By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
The NFL is certainly a big step up from the college game. But the Patriots still like to pick winners.
Technically, rookie running back Damien Harris is the only one to actually win a BCS national championship in their last two draft classes. But Harris, Sony Michel, and Isaiah Wynn have four appearances on college football’s biggest stage between them, including when they faced each other in the 2017 clash between Georgia and Alabama. The Crimson Tide eked out a 26-23 win for the second of two national titles for Harris.
Harris realizes that the NFL is a “whole other level” compared to his college days. But the rookie’s extensive experience playing for the highest accomplishments in college football have him more than ready to make his NFL debut on Sunday night against the Steelers.
Outside noise became commonplace over Harris’ time in Alabama, which has become college football’s version of the Patriots. So he should have no problem ignoring it.
“That just comes with preparation – not focusing on external factors, not worrying about crowd noise, not worrying about necessarily what the opponent’s going to do, just focusing on what we do,” Harris told 985TheSportsHub.com Friday. “When you have the opportunity to go out and play football, that just comes with practice. Of course it’s going to be loud, there’s going be a lot of people, a lot of things that present a lot of challenges, but the biggest key is focusing on what you’ve got to focus on and going from there.”
As most NFL teams are, the Steelers and Patriots are both well-represented by rookies who played in bowl games to close out their college careers. The Steelers have seven, and that doesn’t include 10th overall pick Devin Bush, who sat out the Peach Bowl for Michigan against the Florida Gators.
Patriots rookie defensive end Chase Winovich did not miss the Peach Bowl, and he racked up a sack and seven total tackles, including 2.5 for losses of yardage. Second-round pick Joejuan Williams broke up three passes and made five tackles for Vanderbilt against Baylor in the Texas Bowl. Jake Bailey punted nine times for an average of 44.6 yards for Stanford in the Sun Bowl against Pitt. Ideally we don’t see backup quarterback Jarrett Stidham in a meaningful game for a while, but he dominated in Auburn’s 63-14 win over Purdue in the Music City Bowl, going 15-for-21 (71.4 percent) for 373 yards and five touchdowns.
It’s nothing new for NFL draft picks to have a bowl game appearance in tow, or even a national title. But the Patriots’ rookies are consistently revealing itself as filled with guys who fit the Patriots’ profile. Football players who focus on their jobs and overcome, if not eliminate, influences beyond their control.
“I’m anxious [for my first game], in a sense, but at the same time it’s just football,” Winovich said Monday. “I’ve been doing it for so long at this point that I’m confident in my preparation, as you should be. I’m looking forward to the opportunity, whatever role I may have on Sunday.”
Collecting players of that ilk go a long way toward building championship DNA. The Patriots’ impressive 2019 draft class, so far, looks like a group that’s ready to add a lot to the mix now and into the future. The stage is getting bigger for them, but their goals remain the same.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.