The New England Patriots signed a grand total of one undrafted free agent after last year’s NFL draft. Their 2022 UDFA class is a bit more robust.
As of Tuesday morning, New England had added a total of eight rookies who were not selected in last week’s draft, according to media reports and announcements from college programs. The Patriots have yet to officially announce any UDFA signings.
Before those players hit the field for rookie minicamp (May 13-15) and, eventually, organized team activities (which kick off May 23), here’s a closer look at what each will bring to the Patriots:
QB/WR/RB D’Eriq King, Miami
Easily the most intriguing member of this UDFA group, King played quarterback at Miami and Houston but is trying to make it in the NFL as a multipositional offensive weapon. He had a pre-draft visit with the Patriots and a private workout with offensive assistant Joe Judge.
At 5-foot-9, 196 pounds, King is drastically undersized by NFL QB standards, and the subpar 7.26-second three-cone drill he ran at his pro day raised questions about whether he boasts the short-area quickness to make it as a slot receiver. He did see substantial action at wideout early in his college career, totaling 61 catches for 520 yards and three touchdowns.
As a passer, King posted a 63.1% career completion rate and generally took care of the ball, throwing 76 touchdown passes with 19 interceptions (never more than six in any season).
Highly regarded for his leadership and intangibles, King was a team captain in each of his final three collegiate seasons. A shoulder injury wiped out his final nine games of 2021, and he also has a history of knee injuries.
It’s unclear how the Patriots plan to deploy King, who, after playing six years in college, will be 25 in September. But he’ll certainly be a player to watch once OTAs commence.
DL LaBryan Ray, Alabama
The Patriots opted not to draft an Alabama product for the first time since 2018, but they did scoop one up post-draft. Ray arrived in Tuscaloosa as a five-star recruit, but a litany of injuries (foot, foot, ankle, elbow, groin, elbow, the last of which required surgery earlier this offseason) prevented him from becoming a consistently impactful player for the Crimson Tide. He started just nine games over his five collegiate seasons and posted modest stats as a senior, finishing with 11 tackles, three tackles for loss and one sack in 13 games (two starts).
Ray must have received a positive review from Alabama head coach and longtime Bill Belichick friend Nick Saban, but he’ll obviously need to stay on the field to have a chance of cracking the Patriots’ roster.
S Brenden Schooler, Texas
Schooler bounced from Oregon to Arizona to Texas over the course of his six-year college career, playing safety, then wide receiver, then safety again. But his best path to a Patriots roster spot is through special teams. He played 774 snaps in the kicking game and tallied 21 special teams tackles in college, per The Athletic’s Dane Brugler.
A former high school track star, Schooler has good size (6-foot-2, 203 pounds), speed (4.40-second 40 at his pro day), quickness (6.71-second three-cone drill, 4.10-second short shuttle) and explosiveness (37 1/2-inch vertical, 128-inch broad jump), and he was a first-team All-Pac-12 special teamer in two of his seasons at Oregon.
With Matthew Slater entering his age-37 season and longtime kicking-game stalwarts Brandon Bolden and Brandon King signing elsewhere this offseason, there’s room for some new blood on the Patriots’ kick/punt coverage units.
OL Kody Russey, Houston
Much like the Patriots’ 2022 draft class, this crop of UDFAs is stocked with older, highly experienced players. Russey is no different. He started an astounding 60 games at center over his five seasons at Louisiana Tech and one at Houston.
Russey is strong as hell — he pumped out 38 bench-press reps at his pro day at 6-foot-2, 301 pounds — and quick, too: His 4.52-second time in the short shuttle was just 0.02 seconds slower than that of Patriots first-rounder Cole Strange, who had one of the best combine workouts of any offensive lineman in this year’s draft class.
The Patriots don’t have much proven depth at any O-line position — including behind longtime starting center David Andrews — so there will be a number of roster spots up for grabs this spring and summer.
Russey was a college teammate of cornerback Marcus Jones, the Patriots’ third-round pick.
OL Liam Shanahan, LSU
Shanahan would be one of the cooler stories of Patriots training camp if he makes a push for a roster spot. A native of Marlborough, Mass., he started his college career at Harvard, graduated, then transferred to LSU and started two seasons at center for the Tigers, playing alongside sixth-round Patriots draft pick Chasen Hines.
While at Harvard, Shanahan worked on the Fenway Park grounds crew — a gig that earned him a 2018 World Series ring.
“It ended up being my full-time job while I was at Harvard,” Shanahan said in a 2021 interview with the LSU athletics website. “My schedule basically was workout from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m., hop on the train or bus over to Fenway Park and work from 9 a.m. to, if there was a game, maybe midnight, then I’d get right back into workouts the next morning.”
Shanahan played 100 percent of offensive snaps for LSU in 2020 and every snap of the Tigers’ SEC schedule last season, per his LSU bio. He played right guard and right tackle at Harvard, where he started 30 consecutive games.
P Jake Julien, Eastern Michigan
Julien averaged a school-record 44.0 yards per punt at Eastern Michigan, with 51 punts of 50-plus yards and two of 70-plus yards in 54 collegiate games. An Ontario native, he was drafted 31st overall in this year’s CFL draft before signing with the Patriots.
Adding Julien sets the stage for the Patriots’ first punter battle since 2019, when Jake Bailey unseated incumbent Ryan Allen. Bailey is just one year removed from a first-team All-Pro selection, but with his salary spiking to nearly $4 million this season (and all of it nonguaranteed) the Patriots could opt to go with the cheaper option if Julien proves capable.
DE/LB DaMarcus Mitchell, Purdue
Mitchell started off at Southwest Mississippi Community College before transferring to Purdue in 2020. He played as both a hand-in-the-dirt defensive end and a stand-up edge rusher for the Boilermakers, and given his size (6-foot-3, 265 pounds), he’ll probably be the latter in the NFL.
Mitchell didn’t put up especially impressive stats in the Big Ten (five sacks, 12 1/2 tackles for loss in 18 games) but closed out his college career with one of his most productive performances, tallying one sack, two tackles for loss and two forced fumbles in an overtime win over Tennessee in the Music City Bowl.
The Patriots have one Pro Bowl edge rusher in Matthew Judon but not much proven depth behind him, with Josh Uche, Ronnie Perkins and Anfernee Jennings rounding out their depth chart.
CB Devin Hafford, Tarleton State
A 5-foot-10, 195-pound cornerback prospect, Hafford was the 2021 Defensive Player of the Year in the Western Athletic Conference, registering six inteceptions, seven pass breakups and two fumble recoveries. Another highly experienced player, he played in 56 games over six seasons at Tarleton State, an FCS program.
Hafford’s 4.50-second 40 wasn’t anything special for a cornerback, but his 38-inch vertical jump would have ranked fourth for his position at this year’s combine, and his 10-foot, 5-inch broad jump would have ranked sixth.
Though his path to a roster spot will be difficult after the Patriots also drafted two cornerbacks (Marcus Jones in Round 3 and Jack Jones in Round 4), New England does have a long history of finding undrafted gems at the position. Among them: Malcolm Butler, J.C. Jackson, Jonathan Jones, Kenny Moore and Randall Gay.