Sunday is a big day for the “Bill can’t draft” crowd.
Members of Bill Belichick’s 2019 NFL Draft class are set to play massive roles in the New England Patriots’ Week 3 matchup with the Las Vegas Raiders.
Wide receiver N’Keal Harry, the 32nd overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, is coming off of his best game as a pro when he caught eight passes for 72 yards in the Patriots’ 35-30 loss to the Seahawks. Another big performance Sunday could quiet those “first-round bust” whispers around New England.
Defensive back Joejuan Williams, the Patriots’ second-round pick in last year’s draft, could have a key matchup against Las Vegas’ best offensive weapon, tight end Darren Waller. Williams did a nice job neutralizing Miami Dolphins tight end Mike Gesicki in Week 1. While Waller is a more physical player than Gesicki, he has similar size and speed at 6-foot-6, 255 pounds. Williams seemingly is playing a specialized role covering tight ends as a second-year pro.
While fellow third-round picks Damien Harris and Yodny Cajuste remain on injured reserve, outside linebacker Chase Winovich has emerged as a starter and the Patriots’ best pass rusher this season. Raiders starting right tackle Trent Brown won’t play Sunday, making Winovich’s matchup easier.
With starting center David Andrews ruled out with a hand injury, 2019 fourth-round pick Hjalte Froholdt could start in his place. The Patriots do have other options, like moving Joe Thuney from left guard or signing James Ferentz off of the practice squad, but Froholdt is the most logical replacement for Andrews. Fellow fourth-round pick Jarrett Stidham has been relegated to third-string duties behind Cam Newton and Brian Hoyer after a training camp injury slowed his progress this summer.
Byron Cowart, a 2019 fifth-round pick, has started the Patriots’ first two games at defensive tackle and faces a tough test stopping Raiders running back Josh Jacobs this week. Fellow fifth-round pick Jake Bailey is the Patriots’ punter, holder, and kickoff-handler.
Ken Webster, the Patriots’ final pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, is now on the San Francisco 49ers. Two 2019 undrafted free agents, wide receiver Jakobi Meyers and fullback Jakob Johnson, remain on the Patriots’ 53-man roster, while wideout/punt returner Gunner Olszewski is on injured reserve.
The Patriots didn’t get much production out of their 2019 draft class last season. But after opt-outs and free-agency departures, many players are taking significant second-year leaps this season.