This Patriots Rookie Faced Big Decision Before Midseason Signing

'You've just got to come in with an open mind'


Nov 20, 2022

FOXBORO, Mass. — As the NFL calendar flipped from Week 6 to Week 7, Raleigh Webb had a decision to make.

The New England Patriots had a clear hole on their roster and wanted him to fill it. But it would mean accepting he almost certainly would never see the field at his primary position of wide receiver.

In the end, the value of an NFL roster spot outweighed Webb’s desire to catch passes. The undrafted rookie left the Baltimore Ravens’ practice squad, signed with the Patriots, accepted the very un-wideout-like No. 44 and has spent the last month filling in for injured kicking-game stalwart Cody Davis on New England’s various special teams units.

“I think (replacing Davis) was kind of the idea,” Webb told this week. “But to me, it was, ‘Hey, we need somebody to come play special teams, and we think you can do it.’ At that point, I just had to make a decision, and I think I made the right one. It gives me the best chance to succeed and show what I can do on the field.”

The Patriots needed him quickly, too. They signed Webb away from Baltimore on Oct. 19, three days after they lost Davis to a season-ending knee injury in a road win over the Cleveland Browns. Five days later, Webb was making his New England debut, playing 11 special teams snaps as the Patriots were blown out by the Chicago Bears on “Monday Night Football” in Foxboro.

Webb then played 12 and 16 snaps in victories over the New York Jets and Indianapolis Colts, respectively, before the bye week. His workload isn’t as heavy as Davis’ was — the veteran was averaging close to 20 special teams snaps per game before his injury — but he’s provided depth for a Patriots team that’s greatly improved in the kicking game in recent weeks.

“It wasn’t really much of talking about why you’re here, what you’re doing here or this and that,” said Webb, who’s listed at 6-foot-2, 204 pounds. “It was, ‘Here’s what we’re doing in the game.’ And that’s kind of what it’s been ever since.”

Webb filled a similar role for the Ravens before his move to New England. Baltimore elevated him to its gameday roster twice — including for its Week 3 visit to Gillette Stadium — and he only played in the kicking game in those contests.

“I don’t think it was tough because I played two games with Baltimore in the regular season, and I didn’t play a single snap of offense,” he said. “Which I’m fine with. Whatever I can do to help the team is what I’m here for. If that’s 20 snaps on special teams or five snaps on special teams, whatever it is, I’m here for it and I’m ready to do it. I wouldn’t mind playing offense, but if they don’t need me there, I’m cool with just doing what they need me to do.”

But Webb did not come into the NFL as a special teams-only player. This preseason, he played more snaps as a slot receiver (65) than he did on punts and kickoffs (43) and caught four passes on five targets for 88 yards and a touchdown. He also moonlighted as a safety during Baltimore’s exhibition finale, logging two snaps in the defensive backfield.

And before making the leap to the pros, Webb was a five-year starter at wideout for The Citadel, which, like many other military schools, employed a run-heavy offense. He totaled 102 career catches for 2,151 yards and 22 touchdowns, leading his team in receptions in each of his final four seasons and averaging 21.1 yards per catch.

Webb also has a defensive background. He was a standout DB at Allatoona High School in Georgia, switching to offense after his college redshirt season and said he always “genuinely enjoyed” playing on special teams.

“I played just about everything,” he said. “I played front line, I was a kick returner, I was rushing punts, I was playing gunner, I was playing the interior on punt. Anything you could think of.”

Webb has yet to play in punt coverage since joining the Patriots, but he’s been part of the kickoff, kick return and punt return teams, joining a group of core special teamers that also features fellow UDFAs Brenden Schooler and DaMarcus Mitchell. Special teams coordinator Cam Achord acknowledged there’s been a learning curve for the 24-year-old, calling his transition from Baltimore a “crash course.”

“As (players in Webb’s situation) get more familiar with the system, their roles could increase,” Achord said. “It’s no different than players starting out in spring ball. You’re not going to throw chapter 25 at them. You’re going to start at chapter 1. So you’ve got to spend the extra time with them, whether that be extra meetings, extra walkthroughs, just to get those guys up to speed.

“He’s done a great job, talking specifically about Webb. He’s done a great job for us. He’s bought in. He’s attentive, pays attention and he’s just trying to absorb everything. It takes a little bit on our parts as coaches to make sure we’re catching the players up and we’re keeping it enough to the multiples that we want to have, but not too much that a guy is going to go out there and play slow. And that’s for any of the guys.”

Webb has had an ideal role model in longtime Patriots special teams captain Matthew Slater, a 10-time Pro Bowler who will be in the conversation for the Pro Football Hall of Fame once he retires. Webb said he’s been blown away by Slater’s generosity.

“He’s a great guy,” Webb said. “Just in general, outside of football. Everybody knows what he can do on the football field, but outside of that, he not only wants himself to be the best he can be, he wants everyone around him to, as well. One of the first conversations I had with him, he’s like, ‘Whatever I can do to help you, let me know. I want you to succeed and be here for as long as you can possibly be.’

“Which is super cool to hear from a guy that could have a completely different mindset and completely different attitude. Like, he could be mean and the guy that’s like, ‘I know it all and I’ve done it all. You’re a rookie; figure it out like I figured it out.’ But he’s not like that. He wants everybody to succeed, which is really cool to come into and be a part of.”

It’s unclear how long Webb’s Patriots tenure will last. Davis won’t be healthy enough to reclaim his spot at any point this season, but as a limited-role player with no real NFL track record, Webb is one of the low men on New England’s 53-man roster and could be bumped off if the Patriots need to add a player at a different position. And his odds of seeing game action on offense likely are only slightly higher than Slater’s.

If Webb sticks around through the season, perhaps he’ll get a chance to compete for playing time at receiver next spring and summer. But for now, he’s just happy to contribute however he can.

“Every football team’s goal is to win, and whatever way they see fit, they’re going to do,” Webb said. “You just have to mold yourself into that. I’m not going to come in here and change what Coach (Bill) Belichick’s been doing for who knows how long. You’ve just got to come in with an open mind and accept whatever’s thrown your way.”

Thumbnail photo via Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports Images
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