Curran: Youth movement finally paying dividends for Patriots

Damien Harris

* Hey, Curran, how ya like them drafted players now?

I like some of them a lot. Some of the undrafted ones, too.

In Sunday night’s rain-soaked, upset win over the Ravens, nine of the 33 players the Patriots drafted since 2017 had a decent-sized hand in it.

Add on four undrafted players making big contributions and it was practically a homegrown youth movement going on. At least relative to what we’ve been seeing.

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Look at all the young dudes playing significant snaps and making significant plays Sunday night:

Kyle Dugger, S (2nd round, 2020): 12 tackles in his first NFL start

Josh Uche, LB (2nd round, 2020): 21 snaps (he’d played a total of 16 previously), a 7-yard sack

Michael Onwenu, RT (6th round, 2020): All 58 offensive snaps

Chase Winovich, LB (3rd round, 2019): 98 percent of defensive snaps, 7 tackles

Damien Harris, RB (3rd round, 2019): 121 yards on 22 carries

Jake Bailey, P (5th round, 2019): 45.3 net on four punts, two inside the 20

Jakobi Meyers, WR (undrafted 2019): 5 catches, 59 yards, TD pass

Terez Hall, LB (undrafted 2019): 10 tackles, 83 percent of defensive snaps

Jakob Johnson, FB (undrafted/assigned 2019): 64 percent of offensive snaps, 2 catches, 20 yards


Isaiah Wynn, LT (1st round, 2018): 100 percent of offensive snaps

Ryan Izzo, TE (7th round, 2018): 93 percent of offensive snaps, 1 catch, 20 yards

J.C. Jackson, CB (undrafted 2018): 100 percent of defensive snaps, 1 pick, 1 PBU

Deatrich Wise, DE (4th round, 2017): 41 percent of defensive snaps, 2 tackles

Adam Butler, DT (undrafted, 2017): 63 percent of defensive snaps, 3 tackles

Was the mass unveiling a Belichickian response to Friday’s conversation about the production and development of guys drafted the past four seasons?

Be serious. Some snot-nosed media guy (HI!) screaming from the bleachers to, “PUT IN THE YOUNGER KIDS!” isn’t going to cause him to start noodling with the game plan and personnel late in the week on Friday afternoon.

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The players sprung from sideline purgatory – Uche, Hall, Winovich, Dugger, Meyers – were on the field because injuries finally made them the next man up or the game plan got around to using them.

If first-rounders N’Keal Harry and Sony Michel weren’t hurt and/or ineffective, Meyers and Harris might still be waiting. If long-gone second-rounders Duke Dawson or Cyrus Jones could play, Jackson might never have gotten on the field to come up with yet another pick.  Would they have needed Dugger if they hadn’t missed on Jordan Richards?

And they’re still running around out there with one tight end.

Belichick’s said in the past that it doesn’t matter how a player gets onto the Patriots, what matters is what he does when he arrives. There’s so much to love about that approach.

The accomplishments of undrafted players like Jackson or Malcolm Butler, Jonathan Jones or David Andrews should be sources of pride for the organization. They unearthed the player, gave him a chance, developed him. If he beats out a drafted guy, so be it. Belichick is secure enough to not have to worry about what it “says” about the drafting.

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But you don’t get bonus points for degree of difficulty. High-fiving over undrafted or lower-round hits while a stockpile of first and second-rounders are either hurt, gone or ineffective is kinda missing the point. Unless you’d rather be lucky than good.

An unexpected win over a more talented team in a rebuilding season? Definitely cause for celebration. It says to me the coaching remains – as always – on point and the buy-in isn’t wavering.

But there’s no need to fire the confetti cannons when a second-round pick like Dugger plays like a second-round pick ought to or Uche comes up with a sack. If you disagree, then I guess the bar for drafting success is even lower than imagined.