Patriots

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Patriots

The Patriots had Richard Seymour, Matt Light, Damien Woody and Tom Brady in 2001. They had Jerod Mayo, Devin McCourty, Rob Gronkowski, Sebastian Vollmer and Matthew Slater in 2010.

Under Bill Belichick, as the Patriots went from version 0.0 to 1.0 to 2.0, there was a young core in place that served as their pulse. As they went, the team went. Championships followed. 

The outlook for version 3.0 is hazy. The young core is thin and rife with question marks after the Patriots went about maximizing Brady's last few seasons in New England by trading away picks for established veterans. Who makes up the core now? How many core pieces are there?

We're examining each of the Patriots' last four drafts to see how they got here, on the brink of a new era for the longest-running dynasty in modern NFL history, with an uncertain road ahead.

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In this edition we tackle the 2019 draft, which featured 10 selections and a first from Bill Belichick in the first round.

N'Keal Harry, WR, Arizona State (Round 1, Pick No. 32)

Harry was the first receiver taken by Belichick in the first round during Belichick's entire Patriots tenure. Why? Good reason. The Patriots were desperate for help at that position going into 2019. Unfortunately for the team and the player, Harry's rookie year was marred by injury. He missed the first half of the season on injured reserve, and he had difficulty trying to jump back on the moving train when he returned, finishing with 12 catches for 105 yards and two touchdowns. Harry still has an intriguing physical skill set as a hulking, hard-to-stop runner with the ball in his hands and a big-bodied red-zone threat. The Patriots just would like to see it on a more consistent basis in 2020.

 

Who they could’ve had: Deebo Samuel, WR, South Carolina (Round 2, Pick 36)

Joejuan Williams, CB, Vanderbilt (Round 2, Pick No. 45)

Willams was a fascinating choice. He came from a program for which Belichick has an affinity, and he had a frame not often found in the secondary: 6-foot-4, 211 pounds with almost 33-inch arms. He looked like he was built to lock up boundary receivers with great size. Buried on a deep cornerback depth chart, though, he saw just 80 snaps as a rookie. With Stephon Gilmore, Jason McCourty and J.C. Jackson all back for 2020, it could be a while (barring injury) before Williams sees the field more regularly. In January he was arrested for speeding, as well as possession of a controlled substance, drug paraphernalia and prescription drugs without a prescription.  

Who they could’ve had: Juan Thornhill, S, Virginia (Round 2, Pick 63)

Chase Winovich, OLB, Michigan (Round 3, Pick No. 77) 

Flowing blonde hair out the back of his helmet made Winovich easy to spot as a rookie, but his play was worthy of plenty of attention. Other than punter Jake Bailey, Winovich was the team's most productive rookie. An edge rusher in obvious pass situations, he chipped in on seven sacks, three quarterback hits and 13 hurries in 2019. He also scored a touchdown on a blocked punt. Winovich could be in line to start in 2020 after Kyle Van Noy's departure via free agency.

Who they could’ve had: Dawson Knox, TE, Ole Miss (Round 3, Pick 96)

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Damien Harris, RB, Alabama (Round 3, Pick No. 87)

The Patriots acknowledged on draft weekend that they didn't have a tremendous need for running back help, but they figured Harris was simply too talented a player to pass on late in the third round. But with a deep running back group already on the roster — Sony Michel, James White, Rex Burkhead, Brandon Bolden — Harris barely saw the field. He played five total snaps, and it looks like unless Sony Michel misses time injured — something that could certainly happen given his injury history — Harris will remain a reserve. 

Who they could’ve had: Amani Hooker, DB, Iowa (Round 4, Pick 116)

Yodny Cajuste, OT, West Virginia (Round 3, Pick No. 101)  

After the Patriots lost Trent Brown to free agency, it became clear that they were in dire need of tackle depth. They tried to add a piece behind Isaiah Wynn (who missed his entire rookie season with a torn Achilles) and Marcus Cannon by snagging the long and athletic Cajuste at the end of Day 2. Casjute came into the league with a quad injury, though, and never saw the practice field for the Patriots before hitting IR. In 2020, he could be a swing tackle option if healthy. 

 

Who they could’ve had: Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, DB, Florida (Round 4, Pick No. 105)

Hjalte Froholdt, OL, Arkansas (Round 4, Pick No. 118)

Unlike Cajuste, Froholdt did get some practice time in as a rookie in training camp. He also saw preseason action. But he suffered an injury against the Giants in the preseason finale and was placed on IR. Froholdt should be in a position to compete for a reserve interior offensive line role in 2020 behind guards Joe Thuney and Shaq Mason. With Ted Karras having signed with the Dolphins as a free agent, the Patriots need depth on the interior.

Who they could’ve had: Tony Pollard, RB, Memphis (Round 4, Pick No. 128)

Jarrett Stidham, QB, Auburn (Round 4, Pick No. 133)

Stidham didn't get much of an opportunity to show what he can do in the regular season. And when he did, he ended up throwing a touchdown . . . to the Jets. But in the preseason he put together the best rookie quarterbacking performance of the Belichick Era, which included an impressive showing from Jimmy Garoppolo back in 2014. After a season of practices that impressed coaches and teammates alike — he saw a number of first-team reps as Tom Brady managed his heath and workload — Stidham could very well be the starting quarterback Week 1 of the 2020 season. He offers enough physical talent and processing ability to be given a shot. If it works out, great. If it doesn't, the Patriots could very well be in the quarterback market early in the 2021 draft. 

Who they could’ve had: Foster Moreau, TE, LSU (Round 4, Pick No. 137)

Byron Cowart, DL, Maryland (Round 5, Pick No. 159)

Cowart, like outside linebacker Chase Winovich, was another front-seven selection that indicated where Belichick wanted to go with his defensive scheme. Built like a traditional 3-4 defensive end, Cowart had plenty of power coming out of Maryland to project as a Day 3 dart-throw with upside. He ended up spending most of 2019 as a spectator behind Lawrence Guy and Adam Butler as the team's two more regularly used base ends. Cowart saw time in four games as a rookie, playing 43 total snaps. He looks destined to play in a reserve role again in 2020 with both Guy and Butler back in the mix. 

Who they could’ve had: Darius Slayton, WR, Auburn (Round 5, Pick No. 171)

Jake Bailey, P/K, Stanford (Round 5, Pick No. 163)

Fifth round. Special-teamer. Mark it down. Like Matthew Slater, Zoltan Mesko and Joe Cardona before him, Bailey is destined to be a staple of the Patriots kicking game for a while. His ability to hang the ball high and deep helped make him the league-leader on punts inside the 20-yard line in 2019. He graded out as the NFL’s sixth-best punter, per Pro Football Focus, and he was seventh in terms of return percentage. Add to all that that he did an admirable job on kickoffs once Stephen Gostkowski got injured, and Bailey was pretty clearly the most valuable Patriots rookie in 2019.

 

Who they could’ve had: Bisi Johnson, WR, Colorado State (Round 7, Pick No. 247)

Ken Webster, CB, Ole Miss (Round 7, Pick No. 252)

Webster was a freaky Day 3 pick last year. He ran a 4.43-second 40 at the combine, jumped 43 inches in the vertical and 133 inches in the broad. He also clocked a very quick 6.85 three-cone time. With a loaded corner depth chart, Webster had a steep hill to climb to make the Week 1 roster. He didn’t. He was quickly claimed on waivers by Miami, though, and spent the majority of the season on their active roster before landing on IR in December. 

Who they could’ve had: Alec Ingold, FB, Wisconsin (Undrafted)

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