The New England Patriots suffered another heartbreaking defeat in Week 16 against the Cincinnati Bengals, seeing a comeback attempt fall just short. Like the Patriots’ other games this season, this 22-18 loss also saw considerable contributions from the team’s rookie class.
Let’s quickly go through all of the first-year players currently on the team to find out how they performed against the Raiders. As always, we will start with first-round draft pick Cole Strange and move all the way down to the undrafted free agents.
G Cole Strange (1-29): The Patriots’ first-round pick went wire-to-wire once more, playing all 56 offensive snaps at left guard. As opposed to the last few games, however, Strange was a bit more inconsistent as both a run blocker and a pass protector — leading to several breakdowns in either phase. His effort was again exemplary, but his success rate was a bit up-and-down throughout the day.
WR Tyquan Thornton (2-50): With DeVante Parker still absent due to a concussion suffered in Week 14, the Patriots relied heavily on Thornton as their X-receiver of choice. But despite playing 52 offensive snaps (93%), the second-round pick was rather quiet. He had one 8-yard grab, while his most prominent play was arguably him dropping a perfect bomb from Mac Jones down the right sideline.
CB/KR/PR/WR Marcus Jones (3-85): Marcus Jones once again put on a show on Saturday. The hyper-versatile third-round rookie again saw action in three phases. Not only did he play three snaps on offense (5%) and catch a 15-yard pass, he also registered nine snaps on special teams (36%) to finish with two punt and three kickoff returns. His most prominent contributions, however, came on defense: playing 75 snaps in a starting capacity (90%), Jones registered both an interception return for a touchdown and a fumble recovery.
CB Jack Jones (4-121): Jones did practice throughout the week after suffering a knee injury in Week 14 against Arizona, but he ultimately did not take the field versus the Bengals. The Patriots ruled him out 90 minutes before kickoff, forcing him to sit out a second straight game.
RB/KR Pierre Strong Jr. (4-127): Despite playing some encouraging football in back-to-back weeks, the Patriots gave Strong Jr. only limited opportunities on Saturday. He was on the field for just two offensive snaps (4%), but did finish with a pair of catches for 10 total yards. The South Dakota State product was quite active on special teams, though. Not only did he play 10 snaps in the kicking game (40%), he also returned a pair of kickoffs (for a 23.0-yard average) and registered a tackle.
QB Bailey Zappe (4-137): Despite “Zappe” chants erupting at multiple points in the first half, the Patriots stuck with Mac Jones. This once again meant that the fourth-round pick would remain on the sidelines, and it appears that he will not return to the lineup anytime soon.
RB Kevin Harris (6-183): Despite Damien Harris being out, Harris played a small role against Cincinnati. He was on the field for just four snaps all day (7%), finishing with one 3-yard carry. Those four reps were still enough to out-snap fellow rookie Pierre Strong Jr., but neither rookie had much of an impact on the offense.
DT Sam Roberts (6-200): For the third straight game and 10th overall this season, the Patriots decided against making Roberts active. The sixth-round rookie was a healthy scratch against the Bengals yet again.
S/ST Brenden Schooler (UDFA): Schooler suffered a shoulder injury on the game’s opening kickoff and had to miss a couple of snaps as a result. However, he did finish the game in his usual capacity as a core presence on special teams. The undrafted rookie ended up playing 20 snaps (80%) while spending time on the punt return and coverage, kickoff return and coverage, and place kick blocking team.
LB/ST DaMarcus Mitchell (UDFA): Playing 22 snaps in the game’s third phase (88%), Mitchell ranked second on the team behind only Matthew Slater. He was once again used on five kicking game units — punt return and coverage, kickoff return and coverage, kick block — but did not register any statistics.
LS Tucker Addington (UDFA): With usual long snapper Joe Cardona set to miss the remainder of the season due to an ankle injury, Addington was promoted from the practice squad to the active roster ahead of the game. He ended up playing eight snaps (32%) and his name was not called once — a positive sign for a player at his position.
WR/ST Raleigh Webb (UDFA): After seeing action in eight straight games since joining the Patriots, Webb was declared a healthy scratch on Saturday. Given that he is no core special teamer like Schooler or Mitchell, his status might be worth watching moving forward.
OL Kody Russey (UDFA): With the Patriots’ interior offensive line once again going wire-to-wire, Russey remained on the sideline throughout the game. The undrafted free agent out of Houston has yet to see any game action since his promotion to the active roster in November.
The Patriots’ rookie class extends beyond those 13 players. Offensive lineman Hayden Howerton, defensive tackle Jeremiah Pharms Jr. and defensive backs Brad Hawkins and Quandre Mosely are all on the practice squad. New England did not elevate any of them to the game-day team versus the Raiders, meaning that they all still have three standard elevations available.
Additionally, the Patriots have three rookie players on injury-related reserve lists. Sixth-round offensive lineman Chasen Hines remains on injured reserve despite being eligible to return; UDFA defensive lineman LaBryan Ray is still on the practice squad injury list.
Meanwhile, seventh-round offensive tackle Andrew Stueber has returned to practice but he remains on the non-football injury list for now.