BOSTON (CBS) — We’ve done it. We’ve reached the end of our look to the past, which has brought us all the way back to … less than a year ago. Remember when people went to work? When you didn’t have to wait outside to go food shopping? When the biggest issue with the NFL Draft was it was ruining bachelorette parties in Nashville?
Good times, good times.
It’s hard to judge draft picks after just one season, so we won’t be assessing verdicts for New England’s 2019 picks just yet. Players, especially those taken at the end of the first round and after, usually need some seasoning. But occasionally, a rookie can step right in and make an instant impact, even if they’re one of the final few selections in Round 1. See: Devin McCourty, Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower — among others.
The Patriots were hoping to get that from N’Keal Harry in 2019, the first wide receiver that Bill Belichick has ever drafted in the first round. It did not happen, and it hurt New England’s offense. Is that Harry’s fault? Does that make him a bust? The answer is no to both of those inquiries.
Unfortunately, Harry’s impact is in line with much of the rest of the 2019 Patriots draft class. Of New England’s eight selections, only two made a positive impact on last year’s team. With a few more hits with their picks, maybe the Patriots wouldn’t have been playing on Wild Card weekend, and maybe they wouldn’t have lost on Wild Card weekend. At home. To Ryan Tannehill.
But if there is one trend that kept most of the players selected in 2019 from doing much in 2019, it was injuries. And because of that, they are in a good position to come in and make an impact in 2020. We hope.
Rd. 1, No. 32: N’Keal Harry, WR
Harry still carries loads of potential, a giant receiver for either Brian Hoyer, Jarrett Stidham or whoever else the Patriots tab as their quarterback throughout 2020. But due to injuries, he had a minimal impact in 2019.
Harry hurt his hamstring in his first preseason game with the Patriots, and was placed on IR before the start of the season. He didn’t make his debut until November, contributing 12 receptions and two touchdowns as a rookie. He should have had another score — and a rather important one at that — but he was incorrectly ruled out of bounds before diving for the end zone in Week 14 against the Kansas City Chiefs, a play that New England couldn’t challenge because they were out of challenges.
There is still potential that Harry can develop into a top scoring threat in the New England offense, and Josh McDaniels got creative with the big receiver by calling for a few end-arounds late in the year. But now Harry will have to make his impact without Tom Brady throwing him the football, which may stunt his development a bit.
Rd. 2, No. 45: Joejuan Williams, DB
Williams played in nine games, though most of that came on special teams considering the Patriots had a pretty awesome secondary already. That’s why this pick was a bit of a head scratcher, considering tight end Irv Smith Jr. was still on the board.
Williams was a heavy hitter at Vanderbilt, so maybe he will turn into a good depth piece in 2020 and eventually find a role in the secondary. But he didn’t fill a need in 2019, when the Patriots had plenty of needs.
Rd. 3, No. 77: Chase Winovich, Edge
Winovich is an extremely energetic and likable addition to the end of the defensive line. In limited playing time on defense as a rookie, he still racked up 5.5 sacks and 10 QB hits as a rookie. He did most of his work on special teams, including a touchdown off a blocked punt on Thursday Night Football against the New York Giants.
It seems like Winovich will get better with more playing time, which should come this year with the departure of Kyle Van Noy.
Plus, that hair is pretty sweet.
Rd. 3, No. 87: Damien Harris, RB
Harris basically got a red-shirt season as a rookie, playing a total of five snaps on offense. He was inactive for the final 10 games, including the Wild Card round.
Running back wasn’t an area of need last season, especially after the Pats drafted Sony Michel in 2018. But Harris put up some big numbers for Nick Saban at Alabama, and his selection was likely aimed more for the future. He could carve out a role in the backfield in 2020.
Rd. 3, No. 101: Yodny Cajuste, T
Cajuste is a big dude who was the starting left tackle at West Virginia over his three years in college football. The 6-foot-5, 310-pound behemoth probably would have helped last season given the injuries along the offensive line, but he missed the year after undergoing quad surgery in August. So when Isiahh Wynn landed on IR with a toe injury after Week 2, the Pats had to pluck Marshall Newhouse off the street as Tom Brady’s blind side protector. That did not go well for any of the parties involved.
Rd. 4, No. 118: Hjalte Froholdt, G
The Patriots started Day 3 of the 2019 draft by making Froholdt just the second kid out of Denmark to ever be taken in the draft. (Bonus points if you can name the first — answer will be at the bottom.)
A converted defensive lineman, Froholdt turned into a pretty great offensive lineman his sophomore season, and went on to allow just three sacks over his collegiate career at Arkansas. The Patriots could have used him last season given the plethora of injuries that hit the O-Line, but Froholdt was placed on IR after suffering a shoulder injury in the preseason finale.
Rd. 5, No. 159: Byron Cowart, DT
Cowart was a top prospect entering college, but never lived up to the hype at Maryland. He recorded just two tackles in five games for the Patriots his rookie season, and was inactive for 12 games.
Rd. 5, No. 163: Jake Bailey, P
This was Peak Belichick in action. Not only did Belichick draft a punter in the fifth round, but he traded up to do so.
Bailey beat out Ryan Allen in camp and then went on to kick the pigskin off the football throughout his rookie season. Trading up to draft a punter is a bit unusual. Some would say absurd. Others may call it foolish.
But Bailey is great at his job, and for a man who has done just about everything there is to do in the NFL, Belichick can now add “traded up to draft a punter” to his blurb in Canton, Ohio.
Rd. 7, No. 252: Ken Webster, CB
Webster was part of the team’s final roster cuts ahead of the 2019 season. He was claimed by Miami and played eight games for the Dolphins.
Verdict: Potentially good draft derailed by injuries
It would have been nice to have seen what Harry could have developed into with a full season, and maybe his presence early in the year would have saved us all from New England’s ticket to the Antonio Brown circus. Of all the 2019 Patriots draft picks, Winovich and Bailey had the biggest impacts. Belichick did find a few potential contributors on the undrafted market in Jakobi Meyers and Gunner Olszewski, with the latter also serving as New England’s punt returner until he was injured mid-season.
Maybe Williams, Harris, Cajuste and Froholdt will find roles on the team in 2020. We just haven’t seen enough of them — or anything at all — to know.
Going back to 2014, here is our tally of verdicts for players drafted in the first five rounds, which you can see we just kind of threw against the wall. Kind of like making draft picks:
Has Potential: 1
Solid/Good Pick (better known as “Hits”): 5
Pretty Good: 2
Great Pick/Big Hit: 2
BAD/Huge Miss: 3
Good Reach: Drafting a long-snapper in the fifth round
Froholdt Trivia Answer: Morten Andersen was the first Denmark native drafted to the NFL, selected by the Saints in the fourth round in 1982. The more you know.