FOXBORO — It was near the midpoint of practice at Gillette Stadium and a pass-rushing drill was winding down.
At the far end of the field, about 100 yards away from where the masked-up media was sitting, Chase Winovich got into his stance across from … couldn’t tell.
The ball was snapped, Winovich, took a step forward and … then … he just wasn’t there anymore. He got stoned during what looked like a bull rush and then the guy he was up against landed on him and laid there for a second. They unpiled and the guy who bellyflopped on the promising second-year pass-rusher was wearing No. 59.
So, clearly a rookie since he was wearing a messed-up number in honor of Bill Belichick’s “The draftee has no name…” approach.
Check the roster. Turns out it’s Justin Herron. Sixth-round pick out of Wake Forest. He’s 6-foot-5, 305, and I haven’t thought about Justin Herron since the draft. But maybe I should start to.
So far, through these first few days of padded practices, the 2020 draftees are making more noise than many of the members of the 2019 class which should be making that traditional Year 2 jump Bill Belichick so often references.
Aside from Herron stifling Winovich (admittedly, it was one rep in one drill and Winovich is probably the best 2019 draftee so far), we’ve seen second-rounder Kyle Dugger look way more than capable at safety, second-rounder Josh Uche installed at the linebacker level next to Ja’Whaun Bentley, third-round tight ends Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene emerge as the best two players on the team at that position and sixth-round linebacker Cassh Maluia get plenty of reps to make his case.
And the 2019 class? After two solid practices, first-round wide receiver N’Keal Harry has been absent the past two days. In a compressed camp with a new quarterback in the mix? Not ideal.
Second-round corner Joejuan Williams seems buried at cornerback. Winovich has his pass-rushing niche. Damien Harris is doing fine with the running back reps he’s getting. Tackle Yodny Cajuste has missed the past two practices and was not good in the first two. Hjalte Froholdt is making a case as a depth guard. Jarrett Stidham’s thrown seven picks so far and is in danger of getting dusted by Cam Newton in the quarterback competition. Fifth-round DT Byron Cowart? I like him. And the same goes for punter Jake Bailey.
Honestly, the guy they got stuck with in the International Player Program last year — Jakob Johnson — might be more useful to them this year than some of the guys they drafted.
Is it early? Yes it is. But it gets late early in 2020 when training camp starts late and there are no preseason games or joint practices available. If these guys need the burn of the spotlight to really shine, they are SOL.
Patriots Talk Podcast: Patriots QB Race - Why Not Use Both? | Listen & subscribe | Watch on YouTube
There’s no denying that this is a rebuilding season for this team. The only questions are 1) How far do they dip record-wise and 2) Do they have the materials on hand with which to build?
The 2018 Draft yielded just three players who’ve made an impact: Isaiah Wynn, Sony Michel and Ja’Whaun Bentley.
The only draftee left from the 2017 crew is snakebit defensive end Derek Rivers, who missed another practice on Thursday. The only guy left from 2016 is Joe Thuney.
So, yeah. The drafting’s been absolutely nothing like it had to be if this franchise was going to keep on keeping on as it did after it reached its very high bottom in 2009 and went 10-6. Back then, they had a restock that ran from 2008 through 2012 with championship level players drafted into the system year after year.
Maybe that changes. Maybe the 2019 class has a mass awakening. But right now, seeing so many of them making minimal impact while rookies who didn’t even get an offseason are making themselves noticed?
Not what you’re looking for.