Given the months and months of build-up to the annual NFL draft, the rush to summarize a team’s rookie draft class in a few sentences and stamp a letter grade on it has never quite made much sense to me.
In the past, I’ve compared this process to patrons at a restaurant complimenting (or complaining to) the chef based on the menu, rather than waiting to actually taste the food.
In much this same way, it obviously takes time to properly evaluate a draft. Given all of the complexities of the 2020 NFL draft, specifically, this is especially true.
So, while we cannot skip years ahead to know for certain which players will ultimately exceed or fail to live up to expectations in the NFL, we can provide a much deeper dive into each team’s rookie class.
Therefore, in a 32-part series, NFLDraftScout.com will be providing a detailed breakdown of each of the NFL teams’ rookie hauls, following the original draft order. Each team will be evaluated on the quality, quantity and relative safety of their draft classes (including undrafted free agents), with specific players recognized as Best Player, Best Value and Best Project, culminating in one “final” grade.
Today’s team: New England Patriots
Head Coach: Bill Belichick
Director of Player Personnel: Nick Caserio
Players selected in 2020:
Round 2, Pick 37 overall: S Kyle Dugger, Lenoir-Rhyne
Round 2, Pick 60 overall: OLB Josh Uche, Michigan
Round 3, Pick 87 overall: OLB Anferee Jennings, Alabama
Round 3, Pick 91 overall: TE Devin Asiasi, UCLA
Round 3, Pick 101 overall: TE Dalton Keene, Virginia Tech
Round 5, Pick 159 overall: K Justin Rohrwasser, Marshall
Round 6, Pick 182 overall: OG Mike Onwenu, Michigan
Round 6, Pick 195 overall: OL Justin Herron, Wake Forest
Round 6, Pick 204 overall: LB Cassh Maluia, Wyoming
Round 7, Pick 230 overall: C Dustin Woodard, Memphis
Key Undrafted Free Agents:
DB Myles Bryant, Washington
RB J.J. Taylor, Arizona
LB De’Jon Harris, Arkansas
WR Sean Riley, Syracuse
TE Rashod Berry, Ohio State
Overview of the Patriots’ 2020 draft: In perhaps the greatest illustration of “The Patriot Way” yet, Bill Belichick and New England elected to replace the iconic Tom Brady with the quarterback they had proactively groomed behind him for a year in second-year pro Jarrett Stidham, using their 10 picks in the 2020 NFL draft to fill gaping holes left behind by other critical free agent defections. With all of the offseason speculation about how the Patriots would adjust to Brady and Rob Gronkowski taking their point-scoring proficiency south to Tampa Bay, New England traded out of the first round entirely and used their first three selections on defenders, starting with diamond in the rough Kyle Dugger. No one should expect rookie linebackers Josh Uche and Anfernee Jennings to replace Kyle Van Noy or Jamie Collins but the duo offers an intriguing yin and yang of speed and power, and both come ready to contribute after excelling in pro-style schemes at Michigan and Alabama, respectively, as well as at the Senior Bowl. The selection of UCLA’s Devin Asiasi caught some off guard but I see a future starter, ranking him 84 overall in this class and therefore an excellent value where the Patriots got him at No. 91. Just as the Patriots complemented Uche’s burst with Jennings’ brawn up front, Dalton Keene’s exceptional versatility and Rambo-like mentality are a nice pairing with Asiasi, who at this time last year had caught just eight passes at the college level. Perhaps the greatest “surprise” of the Patriots draft was the fifth round selection of Marshall kicker Justin Rohrwasser, a Rhode Island-transfer who was not invited to the Combine. Rohrwasser connected on 18 of his 21 field goal attempts as a senior, however, and claims that he’s 14 for 14 over his career on fourth quarterback and overtime kicks, so the pick is justified from a talent perspective. Further, it is hard to argue with the value the Patriots have received with previous Day Three investments in specialists, including the fifth rounder last year on punter Jake Bailey, a 16-game rookie “starter” and, of course, the fourth round pick, No. 118, used on Stephen Gostkowski back in 2006, the Patriots’ starter and all-time scoring leader until injuries and age caught up to him this past season. Of the Patriots’ remaining Day Three picks, watch out for Michigan’s Mike Onwenwu and Wake Forest’s Justin Herron, who physical limitations are somewhat mitigated by New England’s scheme – at least the one Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels’ preferred when Brady was still in town.
Best Player of the Patriots’ 2020 Draft: S Kyle Dugger
The Patriots allowed an NFL-low 13 passing touchdowns a year ago, while leading the league with 25 interceptions. As such, the selection of a defensive back with their first pick – especially one who played at the D-II level – understandably caught many off-guard. Just as the club did with Brady, however, Belichick and Director of Player Personnel Nick Caserio are preparing the Patriots for the inevitable day without longtime starting safeties Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung, both of whom are 32 years old and have started seven consecutive seasons together in New England. Bigger and faster than either of them, Dugger is a mix of the two veterans in terms of playing style, offering a similar brand of range, awareness and ball-skills as McCourty (and his 26 career NFL interceptions), as well as the grit and reliable open-field tackling skills Chung has shown since he was the one turning scouts’ heads in Mobile, just as Dugger did this past winter. The Patriots’ loaded secondary may make it difficult for Dugger to live up to the immediate impact expectations fans and most in the media have on rookies drafted early. Critics will have to have to change their tune later, when Dugger ultimately emerges as the Patriots’ next stalwart safety.
Best Value of the Patriots’ 2020 Draft: OLB Josh Uche
While I am quite high on Dugger’s upside, Uche is the rookie from New England’s 2020 draft class likely to make the most immediate impact. That, in itself, may surprise some given that Uche started just nine games in four seasons at Michigan. Uche is one of those rare players who actually projects better to the NFL than he did to college football. He is a wonderfully gifted and versatile athlete, proving at Michigan and the Senior Bowl, alike, that he is fluid and instinctive enough to drop and play coverage. Uche’s bread and butter, though, is his lightning-quick speed off the edge and on twists, stunts and delayed blitzes as a pass rusher, where his disproportionately long arms (33 5/8") help him lasso ballcarriers. This was not a skill-set required as often in the relatively run-heavy Big Ten, but certainly is in the increasingly pass-happy NFL. Of Uche’s 20.5 career tackles for loss, 16.5 of them came via quarterback sacks. Many of those came with the 6-1, 245 pounder playing similar roles as to what Van Noy and Collins did last year for the Patriots. That fit should have Uche enjoying a similarly splashy rookie season as fellow former Wolverine Chase Winovich, who collected 5.5 sacks as a third round pick a year ago for New England.
Best Project of the Patriots’ 2020 Draft: TE Devin Asiasi
The Patriots have a plethora of worthy developmental candidates, including each of the players previously highlighted. Given the huge role that tight end has played in McDaniels’ offense in the past, the lack of proven talent at the position currently on the Patriots’ roster as well as the logical “need” to supply for a security blanket for presumed new starting quarterback, Stidham, Asiasi warrants a closer look. Like Winovich and Uche, Asiasi was lured to Ann Arbor by the promise of learning under Jim Harbaugh but wound up transferring back to the state of California to be closer to home. Asiasi exploded in 2019, jumping from eight receptions in two seasons at Michigan to 44 in one year at UCLA, showing a startling combination of size, speed and leaping ability. Asiasi’s upside earned him a spot on my annual Rang’s Gang, a virtual team of my favorite non-first round prospects. Patriots fans may find that, in itself, interesting given how many Patriots rookies from a year ago were on my 2019 team, including a certain quarterback.
Overall Grade for the Patriots’ 2020 Draft: B
Previous 2020 NFL Draft Report Cards: Cincinnati Bengals |Washington Redskins | Detroit Lions | New York Giants | Miami Dolphins | Los Angeles Chargers | Carolina Panthers | Arizona Cardinals | Jacksonville Jaguars | Cleveland Browns | New York Jets | Las Vegas Raiders | Indianapolis Colts | Tampa Bay Buccaneers | Denver Broncos | Atlanta Falcons | Dallas Cowboys | Pittsburgh Steelers | Chicago Bears | Los Angeles Rams | Philadelphia Eagles | Buffalo Bills | New England Patriots | New Orleans Saints | Houston Texans | Minnesota Vikings | Seattle Seahawks | Baltimore Ravens | Green Bay Packers | Tennessee Titans | San Francisco 49ers | Kansas City Chiefs