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New England Patriots

New England Patriots

L-R: Patriots WR Demario Douglas, LB Marte Mapu (USA Today Network)

This year’s New England Patriots’ rookie class comes in with as much hype as any in recent memory. Between getting players drafted below projections, to strong performances from those players over the spring and summer, the external expectations are high for this group.

It’s an expansive group too. The Patriots made 12 picks in the 2023 NFL Draft, their most since making 12 in 2010 (a draft class that included Devin McCourty and Rob Gronkowski. Of those 12, 11 made the team with Isaiah Bolden being the lone exception as he landed on IR. In addition, the Patriots added two UDFAs to their practice squad.


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Of those 12 players, a handful are expected to play key roles for the Patriots this season. That includes players from the top of the draft through the late Day 3 picks.

That all being said, it can be easy to let the hype around rookie players get out of control. So, heading into the season with the roster set, what should fans realistically expect from the Patriots’ rookie class? Let’s take a player-by-player look at each position.

NOTE: Players are listed in order of draft selection, with UDFAs at the bottom. Practice squad players follow the players on the 53-man roster.

CB Christian Gonzalez

Jul 27, 2023; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots cornerback Christian Gonzalez (50) sprints during training camp at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports

New England Patriots cornerback Christian Gonzalez (50) sprints during 2023 training camp in Foxboro. (Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports)

When the Patriots took Gonzalez 17th overall in this year’s draft, the pick was widely viewed as a steal. Heading into the draft Gonzalez was projected as an NFL-ready cover corner with tremendous upside. Throughout camp, he’s done very little to dissuade from that initial evaluation.

When Gonzalez has struggled it’s been in zone coverage, but the Patriots should mostly be playing him in man. When Bill Belichick’s defenses are at their best they have a top man-to-man corner on an island with one of the other team’s top two wide receivers, then play the game 10-on-10 with the offense handcuffed. While there may be rookie growing pains at times, Gonzalez should be able to be that guy this year.


  • DL Keion White

    Jul 27, 2023; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots defensive end Keion White (51) works with a weight bag during training camp at Gillette Stadium. Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports

    Jul 27, 2023; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots defensive end Keion White (51) works with a weight bag during training camp at Gillette Stadium. Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports

    What was arguably the most impressive of all of the Patriots’ rookies this summer. At the same time, he has a lot of veteran depth ahead of him on the depth chart as his position. Versatility will help get him on the field, but Deatrich Wise, Lawrence Guy, and Christian Barmore will still likely be the three top defensive linemen.

    That doesn’t mean White won’t play at all though. He should still end up in a rotational role, especially on early downs. Playing somewhere around 50 percent of the team’s defensive snaps would be a good number as a rookie. The quickest way he could improve that number would be improving as a pass rusher in-season to earn more passing down opportunities.

  • LB Marte Mapu

    Aug 10, 2023; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots linebacker Marte Mapu (30) warms up before a game against the Houston Texans at Gillette Stadium. Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports

    Aug 10, 2023; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots linebacker Marte Mapu (30) warms up before a game against the Houston Texans at Gillette Stadium. Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports

    Mapu might be the hardest player to project of all the Patriots’ rookie. There are so many different things he can do, and the Patriots have so many different options on how they can use him.

    Expect to see him doing a little bit of everything. This summer he lined up at off-ball linebacker, slot corner, boundary corner, and safety. Most of his snaps should come at safety on early downs and linebacker on passing downs.

  • IOL Jake Andrews

    Aug 10, 2023; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Bailey Zappe (4) calls for the snap from center Jake Andrews (67) during the second half against the Houston Texans at Gillette Stadium. Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports

    Aug 10, 2023; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Bailey Zappe (4) calls for the snap from center Jake Andrews (67) during the second half against the Houston Texans at Gillette Stadium. Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports

    Andrews could be in for somewhat of a redshirt year. Although he’s the second center on the active roster, he looked to be behind Kody Russey and James Ferentz this summer – both of who are on the practice squad. At guard he’s behind Ferentz and fellow rookie Atonio Mafi, who we’ll get to in a second.

  • K Chad Ryland

    Aug 10, 2023; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots place kicker Chad Ryland (38) kicks the ball to the Houston Texans during the first half at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports

    Aug 10, 2023; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots place kicker Chad Ryland (38) kicks the ball to the Houston Texans during the first half at Gillette Stadium. (Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports)

    The Patriots traded up to take Ryland in the fourth round, and made him the second kicker selected. That’s not an investment made in a project player. Pending injury he should be the Patriots’ kicker wire-to-wire this season – if they need to replace him at any point, he came up short of expectations.

  • OL Sidy Sow

    Aug 10, 2023; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots offensive lineman Sidy Sow (61) lines up against the Houston Texans during the first half at Gillette Stadium. Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports

    Aug 10, 2023; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots offensive lineman Sidy Sow (61) lines up against the Houston Texans during the first half at Gillette Stadium. Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports

    The Patriots seem high on Sow, who made the move to tackle this summer after playing guard for four years in college (he played tackle briefly as a freshman). He has shown some traits he can build on, but as a whole the move to tackle looks like a work-in-progress.

    Given the team’s lack of depth at tackle, Sow could still end up playing this year. But he’ll need to improve on what he showed this summer to stay in the lineup consistently. He’s another player that could be due for a redshirt-like season.

  • G Atonio Mafi

    Aug 10, 2023; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots guard Atonio Mafi (68) on the sideline during the second half against the Houston Texans at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports

    Aug. 10, 2023; Foxborough, MA: New England Patriots guard Atonio Mafi on the sideline during a preseason game against the Houston Texans at Gillette Stadium. (Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports)

    Of the Patriots’ three rookie offensive linemen, Mafi has the best chance and looks the most ready to contribute in 2023. He held his own throughout the summer, seeing increased reps due to injuries at the guard position. His aggressive style of play translates well to the pro game.

    Ideally, Mafi will start the season on the bench if Cole Strange and Mike Onwenu are healthy and playing left and right guard respectively. But if one gets hurt – or if Onwenu plays right tackle and Riley Reiff is still injured and can’t play guard – there’s a good chance he’ll be the next man up.

  • WR Kayshon Boutte

    Aug 19, 2023; Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA; New England Patriots wide receiver Kayshoun Boutte runs past Green Bay Packers safety Anthony Johnson Jr. (36) after catching a pass to score a touchdown in the second quarter at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

    Aug. 19, 2023: New England Patriots wide receiver Kayshoun Boutte runs past Green Bay Packers safety Anthony Johnson Jr. (36) after catching a pass to score a touchdown at Lambeau Field. (Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports)

    As a prospect, Boutte comes into the NFL with as much promise and upside as any player the Patriots took on Day 3. His fall in the draft was due to injuries and inconsistent play rather than talent level. That’s not to say those aren’t valid concerns, but if he can put everything together, the flashes in the preseason showed what kind of player he can be.

    The question is, how much playing time will he get out of the gate. Unlike Demario Douglas (who we’ll get to soon), there’s no clear spot for Boutte in the Patriots’ offense as it’s constructed right now. His skillset overlaps with both JuJu Smith-Schuster and Kendrick Bourne. Pending an injury his snaps may be limited this year, but if he does get a chance to play regularly, there’s a chance he doesn’t end up giving that role back.

  • P Bryce Baringer

    Aug 10, 2023; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots punter Bryce Baringer (9) warms up before a game against the Houston Texans at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports

    Aug. 10, 2023; Foxborough, MA: New England Patriots punter Bryce Baringer (9) warms up before a preseason game against the Houston Texans at Gillette Stadium. (Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports)

    Baringer came to Foxborough and immediately impressed with his leg strength. He has all the physical makings of an NFL punter, but consistency will be the question. Still, like Ryland, he should be expected to maintain his job throughout the season pending injury.

  • WR Demario Douglas

    New England Patriots wide receiver Demario Douglas (81) catches a pass during a joint practice with the Green Bay Packers on Aug. 16, 2023, in Ashwaubenon, Wis. (Sarah Kloepping/USA TODAY Network-Wisconsin)

    New England Patriots wide receiver Demario Douglas (81) catches a pass during a joint practice with the Green Bay Packers on Aug. 16, 2023, in Ashwaubenon, Wis. (Sarah Kloepping/USA TODAY Network-Wisconsin)

    The expectations for Douglas should be high. In Bill Belichick’s tenure, there hasn’t been a rookie wide receiver that was treated quite the way Douglas was this summer. He established himself early on, and then his workload started to resemble that of a veteran rather than a rookie. Unsurprisingly, that led to building hype around the sixth-round pick.

    However, the hope has to be that ‘hiding’ Douglas doesn’t flip too far the other way. A shoulder injury limited him during the final week of training camp and held him out of the preseason finale, so his exposure to NFL game action is very limited. We’ll see what he looks like out of the gate. If he can build on the momentum he put together early in camp, the Patriots have a playmaker on their hands. If not, expect second-guessing of how his reps were handled this summer.

  • CB/ST Ameer Speed

    Cornerback Ameer Speed at New England Patriots training camp.

    Cornerback Ameer Speed at New England Patriots training camp. (Alex Barth/98.5 The Sports Hub)

    Speed played cornerback at both Michigan State and Georgia, but when the Patriots announced their initial roster they listed him as a special teamer. The Patriots are thinner this year when it comes to coverage specialists, so look for Speed to play mostly if not entirely in that role. It’s something he did a lot in camp, and drew praise from both coaches and teammates for his performance.

  • QB/WR Malik Cunningham

    Aug. 10, 2023; Foxborough, MA: New England Patriots quarterback Malik Cunningham (16) against the Houston Texans at Gillette Stadium. (Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports)

    Aug. 10, 2023; Foxborough, MA: New England Patriots quarterback Malik Cunningham (16) against the Houston Texans at Gillette Stadium. (Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports)

    On practice squad

    For a few weeks there, it looked like the Patriots had a plan to involve Cunningham in the offense this year. However, he took a backseat the final few weeks of camp, including during joint practices and ended up on the practice squad.

    Some of that package stuff they were working on with him at quarterback may not be entirely out of the picture. That being said, it the Patriots will probably pick their spots on using that based on matchups, elevating Cunningham from the practice squad for specific games.

  • WR T.J. Luther

    EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY - AUGUST 19: Xavier Gipson #82 and T.J. Luther #85 of the New York Jets warm up during the first half of a preseason game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at MetLife Stadium on August 19, 2023 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

    EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ: T.J. Luther of the New York Jets warms up during a preseason game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at MetLife Stadium on Aug. 19, 2023. (Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

    On practice squad

    The Patriots just signed Luther last week, after he spent the summer with the New York Jets. He’s likely here for a scout team role.

  • Alex Barth is a writer and 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. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Looking for a podcast guest? Let him know on Twitter @RealAlexBarth or via email at abarth@985TheSportsHub.com.

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