By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
The Patriots signed a bunch of undrafted rookies after the end of the 2019 NFL Draft. As is tradition. While most UDFAs across the NFL won't make teams this fall, Bill Belichick's roster-building over the past 15 years indicates that at least one will make the Patriots. It's a virtual guarantee.
Belichick has rostered a UDFA every season since 2004, starting with cornerback Randall Gay in 2004 (get the full list at Patriots.com). He's found some major contributors along the way. Cornerback J.C. Jackson turned out to be the hidden gem of the 2018 class. Jackson steadily improved and earned more snaps as the season went along in an impressive first go-around.
Starting center David Andrews turned out to be 2015's hidden treasure. He's played in 60 of a possible 64 games since his rookie season, starting 57. And in case you needed a reminder, the Patriots scooped Super Bowl XLIX hero Malcolm Butler off the undrafted heap. Other good examples who remain on the roster include DT Adam Butler (2017), OT Cole Croston (2017), CB Jonathan Jones (2016), and P Ryan Allen (2013), while RB Brandon Bolden (2012) and QB Brian Hoyer (2009) returned to the team after playing elsewhere.
Meet the Class of 2019
So who's the hidden gem among the Patriots' undrafted free agents this year? Here's a quick rundown of what to know about the 2019 group.
OL Calvin Anderson, Texas. Anderson earned an economics degree at Rice before transferring to Texas, where he started all 14 games at left tackle for the Longhorns. He earned an All-Big 12 honorable mention in the process. At 6-foot-5 and 300 pounds he'll need to add strength to make it in the NFL, so rookie minicamp could be especially important for him.
TE Andrew Beck, Texas. A converted linebacker. Beck caught 40 passes for 440 yards and 4 touchdowns in 51 games (30 starts) at Texas. He projects as more of an in-line blocker at the NFL level, though. His pass-catching upside is closer to that of James Develin than Rob Gronkowski.
RB Nick Brossette, LSU. At 6 feet and 221 pounds, Brosette has a legitimate shot to make the roster if he can prove his worth as a short yardage back. They lacked that kind of presence after Jeremy Hill went down with a torn ACL in Week 1. And even if he doesn't end up making the Patriots' 53-man roster, he'd be the top candidate as the practice squad RB. With Sony Michel, James White, Damien Harris, and Bolden virtually locked in, Brossette could be in a camp battle with Rex Burkhead.
WR Ryan Davis, Auburn. Long-term potential as the all-important slot receiver. The 5-foot-9, 185-pound Davis is Auburn's all-time leader in receptions with 178. He ranks 14th with 1,555 yards. He has the physical tools to eventually be a reliable slot receiver at the NFL level, but he may be hard-pressed to beat out Braxton Berrios or Bruce Ellington as a reserve slot option behind Julian Edelman.
S Malik Gant, Marshall. Big, tough thumper with upside as a box safety. He could earn a role on the scout team with his ability to adequately replicate Patrick Chung on the practice field. But the safety position remains too deep for someone of Gant's status to crack the final depth chart. Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon, and Chung (eventually) will all be back, with former Jets safety Terrence Brooks expected to be a core special teamer. It's not likely there will be room for the 6-foot-2 Gant, unless he seriously impresses in camp.
OL Tyler Gauthier, Miami. Despite Andrews' great contributions as the Patriots' starting center, it appears that the Pats have started his countdown clock. Fourth-round pick Hjalte Froholdt projects as a center first in the NFL, while Gauthier started all 25 games at center in his junior and senior seasons with the Hurricanes. He also reportedly got a relatively high $70,000 signing bonus, indicating the Patriots at least give him a good chance to make the practice squad.
LB Terez Hall, Missouri. Started the final two seasons at linebacker for the Tigers. Hall is generally described as an athletic linebacker with potential to play in coverage, but one who lacks the requisite instincts and football intelligence to excel at the position in the NFL. That would be especially true for the Patriots, who appear to be taking a chance on his physical tools to see if he can develop the rest.
WR Jakobi Meyers, NC State. The Wolfpack's big slot receiver who could be trusted to get to the right spot and reel in catchable balls. Meyers' speed is below-average at this point, so he ended up going undrafted as the NFL's obsession with speed continues to rise. But he has a similar skill set to first-round receiver N'Keal Harry, which makes him a curious prospect with a chance to at the very least make the practice squad. But considering the Pats' needs at receiver and uncertainty elsewhere on the depth chart, he may have the best chance of them all to make the 53-man roster.
DB D'Angelo Ross, New Mexico. Started the final two seasons of his college career after transferring to New Mexico. He made a team-leading 57 tackles in his senior year, which Belichick must love. Ross is severely undersized for a cornerback at 5-foot-9 and 180 pounds, though. Like Keion Crossen as a rookie, Ross may have to shine on special teams to earn a spot on an extremely crowded CB depth chart.
OL Tyree St. Louis, Miami. He's a bit unique as a prospect in that he has starting experience at both left and right tackle from his time with the Hurricanes. That could give him an opportunity to prove himself as a swing tackle type, considering the Patriots' uncertainty at the position. But he should start camp behind Croston and third-round pick Yodny Cajuste in the race for that role.
Who's The Hidden Gem?
In this writer's humble opinion, the undrafted rookie with the best chance to make the team goes to WR Jakobi Meyers. Edelman and Harry are the only surefire roster locks at wide receiver, but Phillip Dorsett could be considered a virtual lock as well. Free-agent signings Demaryius Thomas, Maurice Harris, and Ellington are no guarantees to make the team. Both Harry and Meyers indicate a shift for Belichick toward bigger receivers.
Meyers would bring size to the slot position and allow Edelman to occasionally line up as the "Z" receiver. The former Wolfpack wideout could make up for a lack of speed with his hands and smarts. But this would all be contingent on Meyers clicking with Tom Brady and picking up the playbook uncommonly quickly, like fellow undrafted rookie Kenbrell Thompkins did in 2013.
If we're creating tiers, let's put Meyers in one by himself. The next-best chance to make the roster go to Brossette, Beck, Anderson, and St. Louis. New England appears to be deemphasizing tight ends in the passing game, but the depth chart is as uncertain as any on the roster so Beck will get a fair shot.
Brossette has a chance merely because of the attrition associated with running backs. The presence of him and Harris means the Patriots won't have to do something similar to using Cordarrelle Patterson in the backfield, as they did a year ago. And like Beck at tight end, the question marks at tackle give Anderson and St. Louis an added boost in their chances.
Davis, Gant, Gauthier, Hall, and Ross should be considered legitimate practice squad candidates at this point. Their skill sets could prove useful on the scout team. Especially if you have a situation like Davis catching passes from his college quarterback, Jarett Stidham, whom the Patriots drafted in the fourth round.
Will Meyers be the unearthed treasure this time around? There's always one, if not more.
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].