The New England Patriots’ 17-14 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday was a full-team affair with notable contributions from all three phases. Within those, the Patriots also used a heavy dose of rookie talent yet again.
Let’s quickly go through all of the first-year players currently on the team, starting with first-round draft pick Cole Strange and going all the way to the undrafted free agents.
G Cole Strange (1-29): Once again starting the game at left guard, Strange went wire-to-wire and was on the field for all 68 offensive snaps. Along the way, the first-round pick delivered an impressive performance: despite regularly going up against the likes of Cameron Heyward and Larry Ogunjobi, Strange generally held his own both as a pass protector and as a run blocker. It was a good performance.
CB Marcus Jones (3-85): As opposed to Week 1, the Patriots decided against Marcus Jones on their game-day roster. The youngster was a healthy scratch, with veteran Myles Bryant serving as the top slot cornerback and punt returner yet again.
CB Jack Jones (4-121): With starting cornerback Jonathan Jones on and off again while dealing with an apparent quad issue, Jack Jones took the field for 22 defensive snaps against the Steelers. The fourth-rounder, who already saw semi-regular snaps in Week 1, registered two tackles and was not targeted in the passing game.
RB Pierre Strong Jr. (4-127): After sitting out the season opener in Miami, Pierre Strong Jr. made his NFL debut in Pittsburgh. The South Dakota State product, who served as RB3 behind Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson, saw most of his action on special teams: he played five snaps in the game’s third phase, returning two kickoffs for an average of 24.0 yards. He also saw three snaps on offense but served as a blocker on all of them.
QB Bailey Zappe (4-137): Zappe is the third quarterback on the Patriots’ depth chart behind starter Mac Jones and veteran backup Brian Hoyer. With Jones fully recovered from his back injury suffered last week, he was named a game-day inactive yet again.
DT Sam Roberts (6-200): The Patriots activated five interior defensive linemen on Sunday, and Roberts was not among them. The sixth-round rookie was now a healthy scratch in back-to-back weeks and will likely only see limited action, if any, moving forward.
OL Chasen Hines (6-210): New England once again activated only one backup along the interior offensive line, and it was once again veteran James Ferentz over sixth-round rookie Chasen Hines. Like Zappe and Roberts, Hines appears to be in “break glass in case of emergency” territory right now.
S Brenden Schooler (UDFA): Not only did Brenden Schooler make the game-day roster yet again and appear on four special teams units for a total of 15 snaps, he also had one of the biggest plays of the day. The undrafted rookie recovered a muffed punt deep in Steelers territory, setting up the Patriots’ second touchdown of the day to give them a 17-6 lead in the third quarter. Besides his work on the punt coverage team, Schooler also saw action on the punt return, kickoff return and kickoff coverage squads.
LB DaMarcus Mitchell (UDFA): Just like Schooler, fellow rookie free agent DaMarcus Mitchell also saw all of his action in the kicking game on Sunday. He played 13 total snaps in the game’s third phase: he was again used on kickoff return and coverage as well as on the punt return team, but also saw some opportunities on the field goal/extra point blocking squad. Mitchell did not register any statistics.
Of course, the Patriots’ rookie class extends beyond those nine players; running back Kevin Harris, tight end Jalen Wydermyer, offensive lineman Kody Russey, defensive linemen LaBryan Ray and Jeremiah Pharms Jr., and defensive back Brad Hawkins are all on the practice squad. New England did not elevate any of them to the game-day team versus Pittsburgh, meaning that they all still have three standard elevations available.
Additionally, two rookie players are on the Patriots’ reserve lists. Second-round wide receiver Tyquan Thornton remains on injured reserve for at least two more games (but likely more), while offensive tackle Andrew Stueber is on the non-football injury list.