New England Patriots

Defensive tackle Sam Roberts playing for the Northwest Missouri State Bearcats. (Photo courtesy Northwest Missouri State University Athletics)

The Patriots have began the process of signing their 2022 draft class. On Wednesday, defensive lineman Sam Roberts agreed to his rookie contract with the team per multiple reports.

A standard four-year rookie contract, Roberts’ deal is worth up to $3.66 million over the course of the deal. He’ll carry a cap hit of $747,869 in 2022 if he makes the 53-man roster. Patriots salary cap expert Miguel Benzan broke down the details of Roberts’ contract here.

Drafted 200th overall in the sixth round, Roberts impressed scouts throughout the pre-draft process, including shining at the Shrine Bowl. In 2021, Roberts had 18 tackles for a loss and 6.5 sacks in 13 games for Division-II Northwest Missouri State. Roberts also earned the Cliff Harris Award, which is given to the top non-Division-I player in the nation each year.

Roberts is the first of the Patriots’ 10 draft picks to sign his rookie deal. The team has time to get all the deals done, with training camp serving as the unofficial deadline. Last year, Christian Barmore was the final draft pick to agree to his rookie deal, doing so on July 21.

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Patriots small school draft picks dominated big school competition

  • Heading into the 2022 NFL Draft, it was billed as one of the most wild and unexpected in recent history. That prediction ended up coming true, both league-wide and for the Patriots.

    Among the number of trends bent by New England was the usual focus on big-school prospects. Of the schools they’ve historically targeted the most under Belichick, OL Andrew Stueber of Michigan was the only player adding to that list.

    Meanwhile, they took players from five non-Power Five schools – OL Cole Strange from Cattanooga, CB Marcus Jones from Houston, RB Pierre Strong from South Dakota State, QB Bailey Zappe from Western Kentucky, and DL Sam Roberts from Northwest Missouri State. That’s the most they’ve taken in a single draft since conference realignment in the early 2010’s. Of those five, four spent the majority of if not their entire collegiate careers at non-FBS schools, which is the most by the team in the Belichick era. (Jones is the exception, having played for Troy and then a Houston program that has been one of the best Group of Five schools since realignment and will join the Big 12 in 2023.)

    While it varies some from position-to-position, for the most part small school players as a whole aren’t any more or less likely to pan out than their bigger school counterparts. However, that comes from a significantly smaller sample size. That’s in part due to the fact that smaller school players can be more difficult to evaluate and project due to the level of competition they face. When looking at those players, teams may put more importance on showcase bowls (ex. Senior Bowl, Shrine Bowl) or games against teams from higher levels.

    For the Patriots’ first three small school prospects, both boxes are checked. Strange and Zappe both took part in the Senior Bowl, while Strong and Roberts were Shrine Bowl participants. The team got a chance to see all three working against elite competition back in January.

    What really stands out though is the production all three had against elite competition. Strong got two chances to face Power Five teams over the last three years in a pair of SEC opponents. The Mocs – an FCS team out of the Southern Conference or SoCon – took on Tennessee in 2019, and Kentucky last year. In each of those games, Strange allowed no sacks, just one QB hit, and one pressure. PFF gave him an 80.9 run blocking grade for the game against Kentucky, which ended up finishing the season ranked 18th in the nation.

  • Strong got two chances to face FBS talent while playing at FCS South Dakota State, including one matchup against a Power Five team.

    When Strong was a sophomore, the Jackrabbits faced a Big Ten opponent in Minnesota in the season opener. Against the Golden Gophers – who finished that season ranked 10th – Strong carries the ball 12 times for 53 yards averaging 4.4 yards per carry. He also caught two passes for 59 yards including a 39 yarder, and had a 47 yard kickoff return.

    Two years later, the Jackrabbits returned to FBS play taking on Colorado State. That proved to be a breakout game for Strong, who ran for 138 yards on just 13 carries and found the endzone twice. In terms of yards per carry, it was his best game of the season. When speaking with Patriots media after being drafted, Strong cited that performance the moment he realized the NFL may be a possibility.

    “Going into my senior year, man, I felt like I just was feeling great, playing a very good opponent, had a great game versus a very good opponent team,” Strong recalled. “That’s the game everybody looks at, so it’s just, that game right there, I just felt like I could take the game to the next level.”

    ” I always felt like I could get on that level, but it was just – that’s the game I felt like everyone wanted to see,” Strong continued, noting the importance of the elevated competition level. “Just me playing against a non-FCS opponent or FBS opponent so, it’s showing that I can do that versus a FBS opponent, I could do that on any level.”

  • Although Zappe saw more time against FBS opponents than the previous two players, having spent his fifth and final season at C-USA Western Kentucky, that isn’t his only experience against elite competition. During his first four years at Houston Baptist – another SoCon team – the Huskies faced four FBS opponents.

    That began in 2018, when they faced SMU. It wasn’t a dominant performance by any means, but Zappe certainly held his own. He completed 55 percent of his 49 pass attempts for 226 yards with two touchdowns and just one interception. He also ran for 42 yards on nine carries.

    During the COVID-shortened 2020 season, HBU played three of its four games against FBS teams. That’s when Zappe really started taking over. In the opener against C-USA North Texas, he completed 62 percent of his 62 passes for 480 yards and three touchdowns, while taking just one sack and not throwing a pick. In another C-USA game against Louisiana Tech, he completed 64 percent of 58 pass attempts, this time throwing for 406 yards and five scores with just one pick. He also ran for 34 yards on five carries.

    However, his best game at HBU came against the toughest opponent in Texas Tech, a Power Five school out of the Big 12. Facing a defense that ended up allowing just 258.5 passing yards per game that season, Zappe went 30-of-49 for 567 yards with four touchdowns and no picks as the Huskies nearly pulled up the upset losing 35-33. The 567 yards are the most by an FCS quarterback against an FBS opponent since the two levels split in 1978.

  • Even when Zappe made the jump to the FBS level, transferring to Western Kentucky for the 2021 season, he continued to punch above his weight class. He got two chances to face Power Five opponents last season in a pair of Big Ten teams in Indiana and Michigan State.

    Against Indiana, Zappe completed 70.5 percent of his passes for 365 yards and three touchdowns. The next week, against a Spartans team that would finish the season ranked eighth nationally, Zappe completed 72 percent of his throws, this time throwing for 488 yards and another three scores.

    There’s one other game from Zappe’s 2021 season that stands out, although it didn’t come against a Power Five team. In the Boca Raton Bowl, the Hilltoppers faced an Appalachian State team that to that point ranked 17th in total defense among all FBS teams, and was allowing 325 total yards per game. Zappe completed 24-of-31 passes for 311 yards and four touchdowns – just in the first half. He finished the game 46-of-64 with 488 yards and six touchdowns.

  • Perhaps the most impressive thing about all of these performances from Zappe though isn’t all the positive plays, but the lack of negative ones. Elevated video game-like numbers aren’t totally unheard of for quarterbacks in such pass-heavy offenses (although Bailey took it to another level, setting new FBS records for passing yards and TDs in 2021), but they’re usually just volume stats that comes with elevated negatives as well.

    That wasn’t the case for Zappe. Despite leading all FBS passers with 687 pass attempts, his 1.6 percent interception rate was the 18th lowest among all qualified passers. He was also one of the least-sacked quarterbacks in college football despite all those drop backs. In the three games mentioned above, he was sacked just four times total and didn’t throw a single interception.

    For Roberts, this exercise doesn’t quite transfer given Northwest Missouri State never played any Division-I opponents. However, we can look at how he performed against the best of the best at the Division-II level.

    In four years at NMSU, Roberts played in nine playoff games. In those games, Roberts had nine tackles for a loss, including 1.5 sacks with five quarterback hits. He also forced a fumble and blocked two kicks.

    Following the 2021 season, Roberts gave the Patriots plenty of chances to see him against a higher level of competition. The Cliff Harris Award winner – an award given to the best non-Division-I player in the country that was also won by Kyle Dugger – took part in the Hula Bowl in addition to the Shrine Bowl.

    When it comes to the Patriots’ 2022 draft class, there are a few themes that carried through all three days. Speed is a big one, with the team drafting both the fastest wide receiver and running back from the NFL Combine. The small school additions were another, and within those picks is a theme itself – they all performed their best on the biggest stage. As they begin their NFL careers, that experience will likely be something they can lean on.

What the draft experts are saying about the Patriots' late-round picks

  • With their final four picks in the 2022 NFL Draft, the Patriots added some serious edge. They took power running back Kevin Harris to start the sixth round, then added a defensive lineman in Sam Roberts and two offensive linemen, guard Chasen Hines and tackle Andrew Stueber.

    Will there be any late round gems from this group? Here’s what the expert scouting reports said about the four before the draft.

  • RB Kevin Harris, South Carolina

    Running back Kevin Harris #20 of the South Carolina Gamecocks runs with the ball during the second quarter during their game against the Vanderbilt Commodores at Williams-Brice Stadium on October 16, 2021 in Columbia, South Carolina. (Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images)

    Running back Kevin Harris #20 of the South Carolina Gamecocks runs with the ball during the second quarter during their game against the Vanderbilt Commodores at Williams-Brice Stadium on October 16, 2021 in Columbia, South Carolina. (Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images)

    Lance Zierlein,

    “Big, bruising runner with good vision and the self-awareness to understand that power running is what will butter his bread. His 2021 productivity fell off from 2020, due in part to health issues, shared carries and average South Carolina run blocking. He creates for himself with contact and tackle-breaking talent, but typically drops and finishes against an open-field tackler rather than avoiding him. He’s a chain mover with excellent ball security as a battering ram inside. He will be limited as an outside runner and needs to come off the field on passing downs. Harris has talent and his impressive 2020 was no mirage. He’s a good Day 3 option for teams looking to upgrade their power.”

    Joe Marino, The Draft Network:

    “Kevin Harris put together a breakout campaign for South Carolina in 2020, where he led the SEC in rushing and collected 15 rushing touchdowns. Returning from offseason back surgery, Harris’ production dipped in 2021 and he shared the workload. Harris is a downhill runner with good vision, power, contact balance, and decision-making skills. He runs angry and has a surprising amount of elusiveness for his body type and running style. He is surprisingly light on his feet and fluid when stringing together moves. When it comes to concerns, Harris has a lot to prove in terms of his ability to contribute on passing downs. While he wasn’t featured at all as a receiver and has only executed a limited route tree with too many drops, he also wasn’t given many reps in pass protection. It’s one thing to not be a dynamic receiving threat, but a back of his stature should provide value in pass protection. He should be a dynamic short-yardage back at the next level that thrives between that tackles.”

    Tommy Garrett, Pro Football Network:

    “It’s hard to be an optimist when you go into a new season. You look at players through rose-tinted glasses and believe they will take the next step in their evolution. Two guys fit the bill for me last year in this category. One was Oklahoma transfer, Eric Gray, and the other was Harris. Unfortunately, neither helped their draft stock. Actually, they dropped, if anything.

    Harris was a breakout RB in 2020. A bruising, powerful back, Harris was second in the SEC in rushing with 1,138 yards and 15 TDs on 185 attempts. Despite being what you would call an angry rusher, Harris showed a surprising amount of elusiveness. I’d consider him to have NFL-average levels of between-the-tackles and open-field agility.

    It’s not his calling card to make a defender miss in a phone booth. He uses his shoulder for that. When my film grading was over on Harris, his principal characteristics are the ones you would expect for a 220-pound RB — contact balance, physicality, and tackle-breaking ability.

    Averaging 1.84 YPTP (yards per team play), Harris boosted his value by adding 21 receptions — albeit for only 159 yards and a single TD. Add in five games of over 100 yards and games of 243 and 210 against LSU and Kentucky, respectively, and you can see why people were excited for him to take the next step. Unfortunately, that never happened.”

  • DL Sam Roberts, Northwest Missouri State

    Defensive tackle Sam Roberts playing for the Northwest Missouri State Bearcats. (Photo courtesy Northwest Missouri State University Athletics)

    Defensive tackle Sam Roberts playing for the Northwest Missouri State Bearcats. (Photo courtesy Northwest Missouri State University Athletics)

    Strengths: Versatile interior defender that has produced at a high level. Tested well in terms of speed and strength to go along with good size.

    Weaknesses: Has battled injuries through his playing career. Steeper learning curve making the jump from Northwest Missouri State to the NFL.


  • IOL Chasen Hines, LSU

    Mar 4, 2022; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Louisiana State offensive lineman Chasen Hines (OL20) goes through drills during the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

    Mar 4, 2022; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Louisiana State offensive lineman Chasen Hines (OL20) goes through drills during the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

    Lance Zierlein,

    “Burly, strong center/guard prospect whose strengths lend themselves to a fit with a power-based rushing attack. Hines can create run lanes as an aggressive drive blocker and is effective hitting targets on the move on pin-and-pull reps. He needs to drop some weight and improve his hand placement in order to sustain blocks as a pro. He protects the pocket with decent technique but might not have enough mirror to keep the gaps clean as a full-time guard. Hines has early backup value along the interior line with eventual starting talent that is best-suited at the center spot.”

    Tony Pauline, Pro Football Network:

    “Positives: Agile, quick offensive lineman who bends his knees, sets with a wide base, and blocks with leverage. Explosive at the point and fires into blocks. Patient in pass protection, stays square, and works well with linemates. Strong, works his hands throughout the action, and knocks opponents from the line of scrimmage.

    Negatives: Struggles to finish blocks or control opponents. Late picking up stunts or blitzes. Coming off a disappointing season.

    Analysis: Hines presented himself as a serious Day 2 prospect in 2020. However, his play regressed last season. He possesses the size and style to be used at guard or center, though Hines must really get his game back on track.”

  • OL Andrew Stueber, Michigan

    Michigan offensive lineman Andrew Stueber blocks during the spring game Saturday, April 13, 2019 at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor. (Syndication: Detroit Free Press)

    Michigan offensive lineman Andrew Stueber blocks during the spring game Saturday, April 13, 2019 at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor. (Syndication: Detroit Free Press)

    Lance Zierlein,

    “Beefy right tackle prospect who succeeds with toughness and strength. Stueber is split-low with excess girth across his torso and might have teams considering him as both a guard and a tackle. He’s strong in his uppers and lowers but would benefit from better bend for increased leverage. He plays with good feel for pocket depth and can neutralize power rushers but will have trouble successfully setting out to NFL edge speed. He’s built for power and gap run schemes but is more of a neutralizer than finisher. Toughness, size, strength and potential as a two-position player add to his chances of playing in the league.”

    Tony Pauline, The Draft Network:

    “Positives: Large, wide-bodied blocker who is best in a small area. Plays smart, tough football, keeps his head on a swivel, and immediately recognizes blitzes. Sets with a wide base, bends his knees, and sinks his butt at the line of scrimmage. Explosive at the point, fires off the snap into blocks, and turns defenders from the line to open up running lanes. Consistently blocks with proper pad level, works his hands throughout the action, and anchors in pass protection.

    Negatives: Struggles to adjust and gets beaten by speed rushers. Average skill blocking in motion and cannot hit a moving target.

    Analysis: Stueber was a solid tackle at Michigan and looked terrific when moved into guard during Senior Bowl practices. More of a power gap lineman, he’s a Day 3 pick who could start in the right system on Sundays.”

    Brandon Thorn, Bleacher Report:

    “Stueber is a two-year starter inside Michigan’s multiple, run-heavy offense with 20 career starts at right tackle and two at right guard. He has a top-heavy build with a narrow, stiff lower half.

    Stueber excels as a run-blocker, using precise aiming points on double-teams to consistently fit and seal off first-level defenders, with the leg drive to uproot and displace them off their spot. He’s also adept at knocking defensive tackles off-balance to feed them to the guard before his release on combo blocks. He shows a firm grasp of the play’s intent by knowing when and how to reposition himself on blocks to help define the read for runners and open up rushing lanes.

    In pass protection, Stueber wins with good mental processing and patience to diagnose, pass off and pick up line games and stunts. He is substantially better in protection against tightly aligned rushers when he doesn’t have to operate in as much space, staying square in his pass set with sharp, jolting independent strikes to keep rushers at his fingertips.

    Stueber will need to move inside in the NFL due to limited range at tackle that hinders his ability to protect the corner and poor lateral quickness to redirect against inside counters and movement across his face. He also needs to play with better pad level and hand placement on angle-drive blocks as a run-blocker to improve his ability to control and sustain. Kicking inside won’t eliminate these issues completely, but it will help alleviate them and give him the best chance at carving out a long-term role in the NFL.

    Overall, Stueber has the stature, length, mental processing and craftiness with his hands in pass protection to make the move inside, carve out a role as a backup and have some developmental upside as a potential spot starter down the road.”

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