A sleepy Thursday night begat a wild and crazy Friday for the New England Patriots, who used a flurry of trades and draft picks to address several clear needs on Day 2 of the 2020 NFL Draft.
After trading out of the first round to acquire additional picks, the Patriots made a total of five selections in Rounds 2 and 3, the second-highest total of any draft in the Bill Belichick era (2009, six).
They kicked things off early in the second round with small-school safety Kyle Dugger out of Divison II Lenoir-Rhyne (37th overall), then doubled up on two positions of need, landing a pair of edge rushers (Michigan’s Josh Uche at No. 60, Alabama’s Anfernee Jennings at No. 87) before going back-to-back on tight ends (UCLA’s Devin Asiasi at No. 91 and Virginia Tech’s Dalton Keene at No. 101).
The Uche, Asiasi and Keene picks came after trade-ups. The latter was especially noteworthy, both for the eye-popping cost (both of New England’s fourth-round picks, plus a 2021 sixth-rounder) and the partner (the hated New York Jets, with whom Belichick had traded just once before in his Patriots tenure).
Here’s a closer look at each of New England’s Day 2 selections, with commentary from director of player personnel Nick Caserio’s late-night video conference with reporters:
KYLE DUGGER, S, LENOIR-RHYNE
Caserio said the Patriots entered Friday with a list of three players they were targeting. They landed two of them: Dugger and Uche. Though Dugger hails from a tiny D-II school, New England began seriously scouting him last spring, sending multiple evaluators to Lenoir-Rhyne during the 2019 season.
Dugger’s performance at the Senior Bowl in January helped convince the Patriots he was a bona fide NFL prospect.
“(He) played well at his level of competition (and) held his own at the Senior Bowl against better competition,” Caserio said. “One of the things you like to see or you look for is the player like that with that background to see how they hold up in that environment. He acquitted himself fairly well.”
Dugger has the size (6-foot-1, 217 pounds) and athleticism to play multiple roles in New England’s defense. He primarily played free safety in college but could be used in a hybrid linebacker role at the pro level. He’s also an accomplished punt returner (six return touchdowns in college) who could threaten fellow D-II product Gunner Olszewski’s roster spot training camp.
“He’s big, he’s tough, he’s fast, he’s smart,” Caserio said. “He has some four-down type elements. … (He was) a player that we liked and went ahead and picked him.”
At 24, Dugger is older than most draft prospects, having taken a second redshirt year for a torn meniscus in 2016. Caserio noted his maturity.
JOSH UCHE, OLB, MICHIGAN
Uche, the Patriots’ second Day 2 target, was a situational player for the Wolverines but a highly effective one.
Despite logging just 97 pass-rush snaps in 2018, per Pro Football Focus, he racked up seven sacks. He became a starter last season, and though he still played just 52.8 percent of Michigan’s defensive snaps, he led the team with 8 1/2 sacks, bagged 11 1/2 tackles for loss and ranked second in the nation in both pressure rate and pass-rush win rate, per PFF.
Uche, who’s undersized at 6-1, 245 but athletic and explosive, played both on the edge and off the ball in college, earning the title of “Most Versatile” among edge rushers in PFF’s 2020 draft guide.
“(He) moved around the front a little bit,” Caserio said. “Played in the perimeter. They used him some at Mike linebacker, used him in some sub situations. He’s been asked to do a number of different things in a good defense. They played him at linebacker at the Senior Bowl. (He) has as a variety of different things that it looks like he can do.”
Uche played alongside Chase Winovich at Michigan and said he’s excited to reunite with the 2019 Patriots draftee. He also called himself a “perfect fit” for the Patriots because he’s “a hard-ass worker, and the Patriots work their asses off.”
ANFERNEE JENNINGS, OLB, ALABAMA
Jennings, who comes from a noted Patriots pipeline in Tuscaloosa, led the Crimson Tide in both sacks (eight) and tackles for loss (12 1/2) last season. The 6-foot-2, 256-pounder also showed a talent for invading passing lanes, breaking up six passes in 2019 and a team-high 12 in 2018.
Caserio praised Jennings’ toughness, leadership and — you guessed it — versatility. He played off the ball less than Uche did, lining up on the line on 593 of his 652 snaps last season, per PFF. (Uche’s split was 300 on, 170 off.)
“This kid is a really tough, tough kid,” Caserio said. “A little bit bigger in terms of size than Uche. Jennings is 255, 260. Uche kind of 240, 245. (They played in) different defenses but had some elements where they were used kind of similarly. Jennings has a background playing a couple different spots. Really tough, good leadership. They’re call-them-into-the-line-of-scrimmage type players, front-seven type players.
“How they’ll project into our system, we’ll see. Obviously we’re pretty multiple up front, multiple schemes on defense, so these guys have been asked to do a number of different things in their respective systems.”
Caserio also said he expects Uche and Jennings both to contribute on special teams.
“The ability to play on fourth down is something that we put a premium on,” he said. “Both (Uche) and Jennings, I would expect them in some capacity to compete for a role in the kicking game.”
DEVIN ASIASI, TE, UCLA
The Patriots leaned on UCLA coach — and longtime friend of Bill Belichick — Chip Kelly when evaluating Asiasi, who caught just eight passes prior to his final collegiate season.
After sitting behind 2019 draft pick Caleb Wilson two years ago, Asiasi established himself a legit pro prospect last season, catching 44 balls and averaging 14.6 yards per reception. He has good size for the position at 6-3, 257 pounds but must fine-tune his blocking skills.
“Really, this was his first year where he had pretty substantial production,” Caserio said. “This kid has good size, runs well for his size. He’s pretty tough. He has some technique things he certainly can work on as an on-the-line-of-scrimmage blocker. Has a background with Coach Kelly. He certainly was a good resource for us on that one.”
The No. 3 tight end recruit in the country in 2016, Asiasi began his college career at Michigan before transferring to UCLA after one season. Considered a likely Day 3 pick for much of the pre-draft process, the 22-year-old wound up being the second tight end selected behind Notre Dame’s Cole Kmet.
DALTON KEENE, TE, VIRGINIA TECH
Keene’s college stats don’t jump off the page (59 catches, 748 yards, eight touchdowns in 39 games, 38 of which he started), but his athleticism and ability to fill multiple roles make him a very intriguing addition to the Patriots offense.
Primarily an H-back, Keene played all over the field for the Hokies, lining up in-line, out wide, in the slot and even at running back. He dropped just one pass in his college career and is known for his tenacity, earning comparisons to San Francisco 49ers star George Kittle.
“He really played essentially from Day 1 — a three-year starter,” Caserio said. “(You) really had to kind of search for some things with him on tape. He took advantage of his opportunities. A couple of things that stood out were just some of his catch-and-run type plays. Good size — 6-4 and change, 255, 260. Fairly athletic, tough kid, smart kid. Was asked to do a number of different things in their offense.”
Given the number of assets they gave up to get him, the Patriots clearly like Keene, who was widely viewed as a Day 3 prospect during the pre-draft process. It’ll be interesting to see what offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels has planned for him.