Training camp is underway in Foxborough. For the first time in MANY years, the future of the Patriots is uncertain due to the departure of Tom Brady. As a new season appears over the horizon, we look to the rookies. These youngsters are the future of New England and look to make a key impact in their first season. (This will not be including any undrafted players)
Kyle Dugger (safety)
Dugger was a standout at the D2 school, Lenoir-Rhyne. The Patriots traded back to the 2nd round in order to snag him (his school’s D2 status is likely what kept him from being a first rounder). Many fans showed concern over this pick due to Bill Belichick’s unfortunate history with second round defensive backs, with busts such as Ras-I Dowling, Jordan Richards, Cyrus Jones, and Duke Dawson to name a few. The common reason for their bust status being that they could not separate themselves amongst established veterans and Pro Bowlers, this is not the case with Dugger. Patriots star safety Patrick Chung has opted out of the 2020 season, giving Dugger a chance to shine, with his only real competition being free agent pickup Adrian Phillips. Dugger also excels in the return game as well, giving him more opportunities to impress. So far in training camp Dugger has stood out in coverage, breaking up passes and even intercepting Jarrett Stidham. Dugger is also flourishing as a return man, which has caught the eye of special teams coach Troy Brown, “You search far and wide to try to find these guys, it’s not an easy job finding them, and it’s not an easy job once you do find them to get those guys to do [things] correctly all the time.” per Heavy.com. Ultimately, fans can expect to see Dugger in a return specialist role first and foremost, but he will have a sizeable role at safety as well.
Josh Uche (linebacker)
The versatile Josh Uche made a name for himself at Michigan in his senior year, and the Patriots eagerly selected him when he fell into the late 2nd round. Like Dugger, Uche will benefit from a Patriots star opting out, this time it’s Dont’a Hightower’s absence which will prove useful for Uche’s development. Uche will almost certainly be used as an edge rusher who can be moved to either side of the line, which is how he was used in college, totaling 8.5 sacks in his last year in Michigan. Uche is no stranger to dropping into coverage as an off the ball linebacker as well, so expect Coach Belichick to use his versatility in blitz packages or zone schemes. Uche also has one final plus, his chemistry with defensive end Chase Winovich, thanks to their playing time together in college.
Anfernee Jennings (linebacker)
The Alabama Crimson Tide produced another linebacker for New England, when Jennings was selected in the 3rd round. Like Uche before him, Anfernee Jennings will benefit from Dont’a Hightower opting out, which will likely secure him more playing time. While undersized, his explosiveness and hard hitting style of play allow him to be an exceptional edge rusher, his instincts are fine tuned thanks to Alabama’s pro style defensive schemes, and he shows great off the ball ability as well. Expect the Patriots to move him around, on the edge or as a tackler in the defensive backfield. Jennings has not appeared in any padded practices so far this offseason and with no explanation as to why, one could assume he is hampered by an injury, thus making his stat predictions difficult.
Devin Asiasi (tight end)
Tight end was a crucial need for New England entering the draft, they drafted the UCLA product, Asiasi in the 3rd round. In the 2019 season, the lack of production from the tight end position harmed the Patriots after losing future Hall or Famer Rob Gronkowski to a temporary retirement, but what was felt the most about Gronk’s absence was his dominant run blocking. Devin Asiasi was certainly a force in UCLA’s run blocking and, in an age where tight ends are more valued as pass catchers, it’s a relief that Asiasi is an apt run blocker. Asiasi is also a refined route runner and is deceptively fast, according to Patriots.com “Moves well for size. … Big-play TE with the ability to get up the seam. … Works well against zone coverages. … Shows ability to run solid routes and creates separation with his breaks.” Asiasi certainly seems like a good fit for the Patriots and should easily win the starting job.
|Stat Projection||Catches:30-70||Yards:450-875||Touchdowns: 4-9|
Dalton Keene (tight end)
The Patriots double dip at tight end in the 3rd round by grabbing the Virginia Tech pass catcher Dalton Keene. Keene was not a huge piece of the Virginia Tech scheme, but his athleticism made him an interesting prospect. Looking to take the 2nd tight end spot, Keene is more known for his pass catching in college, making him the opposite of Asiasi, with his speed, agility, and sure hands. He is also known for his positive energy, which was infectious in the Hokies’ locker room and his smart play kept him from being penalized, having no penalties in the 2019 season.
Justin Rohrwasser (kicker)
The Patriots released kicker Stephen Gostkowski after an injury plagued year, but found his replacement in the 5th round draft, Marshall’s very own Justin Rohrwasser. As a kicker, Rohrwasser stands at an impressive 6’3, 230 lbs., towering above the average kicker (6ft, 201 lbs.). His leg strength is certainly impressive, which earned him Conference USA’s 2019 Special Teams MVP. The most likely reason that New England selected him is his ability to play in the elements, a crucial attribute for a kicker, especially in the often frigid winter conditions of Massachusetts. New England has no other kickers on the roster currently, therefore Rohrwasser will likely take the starting role.
|Stat Projection||Field Goal%: 70%-85%||PAT%: 75%-90%|
Michael Onwenu (guard), Justin Herron (tackle), Cassh Maluia (linebacker)
These three players were selected in rounds 6-7, not expected to make much of an impact. Maluia will likely see special teams play or be sent to the practice squad, but expect the Patriots to keep him around due to a thin linebacker core. Justin Herron and Michael Onwenu will attempt to compete for the open spot on the offensive line but it will likely go to second year man, Yodny Cajuste. They can vie for backup roles as well, with Onwenu likely to crack the final roster due to his massive frame. Their stats will be especially difficult to predict because of their late round status, but a sudden injury could thrust them into the starting lineup.