New England Patriots 2018 NFL Draft: Potential for Major Impact in 2019

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The New England Patriots’ front office and scouts are in full player review and setting the draft board with the 2019 NFL Draft kicking-off on Thursday April 25th. With a dozen draft picks including six draft picks in the first three rounds, the Patriots are loaded with the ammunition to move up and around the draft to add another layer of depth or pick up a veteran or future draft pick.

The Patriots’ motivations on draft day are always difficult to predict, but with the 2019 NFL Draft upon us, it is the perfect time to look back at last year’s draft and assess that unit and see how that affects the decision-making process on draft weekend.

With the New England Patriots having made the Super Bowl in four of the last five years and winning three of those games, it is very difficult to criticize the team’s roster-building moves (except for the 2017 NFL Draft–that was a hard draft strategy to defend) as they continually position themselves to continue their unparalleled success in the salary cap/weighted schedule era of the NFL.

The 2018 NFL Draft was more of a collection of redshirt players as Isaiah Wynn, Duke Dawson, Christian Sam, Braxton Berrios, and Ryan Izzo did not play a game of their rookie season. An injury ended Ja’Whaun Bentley’s season after three games. Keion Crossen had an up-and-down season contributing on special teams for the most part. Sony Michel fought injuries early in the season and emerged as the most impactful rookie in the postseason playing a key role in securing a victory in Super Bowl 53.  

However, with a veteran roster filled with multiple players with multiple Super Bowl rings at multiple positions on both sides of the ball (and full-time special teams players taking roster spots), the Patriots were never going to fill nine roster spots with rookies (especially with undrafted rookie free agent J.C. Jackson securing a key role on defense in 2018). However, many of these players are expected to push for a roster spot and play a key role on defense in 2019.

While the 2018 NFL Draft results did not look great at first glance after their first season due to injuries and limited roster openings, the Patriots still have a chance to get an additional boost in 2019 from their 2018 draftees. Cornerback, inside linebacker and offensive tackle should all get a boost from this group.

Before getting to the 2019 NFL Draft next week, let’s take a look back at the 2018 NFL Draft class (and surviving undrafted rookie free agents) for the New England Patriots and look at their potential impact in 2019 and beyond:

2018 Draft Round: First

Pick Overall: 23

Player: Isaiah Wynn

Position: Left Tackle

2018 Impact: None–Injured in the pre-season and missed entire season with a ruptured Achilles.

Role in 2019 and Beyond: Wynn had played himself into the conversation at left tackle to replace Nate Solder in 2018 in training camp and the preseason. Until he was carted off the field in his first preseason game, he had impressed and was clearly a tackle after there was initial doubt heading into the 2018 NFL Draft causing him to drop to New England at number 23 overall.

Wynn will likely be first in line to replace Trent Brown at left tackle and is likely to be at 100% with having all season to rehabilitate. Wynn was ranked highly by ProFootballFocus.com heading into the 2018 NFL Draft and was hand-picked by Dante Scarnecchia despite not being a towering tackle like Solder or Brown. Expect Wynn to be the starting tackle for the rest of the Tom Brady era and beyond.

Commissioner Roger Goodell poses with a fan after the New England Patriots selected Georgia’s Isaiah Wynn during the first round of the NFL football draft, Thursday, April 26, 2018, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

2018 Draft Round: First

Pick Overall: 31

Player: Sony Michel

Position: Running Back

2018 Impact: Rushed for 931 yards in 13 regular season games. Rushed for 336 yards and six touchdowns in three playoff games (all statistics from Pro-Football-Reference.com unless otherwise noted).

Role in 2019 and Beyond: Michel established himself down the stretch and through the playoffs as the alpha back in New England. In fact, his performance down the stretch combined with the Rob Gronkowski retirement makes him the most important player on offense in 2019 (other than number 12).

Michel will have the spotlight on him after surprising most of the NFL with his performance as a rookie. With all 31 other teams seeing him in the spotlight as the lead back on the Super Bowl champions in 2018, opposing defensive coordinators will devote extra attention to slowing him down. For Michel, the adjustment for 2019 and beyond is dealing with being in the spotlight and continuing to elevate his game.

2018 Draft Round: Second

Pick Overall: 56

Player: Duke Dawson

Position: Cornerback

2018 Impact: On injured reserve/DNP-CD entire season

Role in 2019 and Beyond: Duke Dawson is the big unknown in a crowded secondary. The Patriots already have three “full-time” safeties in Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung and Duron Harmon to go with four “starting” cornerbacks in Jason McCourty, Stephon Gilmore, J.C. Jackson and Jonathan Jones. Going seven deep in the secondary before getting to a top-60 pick from 2018 is the definition of quality depth.

Dawson was the seventh cornerback taken in the 2018 NFL Draft after the Patriots jumped up in the second round to grab him. Dawson was a redshirt for the entire season never getting into a game after injuries slowed him. He will compete with Jones for the slot cornerback snaps and should get some snaps on the outside as well. He is an intriguing prospect who adds another layer of depth to the secondary in 2019 and 2020.

2018 Draft Round: Fifth

Pick Overall: 143

Player: Ja’Whaun Bentley

Position: Inside Linebacker

2018 Impact: Played 138 defensive snaps over three games before a torn biceps ended his rookie season.

Role in 2019 and Beyond: Bentley had low expectations going into 2018 after the fifth-round draft pick was roundly criticized by the “draft experts” who declared him too slow and a two-down player at best who was preseason fodder at best. Instead, Bentley was basically the third linebacker throughout the first three games of the season before his season ended.

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Bentley showed why he was considered a “thumper” coming out of Purdue. He played much quicker than his 40-time would indicate and showed how recognition and instinct is more important than straight-line speed. Bentley was effective in the passing game as well as the running game. Bentley’s emergence gives the Patriots two quality back-ups to Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy with him and Elandon Roberts. His return should free up Van Noy and Hightower to pass rush more in 2019.

2018 Draft Round: Sixth

Pick Overall: 178

Player: Christian Sam

Position: Inside Linebacker

2018 Impact: Missed entire season after season-ending surgery for an undisclosed injury after the third preseason game.

Role in 2019 and Beyond: When the “Draft Sleepers” articles went out after last year’s draft it was Sam, not Bentley, who was the late round draft pick expected to carve out a role on defense. Instead Sam missed the entire season and is behind Bentley coming into 2019.

Sam showed in limited preseason play that he has some of the characteristics to be a New England linebacker, but he will have his work cut out for him in 2019. Whether he can carve out a role as a coverage linebacker remains to be seen.

2018 Draft Round: Sixth

Pick Overall: 210

Player: Braxton Berrios

Position: Slot Wide Receiver

2018 Impact: Missed entire season after placed on injured reserve after preseason.

Role in 2019 and Beyond: Berrios was the talk of training camp in 2018 as the search for the next great slot wide receiver in New England was on with Danny Amendola leaving in free agency. Most every mock draft had Berrios going to New England and in the sixth-round the Patriots made the obvious pick.

Berrios is small, even for a slot receiver in New England. This is a make-or-break offseason for Berrios as he will likely be facing significant competition this summer for a roster spot. He faces long odds to earn a spot to be a 2019 contributor.  

2018 Draft Round: Seventh

Pick Overall: 219

Player: Danny Etling

Position: Quarterback

2018 Impact: Released and spent much of the season on the practice squad.

Role in 2019 and Beyond: Etling was never brought in to be anything more than a camp body and potential back-up quarterback. Etling showed little in the preseason and when released passed through waivers onto the practice squad.

Etling has little chance of beating out Brian Hoyer for the role of Tom Brady’s confidant and film watching buddy. He could go to the practice squad again, but it is more likely another quarterback is brought in to push Hoyer and likely replace Etling.

2018 Draft Round: Seventh

Pick Overall: 243

Player: Keion Crossen

Position: Cornerback

2018 Impact: Played 11 games in 2018 playing 39 snaps on defense and 113 snaps on special teams.  

Role in 2019 and Beyond: Crossen joins the Patriot’ mighty-mites cornerbacks with a small size but high-level athleticism. Despite coming from a small school (Western Carolina), Crossen took advantage of his chances and earned a role on the roster getting on the field with the defense on occasion.

Crossen was a surprise weapon in the AFC Championship game against the Kansas City Chiefs getting snaps in coverage of Tyreek Hill. He did not play great allowing a big reception to Hill and missing a tackle. However, the fact that the Patriots trusted the seventh-round draft pick in a huge game showed their thinking of Crossen. He should remain in the mix in 2019.

2018 Draft Round: Seventh

Pick Overall: 250

Player: Ryan Izzo

Position: Tight End

2018 Impact: Missed entire season after placed on injured reserve after preseason.

Role in 2019 and Beyond: Izzo was a surprise finding a fourth-round talent at the end of the seventh round of the draft. Izzo was not much of a receiver but he should replace Dwayne Allen seamlessly as the blocking specialist tight end.

Izzo should have a role at the end of the roster if he can stay healthy and contribute on special teams. Replacing Allen with Izzo should be a huge cost savings in 2019 and beyond.

2018 Draft Round: Undrafted

Pick Overall: n/a

Player: J.C. Jackson

Position: Cornerback

2018 Impact: Made the roster and established himself as a regular in the rotation at cornerback with Jason McCourty and Jonathan Joneson the outside and at slot cornerback playing 395 snaps on defense in the regular season and a key role in the playoffs.

Role in 2019 and Beyond: Jackson had excellent talent and speed and instincts but off-field problems derailed him in college. If he can keep that off-field problems at bay as he did last year, he can be a starting cornerback in the NFL.

Jackson showed his NFL-ready talent and the New England structure in place and leadership in the secondary kept him toeing the line and being one of the best undrafted free agents in the league. He has a bright future and has the potential to be a superstar at cornerback in the near future.

Patriots CB J.C. Jackson (cred: Getty Images)

2018 Draft Round: Undrafted

Pick Overall: n/a

Player: Frank Herron

Position: Defensive Tackle

2018 Impact: Spent most of the season on practice squad after being released after preseason, signed to practice squad by Seattle and then released.

Role in 2019 and Beyond: Herron had a strong preseason for the Patriots last summer showing some burst in the middle of the defensive line and ability to make plays against the running game. Back for another camp, Herron is a dark horse candidate to sneak onto the 53-man roster as depth at defensive tackle.

2018 Draft Round: Undrafted

Pick Overall: N/A

Player: Trent Harris

Position: Defensive End

2018 Impact: Spent entire season on practice squad after being released after preseason.

Role in 2019 and Beyond: A versatile–if undersized–defensive end who leaned on intelligence. Harris is a long-shot to make the roster but with his excellent technique and desire to learn, he may be a hard player to count out next year at cut-downs.

 

-Hal Bent is a Staff Writer for Full Press Coverage.  He covers the New England Patriots and the NFL.  Follow him on Twitter @halbent01

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