New England Patriots Rookies Forecast

By Charlie Campbell – @draftcampbell

Solid Starter

N’Keal Harry, WR, Arizona State – Round 1
The Patriots have done a masterful job of getting production out of their wide receivers with a core of players who are mostly slot receivers. They team has managed to win the past few years despite not having a receiver who provides a size mismatch or a true outside threat. New England made a move to change that by drafting Harry in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft, and after some time to learn, he could be a solid starter for the Patriots.

For the NFL, Harry is a big receiver who presents a size mismatch. He has good hands and is dangerous to make leaping grabs over defensive backs. With his height and weight, Harry is able to box out defensive backs to make catches even when he is covered. Harry shows nice technique with late hands to limit defensive backs’ ability to break up passes. In the NFL, Harry would be a good weapon in the red zone with his ability to make catches over defenders.

With the ball in his hands, Harry has some run-after-the-catch skills using his powerful frame and an ability to turn into a running back to pick up yards in the open field. He uses his size to break tackles and can be tough for defensive backs to get on the ground.

Harry has some limitations for the NFL due to not being fast. He will never be a separation receiver who can get open against NFL cornerbacks. Harry is going to constantly struggle to get open from man coverage because defenders will be able to run with him with ease and keep him from getting open. Thus, Harry won’t be a threat to stretch the field with speed, he will struggle to get open underneath, and he is not explosive enough to get separation via route-running.

If Harry were faster, he would have been a top-20 first-round pick. The Patriots have excellent underneath receivers to draw attention, so Harry should see plenty of single coverage on the outside. With the greatest quarterback in the history of the NFL throwing him passes, Harry looks like a safe bet to develop into a solid starter.

2018: Isaiah Wynn, OL
2017: Derek Rivers, DE
2016: Jon Thuney, G
2015: Tre Jackson, G
2014: Jon Halapio, G
2013: Logan Ryan, CB

Most Likely To Bust

Yodney Cajuste, OT, West Virginia – Round 3
With the exception of Deatrich Wise, I have been on the money with this prediction, as the results indicate below. Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has had a number of second-day picks not work out for the Patriots, as their veteran roster is tough to crack for many players coming out of the college ranks. I think Cajuste could keep that trend going and struggle to make the transition to the NFL.

During the season while speaking with a general manager, they told me that Cajuste was a player who intrigued them, but needed to watch him more. In following up with that GM, they said they came off Cajuste and were not impressed with his play. Cajuste was a competent blind-side protector for Will Grier given the Big XII’s weak pass defenses. Cajuste (6-4, 312) is an easy mover who has some size to him, but in college, he was a soft and finesse blocker. Hence, I think he could struggle with the physicality of the NFL.

Working in Cajuste’s favor is landing with one of the best offensive line coaches in the NFL, so I could easily end up being wrong on the projection of Cajuste having the most bust potential of the Patriots’ early-round picks.

2018: Ja’waun Bentley, LB
2017: Deatrich Wise, DE
2016: Cyrus Jones, CB
2015: Jordan Richards, S
2014: Bryan Stork, C
2013: Duron Harmon, S

Potential Boom Pick

Joejuan Williams, CB, Vanderbilt – Round 2
The Patriots really didn’t need a cornerback because they have veterans at the position and some talented young players, but Williams was viewed as too good to pass on and they snatched him up in the second round of the 2019 NFL Draft. Williams has the luxury of good coaching, developmental time, and talent around him. It would not surprise me if he ends up being a boom pick for the Patriots.

For the NFL, Williams is a press-man corner to play on the outside and line up against big receivers. Williams has very good ball skills, height and length, and is a good tackler. He does need to get more physical with receivers and use his length to jam them at the line. That is a technique issue and can be coached up. In 2018, Williams was excellent and one of the better corners in the SEC. The junior totaled 61 tackles, four interceptions and 14 passes broken up in his impressive year.

New England has had a lot of corners during the Bill Belichick era. I think the Patriots’ plan is to bring Williams along slowly and iron out a few issues in his game before placing him in a starting role. With the age of veteran Jason McCourty and the contract of Stephon Gilmore, in a year or two, Williams could take over a starting spot for the Patriots. Based of his size, ball skills, and instincts, I think Williams has boom potential for New England.

2018: Sony Michel, RB
2017: Antonio Garcia, OT
2016: Malcolm Mitchell, WR
2015: Malcom Brown, DT
2014: Dominique Easley, DE
2013: Jamie Collins, LB

Future Depth Player

Damien Harris, RB, Alabama – Round 3
The Patriots have their starter of the future with 2018 first-round pick Sony Michel, but given injuries and the need to keep backs fresh, it made sense to add some depth. The were fortunate Damien Harris fell to their third-round pick, as he could have gone much earlier. For the NFL, Harris could be a three-down starter who is the engine of a steady rushing attack. He has good bulk with knee bend and an ability to run behind his yards. That combines to make him tough to tackle and leads Harris to picking up yards after contact. He is an excellent fit for a zone-blocking system due to thriving as a one-cut downhill runner. In the passing game, Harris is an asset as well. He did some real damage catching passes out of the backfield. On check downs, Harris very dangerous to rip off yards in chunks. Thus, Harris is an ideal backup running back who can do it all and could be a quality starter if Michel goes down with a significant injury.

2018: Braxton Berrios, WR
2017: Conor McDermott, OT
2016: Jacoby Brissett, QB
2015: Trey Flowers, DE
2014: Cameron Fleming, OT
2013: Aaron Dobson, WR

Walt’s 2019 NFL Draft Grades:

32. N’Keal Harry, WR, Arizona State A- Grade
I mocked Parris Campbell to the Patriots for weeks, but it ended up being another receiver. N’Keal Harry makes just as much sense as Campbell, so I like this pick. Harry was highly productive at Arizona State, but had some speed concerns. He proved his detractors wrong at the combine, elevating himself into the first round. He should be a terrific downfield weapon in the final years of Tom Brady’s career.

45. Joejuan Williams, CB, Vanderbilt C Grade
I don’t understand why the Patriots traded up for Juejuan Williams. I thought there was a good chance they could obtain him or someone comparable at the end of the second frame, which is where I had him pegged. I don’t think Williams is ready to start right away, as he’s just a developmental, athletic player with great size at this point. The Patriots need a cornerback for the future, so it makes sense to take Williams, but I don’t believe that trading up for him was necessary.

77. Chase Winovich, DE/OLB, Michigan A Grade
Chase Winovich is the exact opposite of Rashan Gary. While Gary, the 12th-overall pick, has extreme athleticism, he didn’t try very hard at Michigan and failed to live up to expectations. Chase Winovich isn’t the same sort of athlete – though he tested better than expected – but he works hard and has a motor that doesn’t quit. He was more productive than Gary. He’s a Patriots type of player, and he should’ve been drafted a round earlier than this. New England made an outstanding selection with Winovich.

87. Damien Harris, RB, Alabama A+ Grade
This is one of the top picks of the third round. The Patriots needed to find a running back to play alongside Sony Michel and James White, as giving the ball to the plodding Rex Burkhead is always a wasted down. Harris is not only a talented runner, but also a stellar pass protector. He was also a team captain at Alabama, so I can’t say I’m surprised that New England made this selection.

101. Yodny Cajuste, OT, West Virginia B Grade
Yodny Cajuste doesn’t have an extensive history with football because he grew up as a basketball player. He’s far from fully developed, but has the upside to eventually become a starter in the NFL. He has a low floor as well, however. That said, this is the right range for Cajuste, so this is a fine pick.

118. Hjalte Froholdt, G, Arkansas B+ Grade
I had Hjalte Froholdt being chosen around this range, so this pick makes sense for the Patriots. Froholdt is an athletic guard, but must develop some strength. The upside is definitely there though, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he emerged as a starter in the near future.

133. Jarrett Stidham, QB, Auburn B Grade
I wasn’t a fan of Jarrett Stidham, but that’s when I thought he would be chosen in the third round. I think the fourth frame makes sense for Stidham. He has a great arm and upside, and he also has high character traits. However, he has zero pocket awareness, so he’s a major project. It’ll be interesting to see what Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels do with him.

159. Byron Cowart, DT, Maryland C- Grade
Byron Cowart is a fringe draftable prospect, so the Patriots could’ve done better in the fifth round. Cowart lacks experience and good athleticism. He wasn’t productive at Maryland. He doesn’t strike me as a smart football player. I’m not exactly sure what he does well outside of holding up well in run support.

163. Jake Bailey, P, Stanford GENE SMITH Grade
Not only did the Patriots waste a fifth-round pick on a punter; they traded up for a punter! THERE’S NO REASON TO TRADE UP FOR A PUNTER, EVER, UNLESS HE CAN BLAST 100-YARD PUNTS WITH A BIONIC LEG!!!

252. Ken Webster, CB, Ole Miss A- Grade
Ken Webster used to be a late first-round pick in my mock draft. He had a brilliant start to his career at Ole Miss, but following an injury and an arrest, his play completely fell off. However, Webster tested extremely well at the combine, so perhaps the Patriots believe he can return to pre-2016 form. With a pick this late, why not take a shot?

2019 NFL Draft Team Grade: A- . Follow Walter @walterfootball for updates.

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