The New England Patriots have unsurfaced a new dimension to rookie Byron Cowart’s game.
After the Patriots selected Cowart in the fifth round of the 2019 NFL Draft, director of player personnel Nick Caserio described the Maryland defensive lineman as “probably a little bit more of a run player.”
It was a fair assessment. In 252 pass-rush snaps last season, Cowart had just two sacks, four QB hits and 21 hurries, according to Pro Football Focus. In his four-year college career, split between Maryland and Auburn, he had just 44 total pressures on 466 pass-rush snaps.
Through two preseason games, the 6-foot-4, 293-pound interior lineman already has two sacks, one QB hit and a hurry in just 25 pass-rush snaps, per PFF. Cowart leads qualified 3-4 defensive ends in PFF’s pass-rush productivity metric this preseason.
And these aren’t just clean-up pressures. Watch as Cowart decimated high-priced guard Rodger Safford for a sack Saturday night in the Patriots’ 22-17 win over the Tennessee Titans.
So, has Cowart’s ability as a pass rusher even surprised the Patriots?
“In the college scheme he played in at Maryland, I wouldn’t say there were a lot of pass-rush situations,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said Sunday morning. “It was a little harder to evaluate that. Again, you can only go on what you see and probably 75 percent of the plays, maybe more that he played were either running plays or running situations.
“He’s done all that we’ve asked him to do. That’s the main thing. He’s done all that we’ve asked him to do. He needs to get better at everything — the running game, passing game, recognition, reaction and so forth. We’ll just continue to work with him and all of the other players. He’s a young player who works hard. Hopefully, he’ll continue to improve like he has since we got him here in May.”
Cowart was the top defensive recruit and a five-star prospect as part of his 2015 high school class. It’s not as if his pass-rush skills have come completely out of nowhere. He had 13 sacks as a junior and 11 as a senior at Armwood High School in Seffner, Fla.
Perhaps a scheme change was all it took for Cowart to rediscover his high school dominance. Cowart has raised his stock over the last two weeks as he continues to battle for a spot on the Patriots’ 53-man roster. He seems like a natural fit for the Patriots’ three-man defensive front, and perhaps he could chip in on passing downs as an interior pass rusher.