After some big-name free agency departures and a league-high eight Coronavirus opt-outs, the New England Patriots were forced to give their 2020 draft class plenty of opportunities during its rookie year in the NFL. Led by sixth-round steal Michael Onwenu and impressive second-rounder Kyle Dugger, the club did get some solid contributions out of its first-year players.
Not all of them fared as well as the two, but the Patriots’ draft class still finished the season as one of the more productive in the league — at least according to Pro Football Focus’ Anthony Treash, who ranked New England as 13th best in the NFL when it comes to rookie contributions in 2020:
Why they’re ranked here: Bill Belichick found another gem in the sixth round with Michigan offensive lineman Mike Onwenu, who produced the sixth-most PFF WAR of any non-first-round pick this season.
How their top pick fared: Kyle Dugger (No. 37 overall) came into the league facing a steep learning curve out of Division II Lenoir-Rhyne, but the safety held up in his first year at the NFL level against the run. His 73.6 run-defense grade placed him 17th among all safeties this season. He faltered in coverage, though, with a 55.4 grade in that facet (69th of 91). That was the leading factor in him generating negative PFF WAR.
Best value pick: Onwenu might just end up as the biggest steal in the entire 2020 draft when we look back on this class. Onwenu logged over 80 snaps at each of left guard, right guard and right tackle this season, and he performed well at all of them. The sixth-round pick posted a 79.0-plus grade at each of those three alignments. Onwenu excelled at right tackle in particular, despite not logging a snap at tackle in his four years at Michigan. He spent most of his rookie campaign there (616 snaps) and ranked 10th of 39 qualifying right tackles in PFF grade.
The Patriots are in full-on rebuilding mode, especially on offense, and getting solid contributions from players on their rookie contracts is key. 2020 was therefore an encouraging season from that perspective, even though the youngsters were unable to turn New England’s fortunes around to prevent the team from finishing the regular season just 7-9 and missing the playoffs.