In recent years, the fifth round of the NFL draft has become the sweet spot to add special teamers for the New England Patriots. The team added long snapper Joe Cardona as the 166th overall selection in 2015 and just last year brought place kicker Justin Rohrwasser on board with pick No. 159.
Their Patriots careers went quite differently — Cardona is one of the league’s best long snappers while Rohrwasser was released earlier this year after a season on the practice squad — but the team has shown that it is not afraid to take special teams flyers in Round 5.
Among the ones that also worked out is the 163rd selection of the 2019 draft: Jake Bailey.
The Patriots made Bailey the second of two punters drafted that year and he has since become the best player the league has to offer at the position. After what was already an encouraging rookie season that saw him also take over as New England’s kickoff specialist, the Stanford product led the league in net punting average as a sophomore and subsequently earned All-Pro honors.
Back on draft day, however, his outlook was far less certain as Bailey said in a recent interview with Puntalytics.
“Draft weekend was wild because, as a specialist you don’t know what’s going to happen at all. You can be a second-round pick, even a first-round pick; specialists have been drafted there, it’s not like I thought I was gonna go there at all. You can go first round to undrafted, and the majority of people are undrafted. And I thought there was a shot, anything could happen, and I was just super fortunate that I ended up being drafted,” he said.
“It was an unreal experience. I remember Coach [Bill Belichick] calling me, and my family was filming the whole thing. It was a weird thing to just say, ‘Hey coach’ for the first time. I was very excited.”
Despite coming off a productive college career and being one of 10 players selected by the Patriots in 2019, Bailey was no lock to make the team’s roster as a rookie. After all, he was entering his first season as a pro competing for the job against incumbent Ryan Allen — a well-established player who was just coming off one of the best Super Bowl punting performances in league history.
But even though the two men ended up fighting for one job and Bailey eventually pushing Allen off the roster, the he pointed out that the two developed a friendship during their time together.
“When I got out to the Patriots, I became friends with Ryan; he’s one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met in football. And we became good friends, and it was just a very cordial relationship, the whole time,” Bailey said. “I met Steve Gostkowski and Joe Cardona, my snapper. It was just super fun meeting all the guys and meshing with the team.”
Two years later, Bailey is well established on New England’s roster and part of a special teams unit that was the best in football in 2020. Not only did it feature the NFL’s top punter, but also coverage aces Matthew Slater and Justin Bethel, a reliable kicker in Nick Folk, and All-Pro punt returner Gunner Olszewski.
All of them will be back this year as well, giving the Patriots another strong foundation to build upon — a foundation that features Jake Bailey as a pivotal member.