In the NFL Draft, Patriots have hit on their share of lottery tickets. And one way they’ve tried to gain an edge is to gamble on elite high school recruits who fell off in college. Linebacker Cameron McGrone is the latest example.
New England has now gone three drafts in a row spending a day 3 pick on a four-or-five-star recruit who ranked fourth or better at his position. McGrone rated five stars and ranked No. 1 at outside linebacker in the 2018 recruiting class, and 24th in the nation (via 247Sports). He’s since transitioned to inside linebacker, then become the third Michigan defender drafted by the Patriots in as many years, reuniting with Josh Uche and Chase Winovich.
Now, the question is whether McGrone pans out. The gamble paid off for the Patriots in the 2020 draft, when they selected Michael Onwenu (another Michigan guy) in the sixth round. Onwenu was a four-star recruit and ranked second among guards at 247Sports coming out of high school. He ended up starting all 16 games for the Patriots, a relative rarity for a rookie, and was named to the Pro Football Writers’ All-Rookie Team. Onwenu projects as the Patriots’ starting left guard for 2021.
But there’s a reason day-3 picks are basically Powerball. The Patriots in 2020 also signed undrafted wide receiver Jeff Thomas, who was the ninth-ranked recruit at his position in 2017. New England cut Thomas before the start of the 2020 season. The former Miami wideout is still a free agent.
In 2019, the Pats used a fifth-round pick on defensive tackle Byron Cowart, who came out of high school as ESPN’s No. 1 overall recruit before committing to Auburn. Cowart struggled to find playing time for three years before transferring to Maryland. Cowart started 14 games for the Patriots as a sophomore in 2020, while playing 41 percent of defensive snaps. He has a chance to stick on the roster in 2021, as part of the team’s retooled defensive line rotation.
Matt Dolloff is a writer and podcaster 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? Yell at him on Twitter @mattdolloff and follow him on Instagram @mattydsays. You can also email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.