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Patriots 2022 roster breakdown: Jake Julien is challenging the established order at punter

Related: Patriots roster breakdown: Will Malcolm Perry’s versatility help him make the roster?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 27 Central Michigan at Eastern Michigan Photo by Steven King/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

With mandatory minicamp underway, the New England Patriots are already fully “on to 2022.”

The team currently has 85 players under contract, but only 53 of them will be able to survive roster cutdowns in early September 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 men fighting for those spots to find out who has the best chances of helping the Patriots build on their 10-7 record.

Today, the series continues with rookie punter Jake Julien.

Hard facts

Name: Jake Julien

Position: Punter

Jersey number: TBD (Offseason No. 62)

Opening day age: 23

Size: 6-foot-1, 225 pounds

Contract status: Under contract through 2024 (2025 RFA)

Experience

What is his experience? Julien arrived in the NFL as a rookie free agent, joining the Patriots after he did not hear his name called in the 2022 draft earlier this year. Accordingly, his experience at the pro level is quite limited. He is participating in the rookie developmental program and took the field for organized team activities and New England’s first mandatory minicamp practice, but he has yet to appear in any games. Julien will not get his first real taste of NFL competition until the start of the preseason August.

That said, he does have plenty of football on his résumé stemming from his time at Eastern Michigan. Spending his entire five-year college career with the Eagles, Julien appeared in 54 games and punted the ball away a combined 221 times. He averaged 44.0 yards per attempt — the highest such number in school history — with the longest kick of his career covering 78 yards. Julien had 19 touchbacks, 51 punts of 50-plus yards, and produced 52 fair catches; only one of his kicks was blocked.

What did his 2021 season look like? Coming off a Coronavirus-shortened senior season, Julien had a decision to make: return to school for a fifth year under the NCAA’s special Covid-19 eligibility rules or try his luck in the Canadian Football League. The Ontario-born punter, after all, had been selected 31st overall in the fourth round of the CFL Draft in May. Despite the opportunity to move back north of the border, however, Julien opted to stay put and return to Eastern Michigan for the 2021 campaign.

His decision to stay put did not lead to him getting selected in the NFL Draft in 2022, but Julien still produced a quality campaign as a super senior. Appearing in all 13 of the Eagles’ games, he punted the football 51 times for a combined 2,343 yards and a career-best average of 45.9 yards per kick. He also improved his longest ever punt from 73 to 78 yards, registered 17 fair catches and sent 14 of his punts 50 or more yards down the field. Additionally, he kicked the ball off twice with one of them landing out of bounds.

By all accounts and statistical measurements, Julien’s final season in Ypsilanti was the best of his career — one that led to him being named to the second All-Mid-American Conference team. He also established his status as one of the most productive players in school history: Julien broke the 41-year-old career punting average record by moving his own average to 44.0 yards per kick, and also became the first ever Eagles punter to register two 70-plus punts over the course of his college career.

2022 preview

What is his projected role? There was never any question which role the Patriots would ask Julien to play in their system, and the open practices thus far this offseason confirmed this. He will serve as a punter first and foremost and as such compete against incumbent Jake Bailey over the course of the summer. Like Bailey, the rookie is expected to also see action as a holder on field goal and extra point attempts and possibly perform kickoffs.

Does he have positional versatility? As is the case with most specialists in the NFL, Julien’s versatility is limited. While he has shown that he can kick the football off on top of his punting duties, he was not asked to much else during his time at EMU. He does have one coverage tackle as well as two rushing attempts for a combined -12 yards on his career résumé, but should not be expected to suddenly turn into a major trick play threat.

What is his special teams value? As noted above, Julien’s special teams value comes primarily through his right leg and its ability to send the ball flying down the field in the punt game. The 23-year-old was very good at that during his college days, despite regularly finding himself kicking in adverse conditions. Like virtually every other specialist in the NFL, 100 percent of his snaps will come in the game’s third phase.

What is his salary cap situation? Julien signed a standard three-year contract with the Patriots in rookie free agency. As part of the deal, he carries a salary cap number of $710,000 in 2022: he is playing on a $705,000 salary while also having received a $15,000 signing bonus prorated over three annual $5,000 portions. Julien’s contract is not qualifying for top-51 status, meaning that only his signing bonus is currently counting against New England’s salary cap with the rest only added if he is on the 53-man roster after cutdown day.

How safe is his roster spot? The Patriots have an All-Pro manning the punter position, meaning that Julien is facing an uphill battle to win the punter job as a rookie. That being said, he does have one major advantage over Jake Bailey: his salary cap number is a fraction of Bailey’s $4.06 million — the 16th highest on the team and second highest among all punters in the league. If he can come close to matching the incumbent’s performance this summer, New England might just decide to roll with the rookie over the established veteran. That said, the odds of that happening do not appear to work in his favor at the moment.

One-sentence projection: Julien will get some opportunities throughout training camp and preseason, but ultimately come up short against Bailey and find his way onto the practice squad.