The New England Patriots have a pretty solid hit rate when they double up at one position in the NFL Draft. So, it’s unsurprising they pulled off the move twice Friday night on Day 2 of the 2020 NFL Draft.
The Patriots selected outside linebackers Josh Uche and Anfernee Jennings in consecutive picks at 60th and 87th overall, respectively. Then they grabbed tight ends Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene in consecutive picks at 91st and 101st overall.
The Patriots’ biggest perceived needs heading into the 2020 NFL Draft were at linebacker and tight end. The Patriots were expected to take an off-the-ball linebacker high, but Uche and Jennings are known more for being edge defenders. Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio highlighted their ability to play both roles in his Day 2 video conference call.
“I’d say (Uche) and Jennings are similar, but they’re different as well,” Caserio said. “They both have played on the end of the line of scrimmage. They’ve come and played inside off the ball. They’re a little bit different.”
Uche is 6-foot-1, 245 pounds with almost 34-inch arms. Michigan used him sporadically at middle linebacker, so it’s certainly possible the Patriots view him the same way. Jennings is more of a traditional edge defender, but he too played off the ball at times at Alabama.
Uche is the much more productive pass rusher, while Jennings is better at setting the edge against the run.
The Patriots desperately needed to hit at tight end in the 2020 NFL Draft after getting little out of the position last season with Matt LaCosse, Ryan Izzo, Ben Watson and Eric Tomlinson sputtering along. So, why not take two to ensure a better potential hit rate?
“Kind of double up at the position there, but two young players that hopefully when we get the opportunity to work with them can make some progress,” Caserio said.
Asiasi was the more productive player, but Keene is a more athletic option. Both are complete players who can be used as receivers and blockers.
Caserio said that double dipping wasn’t by design, though it certainly might work out for the better.
“I don’t think the intention is ever to double up,” Caserio said. “Just because you pick a player at a certain position doesn’t necessarily mean you have to move away from it if you feel good about the player, he’s a good football player, you have him graded accordingly. We’ve done it in years past. There’s been a few examples of it. It doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to go a certain way or another. In (Uche and Jennings’) particular case they’re both good football players. I would say it’s probably more emblematic of what we do defensively in terms of the different types of guys, in terms of how we play. We’re never going to fit a square peg into a round hole. But having some guys that may be able to do some different things, complement some of the players you do have, it’s really what we’re trying to do is just sort of get certain types of guys.
“They may play the same position, but they really might not play the same position. On the surface, it might look like it’s the same, but there could be some subtle differences in terms of how they’re deployed. Ultimately you’re just trying to figure out what they do well, try to accentuate the player’s strengths. They could be used similarly or differently. We’ll find out when we have the opportunity to work with them.”
The Patriots passed on the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft but went all-in on Day 2, selecting five players and kicking it all off by taking Lenoir-Rhyne safety Kyle Dugger. The Patriots have six selections on Day 3 of the draft with one pick in the fifth round, four in the sixth and one in the seventh. They’re expected to take a kicker and quarterback at some point Saturday.
They can easily do that with their two biggest needs more than filled.