New England Patriots Rookies Forecast

By Charlie Campbell – @draftcampbell

Solid Starter

Anfernee Jennings, LB, Alabama – Round 3
After losing veterans Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins in free agency, New England had a need at linebacker, but the team landed Jennings, who is a great scheme fit. He is a tough run defender, a dangerous pass rusher, and a gritty player who fits the Patriot way. It would not surprise me if he forces his way onto the field quickly and becomes a valuable contributor next to Dont’a Hightower.

Even though Jennings played for a high-profile team, he went under the radar to a degree as there was not a lot of buzz about him during the pre-draft process. However, Jennings made a lot of clutch plays for the Crimson Tide over the past few seasons. In 2019 Jennings recorded 83 tackles, eight sacks, five passes defended, one interception and a forced fumble. As a junior, he had 5.5 sacks and 11 passes broken up as a rotational player. The 6-foot-1, 252-pounder is built like a truck and could be a dangerous pass rusher while being a solid run defender.

The Patriots have been masterful at taking edge defenders like Collins, Van Noy, and Trey Flowers, and using them to their strengths. With all of them playing for other teams now, a new group will be needed to emerge, and Jennings could be a great fit in what used to be Jamie Collins’ role. It would not surprise me if Jennings is a steal who ends up becoming a solid starter for New England.

2019: N’Keal Harry, WR
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

Devin Asiasi, TE, UCLA – Round 3
I felt that Asiasi should have returned to UCLA for his senior year to become a more complete player, but he decided to make the jump to the NFL. While Asiasi had some receiver production as a junior with 44 receptions for 641 yards and four touchdowns, he needs to improve as a blocker to be a viable three-down starter. Asiasi is quick and athletic as a receiver, but in the blocking game, I think he is going to struggle. At 6-foot-3, 257 pounds, he lacks strength and length to block NFL edge defenders. As a result, I could see Asiasi topping out as a rotational receiving tight end and never developing into being a three-down starter. Of the Patriots’ early-round picks, he seems like the largest risk of being a bust.

2019: Yodney Cajuste, OT
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

Kyle Dugger, S, Lenoir-Rhyne – Round 2
During the fall of 2019, there was a buzz about Dugger (6-0, 217) in the scouting community, to the point of high-level scouts like directors of college scouting going to watch him, and was the first outlet to report that Dugger had early-round potential for the 2020 NFL Draft. Dugger totaled 31 tackles with two interceptions and four passes broken up in 2019 while dealing with an injury. Teams were raving about his speed at his big size. He then put that on display at the NFL Scouting Combie with a fabulous 40-yard dash time of 4.49 seconds.

Dugger is a versatile safety for pass coverage who can help a defense in a variety of ways. He is a play-making strong safety who is dangerous in zone coverage in the middle of the field. He can dish out some hard hits across the middle and has a knack for being around the ball. To go along with his size and speed, Dugger has enough athleticism to play man coverage on tight ends. However, short-area movement could be problematic for Dugger, so he should not play nickel corner against slot receivers. He also should not be a single-high deep free safety. Thus, Dugger is more of a true strong safety for the NFL.

In run defense, Dugger is a tough safety who has good size and strength. He has the ability to take on power backs and was a good tackler. Dugger’s speed comes through with him flying downhill, and he will be a good fit as the eighth man in the box in run defense. Some team sources feel that Dugger has hybrid potential where he could be moved to linebacker in the sub package. Dugger is making a big jump in competition, so it might better for him to get comfortable at one position before being moved to other spots.

New England needed some youth at safety, and Dugger is a great scheme fit for the Patriots. Dugger is making a huge jump in competition, so he landed in a good spot where he won’t be forced to start immediately. Learning behind veterans Patrick Chung and Devin McCourty is a great situation for Dugger to begin his NFL career. While being a rotational backup, Dugger can gain some experience while learning at the pro level. In a year or two, he could break in as a starter, and with his skill set, he has boom-pick potential for the Patriots.

2019: Joejuan Williams, CB
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

Dalton Keene, TE, Virginia Tech – Round 3
I like actually like Keene more than Asiasi for the NFL, but the Patriots obviously felt differently considering they took Asiasi first. Keene (6-5, 253) flashed at Virginia Tech over the past two seasons even though the Hokies did not give him lots of opportunities. He showed some real upside with quickness and athleticism. His blocking improved, and he could become better with some time in a pro strength and conditioning program. Keene may lack elite strength or speed to be a three-down starter, but I think he could be a really good No. 2 tight end who contributes as a blocker and receiver.

2019: Damien Harris, RB
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 2020 NFL Draft Grades:

37. Kyle Dugger, S, Lenoir-Rhyne – B+ Grade
The Patriots just broke a certain team’s heart. Kyle Dugger over the likes of Grant Delpit and Antoine Winfield might be a head-scratcher to some, but I’ve heard that some teams loved Kyle Dugger’s versatility. Dugger can play in so many spots, including linebacker, and that’s exactly what Bill Belichick is looking for. This isn’t an A+, but it’s a very solid selection.

60. Josh Uche, DE/LB, Michigan – C Grade
I like Josh Uche because he’s an explosive edge rusher who had a huge win rate when getting to the quarterback, but I don’t think it was worth moving up for him. In fact, the Patriots may have gotten him just by standing pat. This wasn’t a necessary move, but I like the player.

87. Anfernee Jennings, LB, Alabama – A- Grade
It can’t be a surprise that Bill Belichick selected a Nick Saban linebacker. The Patriots needed to address the linebacker situation with so many players at the position leaving in free agency. Jennings was someone I mocked at the beginning of the third round, so I like the value.

91. Devin Asiasi, TE, UCLA – BELICHICK’S DOG Grade
Did Bill Belichick’s dog make this pick? I don’t get it. There were better tight ends available, and there were also many tight ends available, so why did Belichick’s dog feel the need to move up for Devin Asiasi? This is just a terrible move. Belichick, please make sure your dog doesn’t use your computer again.

101. Dalton Keene, TE, Virginia Tech – BELICHICK’S DOG Grade
Someone, please, take out Bill Belichick’s dog! It can’t be allowed to make many more picks. This is just terrible. Once again, the Patriots traded up for a fifth- or sixth-round tight end. There are better players at the position available, so this selection would be bad enough if New England didn’t surrender resources to get it.

159. Justin Rohrwasser, K, Marshall – BELICHICK’S DOG Grade
What… If you’re going to draft a kicker in the fifth round, which is too early for a kicker, why not select the best kicker? And why pick a kicker over a potential starting quarterback. This is horrible. Bad dog! Bad!

182. Michael Onwenu, G, Michigan – B Grade
Michael Onwenu is a massive run-blocking offensive lineman (6-3, 344). He should help open up some running lanes for Sony Michel. He’s a decent pick at this spot.

195. Justin Herron, OT/G, Wake Forest – B+ Grade
No one should be shocked that Bill Belichick drafted an offensive lineman who happens to be versatile. Justin Herron is a good athlete with plenty of potential, so this might just be a steal.

204. Caash Malula, LB, Wyoming – BELICHICK’S DOG Grade
Caash Malula is not on my list anywhere, and I have more than 600 people on my list. I’m not even sure if he’s a real person. Nice try, Bill Belichick’s dog.

230. Dustin Woodard, C/G, Memphis – B Grade
Yet another versatile offensive lineman for the Patriots! I’m shocked. Anyway, Dustin Woodard was a stellar blocker for Memphis, but we’ll see if his play in the AAC translates to the NFL. This is a fine pick in the final round.

2020 NFL Draft Team Grade: C- . Follow Walter @walterfootball for updates.

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