Aside from Jarrett Stidham being the clear front-runner to be The Next Guy after Tom Brady, the other major takeaway from this year's Patriots draft was this: They had a need for speed.
With their first two picks -- both second rounders after trading out of the first round Thursday night -- they added a Division II safety and a 6-foot-1 hybrid linebacker. Neither screams "Prototypical Patriot" based on those qualities alone, but both share uncommon movement skills.
The No. 37 overall selection for the Patriots, Lenoir-Rhyne's Kyle Dugger, tested as an elite-level athlete at this year's NFL Scouting Combine. The 6-foot, 217-pounder clocked a 4.49-second 40-yard dash (86th percentile among safeties) and a 10-yard split of 1.52 seconds (95th percentile). His explosiveness was evident as well in Indy, as he posted a 42-inch vertical jump (98th percentile) and a 134-inch broad jump (98th percentile).
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At No. 60 overall, the Patriots traded up to get one of their top-three players going into Day 2 of the draft. Michigan linebacker Josh Uche might've been in the conversation to go off the board in the first round had he tested at this year's combine, according to Senior Bowl executive director (and former Patriots scout) Jim Nagy. At 6-foot-1, 245 pounds he's built more like a Patriots off-the-ball linebacker than an edge rusher, but his long arms (34 inches), quickness at the snap and fluidity in coverage should allow him to do both.
Dugger has a massive leap to make from D-II to the NFL. Uche has just 667 career snaps under his belt, according to Pro Football Focus. Both players bring with them to the league questions of how they'll transition.
But for the Patriots, who will for years to come be dealing with the speed that defines offenses in Baltimore and Kansas City, getting faster on the defensive side of the ball -- particularly up front where Uche and Dugger (projecting as a box safety) will align -- was a priority.
Here are our pick-by-pick takeaways from the Patriots draft class:
Kyle Dugger, Safety, Lenoir-Rhyne (Round 2, No. 37)
What's the surer bet? Rolling the dice on a player who hails from a tough college conference, with all kinds of experience against the best of the best in college football? Or rolling the dice on a pro-caliber athlete from a smaller program? The Patriots have gone in both directions with varying levels of success in the second round. Cyrus Jones and Patrick Chung seemed like safe picks who yielded much different results in the second.
Aaron Dobson and Jamie Collins -- great athletes from lesser programs taken in the second round in the same draft -- also found different results as pros. Dugger is a versatile weapon who should contribute as an aggressive box safety who loves to hit and can cover tight ends and backs man-to-man. He could also contribute on special teams, both in coverage and as a return man. It may take some time given the leap in competition, but the Patriots are betting his athleticism will translate.
Potential rookie role: Core special-teamer; return man; safety to complement Chung, Terrence Brooks and Adrian Phillips.
Potential Year 3 role: Starting box safety; core special-teamer; return man.
By the numbers: The definition of a late-bloomer, Dugger was a 5-foot-11, 170-pound senior in high school who was a zero-star recruit and had one scholarship offer to play college football: Lenoir-Rhyne.
Another "Prototypical Patriot" on the board at No. 37: Notre Dame tight end Cole Kmet
What we're hearing: "Super athletic" and "a really bright kid" offered one scout. Dugger was firmly on the Patriots radar by the time the team headed to the combine. In fact, they were scouting him prior to the 2019 season. His Senior Bowl week performance, where he had seven tackles in the game and broke up three of the five passes he saw in 1-on-1 practice drills, was a small sample size of work but showed he could handle big-time competition.
Josh Uche, Linebacker, Michigan (Round 2, No. 60)
It's a wonder why Michigan couldn't get Uche on the field more often. He ended up the team's defensive MVP in 2019 and yet still didn't crack 700 snaps in his career. But his explosiveness and quickness -- both moving forward and backward -- will suit him well as a versatile piece in Bill Belichick's front.
Off the line of scrimmage, he has all the ability to serve as sideline-to-sideline defender and a dynamic blitzer. On the line, he has the length and quickness to make him a headache for edge protectors in passing situations. He'll join teammate Chase Winovich in New England and could potentially take on the kind of role Winovich saw in 2019 (sub rusher, special teamer) while adding some off-the-ball duties.
Potential rookie role: Sub rusher; off-the-ball linebacker depth to complement Dont'a Hightower and Ja'Whaun Bentley; core special-teamer.
Potential Year 3 role: Versatile chess piece who could start as a "Jack" outside linebacker or a "Will" in a 3-4 defense; core special-teamer
By the numbers: According to Pro Football Focus, Uche ranked second in the country in both pressure percentage (pressure on 23.3 percent of his pass-rush snaps) and "win" percentage (beat his blocker on 28.2 percent of pass-rushes).
Another "Prototypical Patriot" on the board at No. 60: Houston tackle Josh Jones
What we're hearing: One AFC defensive coach said, "Works hard, has good football intelligence, and wants to be a versatile guy who does both." In this case, "both" means playing both on the line and off.
Anfernee Jennings, Linebacker, Alabama (Round 3, No. 87)
If Uche projects to serve in a versatile role similar to the one held by Jamie Collins for the Patriots, Jennings looks like someone who could help replace what the Patriots lost in Kyle Van Noy this offseason. One of Nick Saban's most productive pupils over the last few seasons, Jennings led the Crimson tide in pass-breakups in 2018 (12) and in tackles for loss and sacks (8.0) in 2019. Physical and tough, his 33-inch arms should allow him to rush with power and provide valuable edge-setting duties for Belichick. He does have some experience off the ball as well and has enough size (6-foot-2, 256 pounds) to take on guards one-on-one if needed.
Potential rookie role: Edge-defender depth to complement Winovich, Uche and John Simon; off-the-ball linebacker depth to complement Hightower and Bentley.
Potential Year 3 role: Starting "Sam" outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense, capable of playing on all three downs.
By the numbers: Productive over the last three seasons for Saban, Jennings racked up at least 21 hurries each of the last three seasons to go along with 18 career sacks and 34 career hits.
Another "Prototypical Patriot" on the board: Missouri defensive lineman Jordan Elliott
What we're hearing: Fair to make the Kyle Van Noy comparison? It is, according to one AFC defensive coach I heard from this weekend. Jennings is more edge defender than off-the-ball players, like Van Noy, but like Van Noy has the size and toughness to do both. Van Noy was a little lighter and potentially the better athlete coming out of college, but Jennings is longer and looks like an immediate early-down edge defender.
Devin Asiasi, Tight End, UCLA (Round 3, No. 91)
In trading up to get Asiasi, the Patriots made the kind of move that they often make (and that we'll see with their next two picks): It doesn't matter where the rest of the world is anticipating a player will get drafted; when they want a guy, they'll get him "early" to make sure he's theirs. Asiasi looked like a Day 3 pick with just one year of starting experience and a team suspension on his record. But in terms of his talent? He's a do-it-all, 6-foot-3, 257-pounder.
A ready-made, high-effort run-blocker, Asiasi also has some impressive yards-after-catch skills as a receiver. His 4.73-second 40-yard dash, particularly at his weight, indicates he has the type of explosiveness the Patriots have typically liked to see from their early-round tight-end investments under Belichick. In what might've been the league's worst tight end room in 2019, Asiasi could be New England's starting "Y" inline tight end immediately.
Potential rookie role: Starting "Y" tight end; special-teams contributor.
Potential Year 3 role: Starting "Y" tight end with "F" (or "move" capabilities) should the team add another capable big-bodied player at the position.
By the numbers: Asiasi dropped just one pass on 68 targets for the Bruins last season, per PFF. Going to work with the ball in his hands, Asiasi averaged 5.6 yards per reception after the catch.
Another "Prototypical Patriot" on the board: Texas slot receiver Devin Duvernay
What we're hearing: "He can do it all, I think," texted one AFC tight ends coach when asked about Asiasi's projected role in the Patriots offense. Not just an inline guy. Not just a move guy. The tape Asiasi put together in his one season as a regular contributor was exciting for NFL folks. "Fights his ass off" as a blocker and might be the best blocker in this year's tight end class, the tight ends coach said. On his ability alone, said one league evaluator, he would've been considered in the class of Notre Dame's Cole Kmet and Dayton's Adam Trautman. The lack of experience and makeup questions (suspended three games to start 2018 after sitting out 2017 following his transfer from Michigan) likely knocked him down boards.
Dalton Keene, Tight End, Virginia Tech (Round 3, No. 101)
Asiasi might be a do-it-all type at the tight end position, but the Patriots drafted another versatile piece at the same spot 10 picks later. Keene (6-foot-4, 253 pounds) is lighter than Asiasi and might not be the same inline blocking force Asiasi projects to be, but he's even more athletic. In fact, Keene -- another projected Day 3 pick the Patriots took on Day 2 -- checked just about every athletic box the Patriots have drafted early at the position. He clocked a 4.71 40 time, a 7.07-second three-cone, a 125-inch broad jump and a 34-inch vertical at the combine, indicating he has a nice combination of speed and explosiveness. He also clocked a remarkable 4.19-second short-shuttle (90th percentile).
Combine those movement skills with an aggressive attitude as a blocker, big hands to suck up targets (9.75 inches), and an angry run-after-catch demeanor, and you have an intriguing talent. Used as an inline player, a slot receiver, an H-back and a fullback for the Hokies, Keene could be the type of Swiss Army knife talent for the Patriots that Kyle Juszczyk has been for the 49ers. Given the talent in the New England tight end room prior to Keene's arrival, he should (like Asiasi) have a real role immediately if he can grasp the Patriots offense.
Potential rookie role: Top "F" tight end; core special-teamer.
Potential Year 3 role: Top "F" tight end; core special-teamer.
By the numbers: Keene wasn't used all that often as a receiver, but his nine broken tackles on 59 career catches, per PFF, is an impressive number.
Another "Prototypical Patriot" on the board: Dayton tight end Adam Trautman
What we're hearing: One AFC tight ends coach told me Keene is "just a hard-working, tough, no-regard-for-his-health type of guy." The effort he provided on every snap for Virginia Tech was evident, which indicates he'll have the kind of blue-collar attitude that'll play well in New England. More on Keene from the tight ends coach: "Does a lot. Tough. Mauls. Throws his body around. Probably a late-round guy. Not going to be anybody's No. 1, but a pretty athletic dude. Could survive as either a 'Y' or an 'F' but he's a little bit of a 'tweener. Not [Aaron] Hernandez, but better than your fullback. Not elite. A little bit stiff, but fun to watch."
Justin Rohrwasser, Kicker, Marshall (Round 5, No. 159)
No small task ahead of Rohrwasser, who'll be expected to fill in for the all-time leading scorer in Patriots history. After growing up in Western New York, kicking two years at Rhode Island and two more years at Marshall, Rohrwasser has plenty of experience kicking in the elements. The 6-foot-3, 230-pounder has plenty of power -- having made a couple of kicks from 50 or deeper as a collegian -- and has shown he has an ability to focus in critical moments.
The Patriots found a nice kickoff option in 2019 in rookie punter Jake Bailey, but Rohrwasser -- another player the Patriots likely could've waited to draft but didn't -- should be able to handle place-kicking and kickoff duties.
Potential rookie role: Kicker
Potential Year 3 role: Kicker
By the numbers: Rohrwasser made 18 of 21 kicks last season, including a long of 53 and a 50-yarder against Central Florida in the Gasparilla Bowl.
Another "Prototypical Patriot" on the board: Washington center Nick Harris
What we're hearing: Former Dartmouth kicker and Inside the Pylon scribe Chuck Zodda tweeted the following about Rohrwasser: "Mechanics evolved considerably in past 3 years. Used to chop at ball, causing inconsistent spray. Seems much more balanced, smooth through zone. Good from distance this year. Upright motion with [fewer places for problems to creep in] than sidewinding kickers . . . Made from 61 on pre-draft workout tape on second attempt. That’s a big leg any way you slice it. Look, this is a [Saints kicker] Wil Lutz bet that you’re getting a coachable kid, with talent you can’t teach, and you can continue to see improvement from him."
Michael Onwenu, Guard, Michigan (Round 6, No. 182)
Found: Massive human with a penchant for preventing other massive humans from getting where they want to go. That's Onwenu, whose weight hovered around 370 pounds last season. Weighing in at 344 pounds at this year's combine, the 6-foot-3 interior offensive lineman is slimmer but still a gargantuan option at the position. A highly-regarded high school recruit who actually played both offense and defense for the Wolverines as a freshman, Onwenu turned himself into a third-team All-Big 10 selection in both 2018 and 2019.
With Joe Thuney's future in New England somewhat uncertain, and with David Andrews returning to action after missing all of 2019, it made sense for the Patriots to load up on interior linemen the way they did on Day 3. What makes the Onwenu selection an interesting one is that he's not at all in the mold of either Thuney or Shaq Mason. Both of those players are athletic marvels who weigh about 35 pounds less than Onwenu. The newcomer certainly qualifies as more of a win-with-power player. Recently-retired offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia used to say the Patriots wanted linemen who were "smart, tough and athletic enough." Onwenu must be considered athletic "enough" despite his size. Josh McDaniels' brother, Ben, is the quarterbacks coach at Michigan.
Potential rookie role: Reserve interior lineman
Potential Year 3 role: Reserve interior lineman
By the numbers: The three-year starter allowed just 13 pressures and one sack over the last two years, according to PFF. His 34-inch arms and 10.5-inch hands are massive for an interior blocker.
Another "Prototypical Patriot" on the board: Oregon State quarterback Jake Luton
What we're hearing: "Last season, I played around 368," Onwenu said on a conference call with reporters Saturday. I’m liking being lighter, so I’m anticipating I’m playing around . . . Wherever the coaches ask me to be is where I’ll be, in short words."
Justin Herron, Guard, Wake Forest (Round 6, No. 195)
The 6-foot-4, 308-pounder is an interesting selection when compared to Onwenu. He's much more in the mold of a traditional Patriots guard, with some athleticism. He had an impressive 33-inch vertical leap at this year's combine (93rd percentile) and was a three-sport athlete (football, basketball, baseball) at the Bullis School in the DC area. An intelligent player (four-year starter) and person (graduated from Wake last May with a 3.9 GPA, according to his offensive line coach Nick Tabacca), Herron makes a lot of sense for the Patriots. His 8.41-second three-cone time at the combine (1st percentile) and less than nine-inch hands (1st percentile) indicate he'll have some physical barriers to overcome to make the Patriots roster.
Potential rookie role: Reserve interior lineman
Potential Year 3 role: Reserve interior lineman
By the numbers: In his four years as a starter, Herron logged over 3,500 snaps at left tackle.
Another "Prototypical Patriot" on the board: Temple linebacker Shaun Bradley
What we're hearing: "The conversations were honestly, 'Just be ready for any positions that we throw you in.' They told me that they’ve seen me play tackle, but they’re also interested to see if I can play any other positions," Herron said of his interactions with the Patriots. So, that’s kind of what we talked about. I’m happy with any position or positions."
Cassh Maluia, Linebacker, Wyoming (Round 6, No. 204)
If projecting incoming rookies for roles on the Patriots -- especially roles in the front-seven, where Belichick lost several veteran pieces this offseason -- Maluia would be an Elandon Roberts type. He's an undersized, downhill player who should have some special-teams value after running his 40-yard dash pro day in the low 4.5-second range.
Potential rookie role: Reserve linebacker; special-teamer
Potential Year 3 role: Reserve linebacker; special-teamer
By the numbers: Maluia was listed by Wyoming at 6-feet, 248 pounds. At his pro day, he measured 5-foot-11, 231 pounds. He finished last season with 61 tackles, including seven for a loss from his spot as a "Will" linebacker along side "Mike" Logan Wilson, who was taken as the first pick in the third round by the Bengals.
Another "Prototypical Patriot" on the board: Ohio State receiver KJ Hill
What we're hearing: Upon the Maluia selection, an AFC defensive assistant reached out unprompted to say he was a fan of the pick. "Fast. Physical. Showed up on tape next to [Wilson]."
Dustin Woodard, Center, Memphis (Round 7, No. 230)
Smart. Versatile. Woodard looks like a Patriot on paper. He started four years, playing left guard, right guard and then moving to center as a senior. Woodard was a Campbell Trophy (also known as the "academic Heisman") semifinalist and a two-time AAC All-Academic team honoree.
Potential rookie role: Reserve lineman
Potential Year 3 role: Reserve lineman
By the numbers: Woodard tied the Tigers record for starts on the offensive line over the course of his career with 52.
Another "Prototypical Patriot" on the board: Washington State quarterback Anthony Gordon
What we're hearing: "That was something I held very close to me was my academics," Woodard told reporters Saturday. "I have a very strong and close family relationship and they always put academics, academics, academics. I tried my best to excel at academics, as well as do my best on the football field, and just with those core values, I think they really just pushed me to be a better person. I think it did."