By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
The Class of 2019 is finally set for the New England Patriots, who made 10 selections at this year's NFL Draft.
This year proved to be a bit of a departure for Bill Belichick, when compared to the positions and types of players he normally targets in the draft. He selected a wide receiver in the first round for the first time ever as Patriots head coach, and a big, strong outside receiver at that. Other relative surprises include trading up for a cornerback in round 2, a pair of offensive linemen who are better suited as pass-protectors, a pass-rushing specialist, and a right-footed punter.
Belichick's most discussed move, meanwhile, could turn out to be the drafting of Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham in the fourth round. The Patriots are certainly far away from affirming Tom Brady's true successor, but Stidham is perhaps the best candidate since Jimmy Garoppolo. Stidham needs at least a year or two to develop anyway, but it will be quite intriguing to see how both QBs look in, say, 2021.
Here's a complete rundown of all the Patriots' 2019 draft picks, and what could be expected of them as rookies.
First Round, No. 32: WR N'Keal Harry, Arizona State
An exciting selection, but un-Belichick-like. Harry is the first wide receiver he's ever drafted in the first round as Patriots head coach, and his physical traits didn't necessarily scream "Patriots!" either. But nonetheless, the Patriots prioritized their most needy position with their first pick. If Harry can quickly build trust with Tom Brady, he can be a big play threat every time he touches the ball. And he'd do it with a unique skill set that combines strength with elusiveness after the catch.
His lack of top-end speed concerns some about his ability to get separation against NFL corners, but Harry wins contested catches with his excellent hands and leaping ability. Again, the key is trust with Brady and grasping the Pats' playbook. Belichick seems pretty confident Harry can do the latter. If the other thing happens, then Brady has a dynamic new receiver he can trust to go up and get the ball even when he's covered.
Second Round, No. 45: CB Joejuan Williams, Vanderbilt
Despite taking a wide receiver in the first round, the Patriots' most surprising move of this year's draft may be trading up to take Vanderbilt cornerback Joejuan Williams. The Pats are incredibly deep at corner, with five players not including Williams signed through 2020. But at 6-foot-4 and 211 pounds, Williams brings rare size and strength to the position. He has a chance to become a high-end press corner at the NFL level, and the Patriots can choose to be patient with his development if they want. But something may have to give at cornerback, because it's not likely the Pats carry seven of them on the 53-man roster.
Perhaps Duke Dawson and/or Jonathan Jones move to safety. Maybe even Williams is used as a big safety in certain packages. But it's clear that the Patriots coveted Williams as a prospect, as indicated by trading up from 56 to 45 to get him. Cornerback will be at the bottom of the Patriots' list of concerns in 2019, but the addition of Williams makes it one of the most intriguing groups to watch in camp.
Third Round, No. 77: DE Chase Winovich, Michigan
What Winovich lacks in high-end size or explosiveness at defensive end he makes up for with one of the most relentless motors of any player in the 2019 class. Thanks to the league's infectious obsession with measurables, he could turn out to be a steal for Belichick. Winovich brings outstanding energy and competitiveness to the position and could assert himself as a rotational pass-rusher quicker than expected in the Patriots defense.
If other developmental D-line prospects in recent years are any indication, Winovich may not make a real impact until his second season. We didn't see much of Trey Flowers or Derek Rivers in their first full seasons. But Winovich is a hard worker and seems like a perfect fit for the Patriots locker room. He strikes as a fast riser on the roster.
Third round, No. 87: RB Damien Harris, Alabama
Harris is known for his ball security, pass protection, and patient, powerful running. Sounds like Belichick created this kid in a lab somewhere. Harris was simply too good for Belichick to pass up when he fell to the third round. Director of player personnel Nick Caserio indicated that Belichick considered Harris the best player available at the time.
I mean, he definitely wasn't drafted because the Patriots need a running back. Sony Michel and James White for now seem entrenched in the top-2 roles. But this could mean competition for Rex Burkhead. And it could also mean we won't have to see something like Cordarrelle Patterson running the ball again. Unfortunately, this pick could reignite the whole debate about whether you need to use a first-round pick to find a good running back. But the upside here is that Harris should be a good player regardless of where he or Michel were picked.
Third Round, No. 101: OT Yodny Cajuste, West Virginia
Despite his accomplishments as an All-Big 12 left tackle at West Virginia, Cajuste is more of a project at the NFL level. But Dante Scarnecchia is the best in the business at refining techniques and figuring out what his linemen do best. Cajuste's 6-foot-5 frame could make him an interior lineman long-term, but his experience playing left tackle for a top-10 offense in the nation could make him an early candidate to be the Patriots' swing tackle as a rookie.
He may need time to develop before Bill Belichick trusts him out there, though. Still, this is an athletic prospect with long arms and an athletic build. If he can work out the kinks in his game, the Pats may have found another future O-line starter in the middle rounds.
Fourth round, No. 118: OL Hjalte Froholdt, Arkansas
Someone tell Michael Felger that his name is pronounced "YELL-Duh". Froholdt started playing football as a sophomore in high school and transitioned from defensive tackle to center/guard at Arkansas. Bill Belichick must love his versatility and willingness to do whatever is asked of him. Froholdt started games at both center and left guard. He has a chance to put a squeeze on Ted Karras, who is currently the Patriots' top backup interior O-lineman. Karras is entering the final year of his contract.
Fourth round, No. 133: QB Jarrett Stidham, Auburn
Easily the most upside of all Patriots 2019 draft picks, simply because of the position he plays. Stidham's draft stock plummeted after a disappointing junior season with Auburn, and if he continued his trajectory from 2017 he might have been a first-round pick. Stidham is praised for his pre-snap intelligence, mobility, and above-average arm talent. But he faltered too much under pressure and struggled with inconsistent decision-making too much to warrant a high pick.
The key will be getting his post-snap confidence back, and he has time to do so. There was no better landing spot for a reclamation project like Stidham than the Patriots with Belichick and Brady. If Belichick can eliminate his bad habits and make him a more decisive passer, the tools are there to make him an eventual starter.
Fifth round, No. 159: DL Byron Cowart, Maryland
Cowart had a rocky start to his college career after entering the ranks as a five-star recruit. He underachieved and struggled with inconsistency at Auburn after coach Will Muschamp left for South Carolina. But he does have good size and length at 6-foot-3 with 34-inch arms and does have the physical tools to be an effective interior defender at the NFL level. Bill Belichick adds a reclamation project, and one he apparently coveted as evidenced by trading up from 162 to 159 in order to get him.
Fifth round, No. 163: P Jake Bailey, Stanford
This will go down as one of the most curious picks of the year. The Patriots just re-signed Ryan Allen to a one-year deal after he delivered an outstanding Super Bowl performance. Bailey is right-footed, which directly contradicts Belichick's usual philosophy of drafting southpaws at the position. But Bailey apparently showed Belichick enough to convince him to trade up in the fifth round for a second time to draft him. Allen gets some legitimate competition in camp.
Seventh round, No. 252: CB Ken Webster, Ole Miss
Webster was one of the more athletic DB prospects in the draft. He ran a 4.43 40-yard dash, a 43-inch vertical jump, a 133-inch broad jump, and a 6.85 three-cone drill. However he may have been too inconsistent as a coverage corner to pan out at that position in the NFL. He's better at tackling, which may make him more of a hybrid safety-linebacker type in sub packages. Ultimately, he's a lottery ticket. And he arrives in New England as part of easily the deepest depth chart on the team.
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at [email protected].
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