In 1998, Canadian rock band, Barenaked Ladies, delivered one of the more catchy songs of the 1990s in the Ed Robertson-penned “One Week.” While notable for its significant number of pop culture references, the song also has a way of embedding itself into the minds of its listeners. In fact, just the mention of this has probably triggered a memory or two of trying to decipher some of the song’s rapidly-fired lyrics. It might even spark an image of Jim Levenstein, or Mr. Levenstein (played by Jason Biggs and Eugene Levy, respectively) attempting to woo the ladies in their life with their dance moves in 1999’s American Pie.
However, for the purposes of this discourse, ‘one week’ will hereby refer to the period of time that has passed since the start of the 2019 NFL Draft. Therefore, please make every attempt (going forward) to think of the phrase in these terms, rather than attempting to follow it up with a rendition of “since you looked at me” in A-major.
With the image of the Draft slowly shrinking in the Pats’ rearview mirror, the team now turns its sights to building a 53-man roster that will defend its Super Bowl championship. The Patriots have earned rave reviews for their Draft performance, and deservedly so. New England entered Draft weekend with a league-high 12 selections. When the dust settled, they had drafted ten players; all of which are capable of making an impact on the Pats roster in 2019. With camps set to open, the 2019 Patriots freshman class has paved the way for some potential battles at various positions. In the process, the newest New England hopefuls hope to leave as indelible an impression on the team, as the lyrics of the aforementioned song did in the minds of all ‘90s teenagers.
To briefly recap, here are the 2019 NFL Draftees for the New England Patriots:
N’Keal Harry (No. 32); WR, Arizona State
Joejuan Williams (No. 45); CB, Vanderbilt
Chase Winovich (No. 77); DE, Michigan
Damien Harris (No. 87); RB, Alabama
Yodny Cajuste (No. 101); OT, West Virginia
Hjalte Froholdt (No. 118); OG, Arkansas
Jarrett Stidham (No. 133); QB, Auburn
Byron Cowart (No. 159); DE, Maryland
Jake Bailey (No. 163); P, Jake Bailey
Ken Webster (No. 252); CB, Mississippi
Upon Further Review…
While it is far too early to predict the success of this year’s draft class, there is sufficient reason for optimism in Foxboro. The Patriots addressed a number of needs, while maintaining their penchant for finding optimum value in each round. First-round choice N’Keal Harry filled the need for a reliable and sizable receiver, capable of making contested catches downfield. Even though their depth at the cornerback position was considered one of their strengths, the additional of Joejuan Williams increases their versatility in the defensive backfield. Perhaps their greatest ‘steal’ was drafting Chase Winovich in the third round. He is the type of high-octane, versatile lineman who is capable of making an immediate impact on the New England defense. Harris is a stellar talent who provides depth to a running back corps that (while talented) struggled with health last season. Cajuste (rounding out the third round) could work his way into starting at right tackle, with some development under the tutelage of offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia.
The Patriots further enhanced their fortunes on the Draft’s third and final day. Froholdt is an athletic and tough-minded lineman who seems to exude the ‘Patriot Way.’ Stidham is a strong-armed pocket passer, who may prove to be of solid value as a fourth-rounder. Cowart and Webster add depth to the defense, while Bailey is a strong-legged punter that gets the ball off quickly with good hang time.
While most teams would welcome this surplus of talent, it does create an intriguing dilemma. Currently, the Patriots, as all NFL teams, are able to field a 90-man roster. However, at season’s start, the Pats will need to reduce that number to 53. Between now and then, countless (yet necessary) attempts will be made to predict New England’s opening day product. While a roster prediction might be a bit ‘way too early,’ here are some positional battles on which to keep a sharp eye, just ‘one week’ removed from the Draft.
QUARTERBACK: Danny Etling vs. Jarrett Stidham
Make no mistake, Tom Brady is a lock to be the starting quarterback for the New England Patriots in 2019. The six-time Super Bowl Champion continues to play at a high level. However, he will turn 42 in August. Therefore, New England’s making a selection at quarterback should not be considered blasphemous. Stidham has adequate size, good arm strength and above-average mobility. He can fit the ball into tight spots and shows the ability to drive the ball vertically when he has space to step into his throws. He’s accurate and does a great job of leading his receivers to yards after the catch. Stidham will certainly be in the mix to make the roster.
Some have speculated that Stidham could impress the Patriots brain-trust to the point where he might compete with Hoyer as the primary back-up. While he does possess the potential skill, Hoyer’s scouting acumen and professional game experience will likely keep him in a Pats uniform in 2019. However, it will be curious to see how Stidham performs in rookie minicamp and organized team activities. The Patriots have continued to be high on Etling’s toughness, leadership and work ethic. However, Stidham seems to have superior ability, primarily in terms of arm strength and deep ball accuracy. Should the Auburn rookie demonstrate the skill set to succeed in the Patriots offense, Etling could possibly be on the outside looking in when the Pats begin training camp in late July.
RUNNING BACK: Rex Burkhead vs. Damien Harris
Burkhead is a force with which to be reckoned, when on the field. The operative word here, however, is ‘when.’ While displaying unquestionable toughness and skill, Burkhead has played in only 18 of a potential 32 regular-season games in his two seasons in New England. Affectionately called “Touchdown-a-Saurus Rex” Burkhead has been a postseason star for the Pats. Most notably, he broke the plane on two occasions in the Patriots’ win over the Kansas City Chiefs in the 2018 AFC Championship Game; one of which was the overtime score that sent the Pats to Super Bowl LIII.
However, sentiment is rarely (if ever) savored in Foxboro. The Patriots invested a third-round pick in Harris, who is a strong and competitive runner, with good size. He is decisive with outstanding vision and good burst when finding a seam. Harris shows good contact balance in space, with reliable hands, as well. Like Burkhead, Harris is as a strong pass-blocker. While it is possible that Burkhead could find himself on the roster bubble, it is just as possible that the Patriots could carry five backs as they have in the past (in 2017, as well as portions of the 2011 and 2016 seasons.) Sony Michel and James White are assured roster spots; with the returning Brandon Bolden a likely ‘lock,’ as well. Despite the depth at running back, the Pats could opt for a crowded backfield, taking note of the injury concerns they had at the position during 2018.
OFFENSIVE LINE: Cole Croston (et.al) vs. Yodny Cajuste
While Cajuste might end up competing with other linemen as rookie camp and OTAs progress, his most natural fit would be as reserve tackle. Currently, Cole Croston, Cedrick Lang, Ryker Mathews and Dan Skipper occupy the depth chart at the position. The Pats also signed former Miami Hurricane, Tyree St. Louis as an undrafted rookie free agent.
Cajuste has a wide frame, above-average initial quickness and good overall athletic ability. He’s quick enough to get into position and strong enough to wall-off defenders in the running game. He has average length for a tackle, and he gives up the edge at times. He might be a better fit on the inside as a result. It is also noteworthy that he did spend time in college playing at the guard position, as well. Look for Cajuste, as well as fellow rookie Hjalte Froholdt to make things interesting as we head toward July. Offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia should find each of the Pats new draftees to be apt pupils on an already formidable line.
SECONDARY: Keion Crossen vs. Obi Melifonwu vs. Ken Webster
Despite the cornerback position being one of strength for the Pats, they always look to the draft for depth in the secondary. Vanderbilt cornerback Joejuan Williams was high on New England’s draft wish list. In selecting Williams in the second round, it appears clear that they have lofty hopes for the dynamic rookie. Perhaps they envision pairing him with Stephon Gilmore at corner, or using him as a hybrid safety? Given the invested draft capital, it is unlikely that Williams would not be in the Pats plans at secondary in 2019.
The Pats again addressed the defensive backfield with their final selection by drafting Ole Miss cornerback Ken Webster. In 2018, Webster totaled 33 tackles, two interceptions and six passes batted. Webster has had some nagging injuries, which has lessened his draft value. However, he did run a 4.43 40-yard at the Combine, which was faster than expected. Webster might compete for a spot on the depth chart, or on special teams.
Two players in particular that might feel a bit extra heat this summer (as a result of Webster’s presence) are safety Obi Melifonwu and corner Keion Crossen. Melifonwu has very impressive athleticism, but has head health struggles through his career. It might be wise for the Patriots to keep their options open at the position, and Webster could be a good fit in that regard. On the other hand, Crossen is an adept tackler and exhibits flashes of impressive speed. However, with the increased depth in the secondary, Crossen might find himself on the roster bubble, even before camp opens.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Ryan Allen vs. Jake Bailey
It is not often that a special teams positional battle is one that commands significant attention. However, the battle appears to be on between Allen and Bailey. The Patriots invested a fifth-round pick in the Stanford punter. While many an eyebrow was raised at the team choosing a punter after re-signing Allen (especially after his stellar Super Bowl performance), Bailey possesses the ability to make things interesting in Training Camp. He handled the punting and kickoff duties at Stanford. He gets the ball off quickly and gets good hang time. He connected on 12-of-16 field goal attempts and made three field goals of 50 or more yards (including a 54-yarder) his senior year of high school. Bailey is the first right-footed punter taken by the Patriots in the Bill Belichick era.
Allen is no stranger to competition. In 2018, the Patriots also brought in a punter with a big leg (Corey Bojorquez) to compete for the job during training camp. Allen rose to the occasion and safely secured the job, after proving to be the superior talent. It is possible that this could happen again this year. However, Bailey brings a bit more pedigree to the position, than did Bojorquez. He will certainly have every opportunity to vie for the roster spot. Seeing that the Pats used valuable draft capital to select him, this could end up being the most intriguing positional battle of the summer.
The Patriots are set to hold Rookie Mini-Camp from May 10-12 at Gillette Stadium. Let the battles begin. Until then, as the Barenaked Ladies would say, feel free to “wear your mind on your sleeve.”
–Mike D’Abate is a Managing Editor and National Columnist for Full Press Coverage Sports Media. He covers the New England Patriots and provides NFL editorial content. Follow him on Twitter @mdabateFPC