Some New England Patriots rookies have been asked to play prominent roles this season. Others have hardly seen the field.
With first-round draft pick N’Keal Harry’s usage and development garnering considerable attention this week, now seemed like a proper time to take a closer look at the Patriots’ rookie class as a whole, as many of its members have garnered little attention through 14 weeks.
Below is a brief evaluation of each 2019 Patriots draft pick, plus the two undrafted free agents who cracked the initial 53-man roster. The higher a player is on the list, the greater on-field impact he’s had thus far. (Note: Seventh-round pick Ken Webster was cut before Week 1 and claimed by the Miami Dolphins.)
1. Jake Bailey, punter (fifth round)
The Patriots? offensive issues have resulted in a sharp uptick in punts this season, and Bailey has risen to the challenge. The rocket-legged Stanford product already has earned two AFC Special Teams Player of the Week nods and led all AFC punters in Pro Bowl voting at last count.
2. Chase Winovich, edge rusher (third round)
Winovich has been a contributor since Day 1, both on defense (5 1/2 sacks, 10 QB hits, four tackles for loss) and on special teams (four tackles, blocked punt return touchdown). He?s a situational pass rusher for now but should expand his role in the years to come.
3. Jakobi Meyers, wide receiver (undrafted)
Meyers? miscues — be they route-running errors or inopportune drops — have been well-documented. But since the start of October, he?s been the Patriots? most productive wideout not named Julian Edelman, comfortably outperforming Phillip Dorsett, Mohamed Sanu and Harry. Has he been perfect? Certainly not. But as an undrafted rookie in a notoriously complex offense, he’s more than held his own.
4. N?Keal Harry, wide receiver (first round)
Expectations are sky-high for Harry, and he’s shown only flashes since making his NFL debut in Week 11. His back-shoulder touchdown against the Dallas Cowboys and bruising catch-and-run against the Kansas City Chiefs were excellent plays, but they?re also the only ones the big-bodied Arizona State product has made in four games. He has just five catches on 10 targets for 40 yards and has been on the field for just 12 of the Patriots? last 128 offensive snaps since being beaten for an interception in Houston. Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels did express a desire to get Harry more involved, though, so perhaps we?ll see him play a larger role this week against the Cincinnati Bengals.
5. Gunner Olszewski, wide receiver/punt returner (undrafted)
Olszewski ranked fifth in the NFL in punt return average before ankle and hamstring injuries (and roster management needs) landed him on injured reserve. The IR stay should be beneficial for the hard-charging Bemidji State product, who was still learning the nuances of the receiver position after playing cornerback at his Division II college.
6. Byron Cowart, defensive lineman (fifth round)
Cowart has appeared in five games as a reserve defensive tackle, logging 43 defensive snaps and two tackles. He missed last week’s game with a head injury.
7. Joejuan Williams, cornerback (second round)
New England’s loaded cornerback group hasn’t created many openings for Williams, who excelled during the preseason. He has played special teams when active, but the vast majority of his 31 defensive snaps have come in garbage time. Williams has been a healthy scratch for seven of the Patriots’ 13 games.
8. Jarrett Stidham, quarterback (fourth round)
Patriots blowouts have been scarce of late, so Stidham has seen action in just three regular-season games thus far. One of his four career passes resulted in a pick-six.
9. Damien Harris, running back (third round)
Running backs coach Ivan Fears said the Patriots only would use Harris if they needed to, and they’ve stuck to that plan even while the team’s overall rushing attack has sputtered. Harris has been active for just two games, carrying four times for 12 yards in the final minutes of New England’s Week 7 rout of the New York Jets.
10. Hjalte Froholdt, guard/center (fourth round)
Froholdt suffered a season-ending shoulder injury during the preseason.
11. Yodny Cajuste, offensive tackle (third round)
The surgery Cajuste had in March to repair a torn quad came with a projected three-month recovery timetable, but O-line coach Dante Scarnecchia said in October that Cajuste was “probably not ready to do anything.” He will not play this season.