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Sunday Patriots Notes: New England can take a patient approach with its 2021 rookie class

Related: Will Rhamondre Stevenson be LeGarrette Blount 2.0 for the Patriots?

College Football Playoff National Championship - Ohio State vs Alabama Photo by UA Athletics/Collegiate Images/Getty Images

Even though the 2021 NFL Draft is in the books, there still is a lot going on around the New England Patriots and the rest of the league. Let’s use this forum right here to go through some of the stories that have emerged over the last few days: time for our Sunday Patriots Notes.

1. The Patriots have no pressure to play their rookies right away. Whereas other teams will rely heavily on contributions from their respective draft classes this year, New England is in a different position. The eight players selected, plus the lone undrafted free agent signed later, do not necessarily need to earn prominent roles right away. Instead, the Patriots can play the long game after upgrading their roster in free agency.

Looking at each of the nine rookies currently under contract, we can see how the team might approach them in 2021 and beyond:

  • QB Mac Jones (1-15): You don’t draft a quarterback in the first round and do not expect him to turn into a long-term starting option. With Cam Newton returning as QB1, however, the Patriots have to put no pressure on Jones to perform right away. If he beats out Newton during the summer, that’s great; if not they have the luxury of grooming him behind the more experienced starter to possibly take over in 2022.
  • DT Christian Barmore (2-38): The Patriots invested considerable resources in their interior defensive line in free agency, and Barmore will be one piece of the expected rotation — at least early on. With Lawrence Guy and Henry Anderson on the wrong side of 30, and with neither Anderson nor Davon Godchaux under contract after 2022, Barmore should be asked to take over a top spot as soon as his second year in the system.
  • DE Ronnie Perkins (3-96): Entering the draft, New England seemed well set along the defensive edge. Perkins presented good value in the late third round, however, which now puts him in the driver’s seat to maybe take over for Kyle Van Noy or even Chase Winovich further down the line.
  • RB Rhamondre Stevenson (4-120): With Sony Michel entering the final year of his rookie deal after not seeing his fifth-year option picked up, the Patriots already invested in his potential heir: Stevenson is an early-down back such as Michel, and should take over for the former first-rounder at one point. The question is whether this will already happen this summer, or next year.
  • LB Cameron McGrone (5-177): Patriots head coach Bill Belichick already acknowledged that McGrone might miss his rookie year after coming off a torn ACL. He was drafted with 2022 in mind, and is a candidate to possibly replace free-agent-to-be Dont’a Hightower.
  • S Joshuah Bledsoe (6-188): With Devin McCourty entering a contract season as a candidate to retire in 2022, New England might want to have as much safety depth as possible. Bledsoe won’t replace the future Patriots Hall of Famer anytime soon — his skillset is a different one — but he gives the unit more flexibility to potentially move Kyle Dugger and Jalen Mills around.
  • OT William Sherman (6-197): Isaiah Wynn will be around in 2022 after his fifth-year contract option was picked up, but with Trent Brown a free agent next spring the team might want to have a developmental option in the fold to maybe help replace him. Sherman is a project, but New England has had some success with sixth-round offensive linemen recently.
  • WR Tre Nixon (7-242): With Jakobi Meyers and especially N’Keal Harry no certain projections even after two years in the system, the importance of having young depth at the wide receiver position cannot be understated. Nixon is just that, even though his late-round status is reflective of the realistic expectations one should have for him.
  • K Quinn Nordin (UDFA): Nick Folk proved himself a reliable player in 2020, but he was only re-signed on a one-year pact and is already 36 years old. Nordin may not be the future, but the team will take a look at him to determine his outlook as a potential replacement next year.

New England is always drafting with an eye on short- and long-term future. The 2021 draft is a perfect example of that: while seeing a majority of players selected turn into key contributors right away would be ideal, the Patriots can afford to take things slowly while incorporating them into what is a deep roster across the board.

2. New Orleans was apparently also after Mac Jones. While plenty of pre-draft projections had the Patriots trade up to grab a quarterback, they were able to stay put at No. 15 and still watch Alabama’s Mac Jones fall into their collective lap. However, that would apparently not have happened if the New Orleans Saints had gotten their wish: according to numerous reports, the team was trying to leapfrog New England by trading up.

Jeff Howe of the Athletic noted that New Orleans began calling teams about a possible trade-up from No. 28 after Jones slipped past the Carolina Panthers at No. 8. No trade ever materialized, however, and the Saints eventually stayed put to pick edge defender Payton Turner.

Had the club manufactured such a trade and taken Jones, New England would obviously have gone in a non-quarterback direction in Round 1. Per Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer, that direction would have been Tulsa linebacker Zaven Collins who instead when to the Arizona Cardinals at No. 16. If the Patriots were forced to pick Collins, they would have gone after a QB — either Stanford’s Davis Mills or Texas A&M’s Kellen Mond — on Day 2.

3. Ronnie Perkins will forever be linked to the GOAT. The Patriots were awarded three compensatory choices in this year’s draft due to their free agency losses in 2020. Among them was the highest possible pick near the end of the third round: with Tom Brady having left for Tampa Bay on a massive deal, New England ended up receiving selection No. 96 — one that was later invested in edge linebacker Ronnie Perkins.

The Oklahoma product and the greatest quarterback of all time will therefore be linked forever.

4. Draft graders were not fully on board with the Jones selection. New England being able to select a quarterback in the first round without having to trade up can be considered a win, but the reviews for the Mac Jones pick were still rather mixed. According to draft grades selected by René Bugner, 20 other Day 1 investments were graded better on average than the Patriots’ decision to go after Jones:

Draft grades are obviously not predictive of future success, but rather a reflection of teams addressing needs relative to the perceived value of their selections. Adding Jones does address a need, but the value of his pick in the middle of Round 1 was likely a determining factor for his so-so grading: he was widely seen as the fifth of the top-five quarterbacks in the draft, with his ceiling and lack of athleticism oftentimes mentioned as an issue.

At the end of the day, however, only time will tell if those projections turn out to be accurate. New England is banking on the opposite.

5. The Patriots have released a cut-up of draft reaction videos. Draft coverage is dominated by analysis and projection, but it also can be full of emotion: players getting picked is a monumental development for all involved — from the prospects themselves, to their families, friends and former coaches. Draft day calls are as raw as it gets, and the Patriots recently published a collection of them on their social media channels:

6. Former New England scout Jonathan Howard has a new job. With the draft over, the Patriots and their West Coast area scout, Jonathan Howard, decided to mutually part ways. Howard had plenty of experience with the club — he was coming off his eighth season in New England and his sixth as a member of the college scouting department — but he will work elsewhere moving forward.

We now know where: according to Neil Stratton, Howard is expected to join the Carolina Panthers as an area scout. Whether he will remain on the West Coast or move elsewhere is not known at this point in time.

Together with D.J. Debick, Tucker Ingraham, Taylor Redd and Camren Williams, Howard was one of five area scouts employed by the Patriots in 2020. Alex Brooks and Jordon Hein were also part of the group last year in their roles as scouting assistants.

No official replacement for Howard has been made public just yet.

7. Two Patriots have earned their degree. While the Patriots were adding young talent to their team via the draft, one of their current players fulfilled another dream of his: cornerback Joejuan Williams earned his degree from Vanderbilt.

A former second-round draft pick by New England, Williams has primarily played a backup and special teams role over his first two season with the club. While the team did not invest in any additional cornerback depth in the draft, there is no guarantee his standing on the depth chart will change anytime soon: Stephon Gilmore and J.C. Jackson remain in town as the top outside cornerbacks, meaning that Williams has no clear path to a starting role.

Of course, none of that mattered over the weekend. Williams earned his day in the academic sun, where depth charts or playing time shares have no importance whatsoever.

Williams was not the only Patriots player to be honored this weekend, though. Veteran running back James White, who first joined the team back in 2014, has also earned his degree. While he was not present for the ceremony at the University of Wisconsin, the moment was a big one for him from a personal perspective.

Speaking with Mike Lucas of UWBadgers.com, White noted how his parents always stressed the importance of getting a proper education.

“Education was always the most important thing that starts the foundation for your work ethic. If you work hard at school, you’d most likely work hard in anything you cared about. So, they always stressed how education will set up your future,” he said.

“My parents always stressed how important it was for me to get my degree. Every offseason, they would get on me and ask, am I taking classes? They kept me motivated. My wife, Diana, kept me motivated as well to finish up … It was always at the forefront of my mind.”

White had originally planned to surprise his parents with his degree after secretly taking classes, but he did not get a chance to do that with tragedy striking the family last September: White’s parents were involved in a car crash in Florida that killed his father Tyrone and left his mother Lisa in critical condition.

Earning his degree therefore has special meaning for the three-time Super Bowl winner.

“I would see how my dad would study for his promotions in the police department. When I was younger, I didn’t realize what he was doing. But as I got older, I realized his dedication to studying and getting those promotions. It was only right I would dedicate myself to finish my work,” White said.

“I know he’d be extremely proud. Going into college that was one of my goals besides trying to make it in the NFL. It was to graduate, and now that I’ve gotten it done, it’s definitely a blessing.”

8. Robert Kraft is supporting the Flag Football World Cup. Earlier this week, the International Federation American Football announced that the 2021 Flag Football World Championships would take place in Jerusalem and host the deepest field of competitors in the history of the tournament: 42 teams from 22 nation are scheduled to participate — one that will have close ties to New England as well.

Patriots owner Robert Kraft is serving as the lead sponsor for the World Championships, after all, with the tournament taking place between December 6th and 8th at the Kraft Family Sports Campus in the Israeli capital.

“With 42 national teams confirming their participation, we have reached a significant and important milestone for the sport of flag football,” IFAF President Richard MacLean said in a statement.

“I strongly commend our member federations. The growth of the World Championships stands as a testament to their impressive and effective work to develop our game and build high-performance programs. I have no doubt that we will see exceptional play among this field of elite, world-class athletes in a sport that quickens the pulse and captures imaginations.”

The United States will enter the tournament as reigning champions in both the Men’s and the Women’s division: they took home the two gold medals during the previous Flag Football World Championships in Panama three years ago.