FOXBORO, Mass. — Few NFL teams are better at finding undrafted talent than the New England Patriots.
From David Andrews to Ryan Allen, Malcolm Butler to Brandon Bolden, Jonathan Jones to J.C. Jackson, the Patriots have added impact rookies post-draft in nearly every year of the Bill Belichick era.
This season’s undrafted free agent class might be New England’s best in years.
Ahead of Tuesday afternoon’s roster cutdown deadline, defensive linemen LaBryan Ray and DaMarcus Mitchell, special teamer Brenden Schooler and offensive linemen Kody Russey all have legitimate chances of cracking the Patriots’ 53-man roster. It wouldn’t be shocking to see all four make the cut.
“We’ve had some very competitive players in that category this year,” head coach Bill Belichick said Monday. “It seems like we usually do, but this year for sure, maybe a little more than most. I think through the years, we’ve had about as many guys as most teams have, or as some teams have, and they’re really pretty competitive with our late-round draft choices in terms of making the roster, contributions, and things like that.”
Ray, a former five-star Alabama recruit whose college career was wrecked by injuries, delivered standout defensive plays on a near-daily basis during training camp and the preseason, including an impressive manhandling of first-round pick Alex Leatherwood last Friday.
Schooler has the tools to become the Patriots’ next great special teams ace. He worked closely with Matthew Slater and Cody Davis throughout the summer and should be on most of New England’s top kicking-game units.
Mitchell also has played a large role on special teams — he was part of the top punt team in Monday’s practice — and can provide depth as an edge rusher, a relatively shallow position group for the Patriots. Russey is a highly experienced center (60 collegiate starts) who could slot in as the new backup to longtime starter David Andrews if the Patriots prefer him to James Ferentz.
“Once they get here, players are players,” Belichick said of the UDFAs. “So it’s not really about how they got here, or where they came from or what they did before that. It’s about what they can do for the team and what they can do for the team this year. So that’s a new evaluation from 2022 to 2021. I think we have some very competitive guys in that category.”
Belichick said he’s heard similar reports — of undrafted players outperforming late-round draft picks or established veterans — from other clubs this summer.
“I think that’s quite a bit about that around the league,” he said. “I’ve heard other teams talk about that too, a couple of undrafted guys that have really made a strong run at roster spots that obviously, if teams thought they were going to do that, they probably would’ve drafted them. But it’s a very competitive situation, and some of those guys take that and make the most of it. We’ve had plenty of that in this camp.”
The Patriots have had at least one undrafted rookie on their Week 1 roster in each of the last 18 seasons, the second-longest active streak in the NFL. They must finalize their initial 53-man roster by 4 p.m. ET on Tuesday.