Some Patriots players are on the hot seat after New England added eight rookies in the 2021 NFL Draft over the weekend.
Others are sitting pretty as they watched the Patriots wait until the later rounds of the draft to address their positions.
Here are the Patriots’ winners and losers coming out of the weekend:
Patriots’ wide receivers
For the second straight year, the NFL draft was loaded with wide receivers, and for the second straight year, the Patriots didn’t come away with a wideout in the first six rounds. New England didn’t draft a wide receiver at all in 2020. They waited until the seventh round to take UCF wideout Tre Nixon in the 2021 NFL Draft.
That’s good news for the receivers currently on the Patriots’ roster. Nixon is a longshot to make the Week 1 roster, and Devin Smith, Kristian Wilkerson and Isaiah Zuber are right there with him competing for a spot in case the Patriots decide to keep a sixth wideout (or if Nelson Agholor, Kendrick Bourne, N’Keal Harry, Jakobi Meyers or Gunner Olszewski go down with an injury).
The Patriots could still sign an available veteran free-agent wideout (they should), and that would complicate matters. But Smith, Wilkerson and Zuber will see plenty of opportunities in training camp and the preseason to prove their worth. Wilkerson is especially a player to watch.
If the right offensive tackle was available for New England in the first round of the draft, the Patriots likely would have pounced. But the board didn’t really shake out in New England’s favor to add another offensive lineman before the sixth round, when they drafted William Sherman, an undersized tackle who might convert to guard, in the sixth round.
The Patriots might need a new starting tackle as early as next offseason. Trent Brown is set to hit free agency. Isaiah Wynn will be a free agent if the Patriots don’t pick up his fifth-year option by Monday’s deadline (they’re expected to).
What does this mean for Herron? He has a year to prove he deserves that starting role in 2022. And it’s not out of the realm of possibility. He was very good as a rookie in 2020 as a swing tackle.
Patriots young defensive backs
Cornerback and safety also were considered serious needs for New England in the draft. The Patriots waited until the sixth round to take Missouri’s Joshuah Bledsoe.
That gives versatile DBs like Myles Bryant and Joejuan Williams the inside track to roster spots. It also likely means New England will keep Stephon Gilmore and JC Jackson for the 2021 season, which always made the most sense.
Some 2019 mid-round draft picks
We’re talking specifically about edge defender Chase Winovich, quarterback Jarrett Stidham and defensive tackle Byron Cowart That’s after New England drafted edge defender Ronnie Perkins in the third round, QB Mac Jones in the first round and defensive tackle Christian Barmore in the second round.
Stidham and Cowart are competing for roster spots at this point. Who knows what Winovich’s role will be this season after the Patriots drafted Perkins and signed Matt Judon and Kyle Van Noy. They also drafted Josh Uche and Anfernee Jennings in last year’s class, though both 2020 picks could have future roles at off-ball linebacker.
Winovich’s snaps already fluctuated in 2020. Is he a lock? A surprise cut? A trade candidate? Who knows.
As an aside, Uche, Jennings, Ja’Whaun Bentley and Terez Hall also are winners since the Patriots only picked off-ball linebacker Cameron McGrone in the fifth round, and he could miss the entire 2021 season after tearing his ACL in November. One of those four players will play next to Dont’a Hightower as the Patriots’ second linebacker unless Van Noy switches back from the edge.
Michel, like Wynn, has a fifth-year option decision looming Monday. We have no intel on whether the Patriots will pick it up, but it probably wouldn’t be wise after New England spent a fourth-round pick on running back Rhamondre Stevenson with Damien Harris and J.J. Taylor already on the roster.
Stevenson has three-down potential as an early-down runner, pass-catcher and goal-line option. Michel has run hot and cold, though the last few weeks of the 2020 season were among the most impressive performances of his career.
Patriots undrafted rookie streak
An undrafted rookie free agent has made the Patriots’ roster every year since 2004. All good things must end, however, and this could be the year that streak is snapped. A Patriots UDFA signing has yet to leak. They could still add an undrafted free agent, but that player will be a longshot to make a loaded Patriots 2021 roster.
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