England’s rookie performances from Sunday.
G/OT Michael Onwenu
- Offensive snaps: 69 of 69 (100%)
- Special teams snaps: 7 of 31 (23%)
After being used exclusively at right tackle and jumbo tight end over the first two weeks of the regular season, sixth-round pick Michael Onwenu saw his first career start at left guard: with David Andrews on injured reserve and Joe Thuney moving over to the vacant center spot, the Patriots decided to go with the Michigan man. The spotlight was not too bright for the youngster, who had an impressive performance both as a run blocker and a pass protector.
Onwenu getting the nod over the more experienced Hjalte Froholdt and James Ferentz shows how high the team is on him, and that he is the sixth option along the offensive line for the time being. With Thuney scheduled to enter unrestricted free agency next offseason, his development could be crucial to the long-term outlook of New England’s offensive line.
S Kyle Dugger
- Defensive snaps: 25 of 59 (42%)
- Special teams snaps: 15 of 31 (48%)
The Patriots’ highest draft pick continues to be a valuable role player on both defense and special teams who is seeing regular action in both phases.
On defense, Dugger was used all over the secondary again but mostly saw action as a box safety responsible for helping cover talented Raiders tight end Darren Waller. Essentially being used in a rotation with veteran Terrence Brooks as the number three behind Devin McCourty and Adrian Phillips, the 37th overall pick in this year’s draft had another encouraging performance as both a run defender and in coverage. On special teams, meanwhile, was again employed on both kickoff units and the Patriots’ punt return team.
TE Devin Asiasi
- Offensive snaps: 29 of 69 (42%)
- Special teams snaps: N/A
After a relatively quiet first two games, Devin Asiasi’s playing time increased in Week 3 and he started taking snaps away from current starting tight end Ryan Izzo. All in all, the third-round pick played a career-high 29 offensive snaps: while he played mostly as a classic in-line tight end, he also aligned in the slot and split out wide on some occasions and ran a total of 11 routes on the day. Asiasi was not targeted in the passing game, but he still appears to be trending in the right direction.
RB J.J. Taylor
- Offensive snaps: 15 of 69 (22%)
- Special teams snaps: 4 of 31 (13%)
After being used only marginally against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 2, Taylor played a crucial role in the Patriots’ running game versus Las Vegas. Playing 15 offensive snaps, the undrafted rookie free agent led the team with 11 carries which he took for 43 yards. His offensive success rate of 54.5 percent, meanwhile, ranked second among the team’s backs behind only Rex Burkhead. Taylor, who also added an 11-yard punt return to his totals, had a strong game and is developing into a key member of the running back rotation — at least as long as James White and Damien Harris remain sidelined.
LB Cassh Maluia
- Defensive snaps: N/A
- Special teams snaps: 17 of 31 (55%)
Sixth-round rookie Cassh Maluia continues to exclusively be used on special teams, but he too appears to be trending in a positive direction despite not showing up on the stat sheet during the game: after playing only two snaps in Week 2, he increased his playing time to 17 of 31 for a share of 55 percent. Only five players saw more action in the game’s third phase than the Wyoming product, who saw action on both kick coverage teams and both return units.
OT Justin Herron
- Offensive snaps: 10 of 69 (14%)
- Special teams snaps: 4 of 31 (13%)
After being used only as an additional blocker in the Patriots’ short-yardage packages in Weeks 1 and 2, Justin Herron was featured more prominently on Sunday. He saw his first ever special teams action on New England’s place kicking protection units, and more importantly played 10 snaps as the team’s left tackle: filling in for Isaiah Wynn, who was dealing with a calf injury heading into the game, the sixth-rounder looked good when asked to line up with the starting O-line.
WR Isaiah Zuber
- Offensive snaps: 6 of 69 (9%)
- Special teams snaps: N/A
Isaiah Zuber has reverted back to the practice squad since Sunday, but he can feel good about his NFL debut. The undrafted rookie, after all, played six offensive snaps and finished the game with a 13-yard carry. Zuber was mainly a depth piece for the Patriots against Las Vegas, but he did his job well and showed that he is an intriguing developmental depth option to have.
LB Anfernee Jennings
After seeing only limited playing time in each of the first two games of the season, the Patriots decided to deactivate Anfernee Jennings for Week 3. The third-round rookie offers positional versatility and upside, but he does not yet appear to be ready for a bigger role at this stage in the season. Ja’Whaun Bentley, Brandon Copeland and safety Adrian Phillips therefore remain the top-three off-the-ball linebacker options.
TE Dalton Keene
While Keene appears to be fully healthy again after dealing with a neck injury earlier during the week, he is, for one reason or another, still not ready to hit the field in a game setting just yet. With Ryan Izzo remaining as the number one tight end at this point in time, and with Devin Asiasi seeing increased action, there is a chance that Keene continues to be inactive even when back at full strength. There are only so many spots open on the game day roster.
CB/S Myles Bryant
For the second week in a row, Bryant was declared a healthy scratch. This is no surprise given his status as an undrafted rookie free agent, and the fact that the Patriots have arguably the deepest secondary in all of football. It remains to be seen when or if the youngster gets a chance this season, but he showed his upside during training camp.