BOSTON (CBS) — The Patriots were busy on Day 2 of the 2020 NFL Draft, selecting five players while pulling off a trio of trades to move up in the process.
New England addressed its defensive needs early in the process on Friday night, taking safety Kyle Dugger (No. 37) and linebacker Josh Uche (No. 60) in the second round, followed by linebacker Anfernee Jennings (No. 87) in the third round. They finished their evening by trading back into the end of the third round to draft a pair of tight ends, Devin Asiasi (No. 91) and Dalton Keene (No. 101).
Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio discussed New England’s five picks in a conference call when Day 2 concluded, sharing some insight into the sections.
On Dugger, who was drafted out of Division II Lenoir-Rhyne:
“This was one of the few sit-and-pick players I’d say going into this round. We basically had three guys we wrote down and said if we could get these three guys, we would be somewhat happy. He was one of them,” said Caserio. “Uche was the other one, another guy that got picked. But Dugger, obviously small school, but pretty explosive player. Big, he’s tough, he’s fast, he’s smart. He has some four-down type elements. Return to playing in the kicking game. Played well at his level of competition. Held his own at the Senior Bowl against better competition. One of the things you like to see or you look for is the player like that with that background to see how they hold up in that environment. He acquitted himself fairly well. A fairly mature kid. He’s a little bit older, 24-years old. A player that we liked and went ahead and picked him.”
Caserio was asked about scouting players against Division II competition.
“I mean, where a player ends up, where he comes from is not something that we really haven’t put too much stock in in some respects. Steve Neal (a wrestle the Patriots signed out of Cal State Bakersfield after he went undrafted in 2001) basically never played football. There’s a guy that was one of the best guards in the history of the program arguably. It’s not about how you get here, where you come from, it’s what you do while you’re here,” said Caserio. “I think that mindset and philosophy certainly applies in his particular situation. We can’t control where they play. The only thing we can control is our evaluation, how he look at the player, say this is a player like most of these players here in particular we invested a pretty significant amount of time let’s say between this season, post-season and even into this March and April period. I mean, Dugger, Uche, Jennings, all those players were at the Senior Bowl. Asiasi and Keene, a little different, both underclassmen. You have to take the information you have accessible. Part of this is projection. That’s really what we’re doing with all of these players because none of them have played a snap of NFL football regardless of where they played or have come from.”
Caserio said the Patriots have had an eye on Dugger for some time.
“I think there are certain players at a lower level of competition that are earmarked and call it this time of year during the off-season. Like I said, he had played a couple years. He started as a junior, so he was a player that was identified,” he said. “We did work on him. Our scouts went in during the fall. We had multiple go into Lenoir-Rhyne and the valley. Certainly you don’t want to wait till the last possible minute. He was a player at this time of year, we talked about this, as a matter of fact our scouts have been working on spring scouting for the next draft in 2021. He was a part of that process. There was a number of us that saw him during the fall, then again in December, January, Senior Bowl obviously when your whole staff is there. We worked through the progression of combine. He was at a multitude of checkpoints. We were able to kind of monitor that progress as he goes.”
On Uche, taken out of Michigan after the Patriots traded up to get an additional pick in the second round:
“Uche actually going back to last year, when you look at their defense, Uche’s role was a little bit bigger this year,” said Caseio. “Actually had another kid Mike Dana who transferred from Central Michigan. Their defense has been pretty good. Coach Brown and their staff have done a great job. Moved around the front a little bit. Played in the perimeter. They used him some at Mike linebacker. Used him in some sub situations. He’s been asked to do a number of different things in a good defense. They played him at linebacker at the Senior Bowl. Has a variety of different things that it looks like he can do.”
On Jennings, who played under Nick Saban at Alabama for four seasons:
“Obviously he comes from a great program with a lot of great players. Coach Saban, what he’s done at Alabama, I mean, hard to match what he’s done. They put out a lot of good players,” said Caserio. “You saw it in this draft. However many players they had drafted (nine players in the first three rounds), it was a lot, which it usually is every year. This kid is a really tough, tough kid. A little bit bigger in terms of size than Uche. Jennings is 255, 260. Uche kind of 240, 245. Different defenses. But had some elements where they were used kind of similarly. Jennings has a background playing a couple different spots. Really tough, good leadership. They’re call-them-into-the-line-of-scrimmage type players, front seven type players. How they’ll project into our system we’ll see. Obviously we’re pretty multiple up front, multiple schemes on defense, so these guys have been asked to do a number of different things in their respective systems.”
On Asiasi, drafted had 44 catches for 641 yards and four touchdowns for UCLA last season:
“This kid has good size, runs well for his size. He’s pretty tough,” Caserio said of the 6-foot-3, 257-pound tight end. “He has some technique things he certainly can work on as on on the line of scrimmage blocker. Has a background with Coach [Chip] Kelly. He certainly was a good resource for us on that one.”
On Keene, who plays fullback and H-back in addition to tight end:
“Really played essentially from day one, a three-year starter,” said Caserio. “Really had to kind of search for some things with him on tape. He took advantage of his opportunities. A couple of things that stood out were just some of his catch-and-run type plays. Good size, 6-foot-4 and change, 255, 260. Fairly athletic, tough kid, smart kid. Was asked to do a number of different things in their offense.”
Caserio was asked what stuck out about Keene that prompted them to make a trade to jump back into the third round for a second time.
“I’d say it’s not one particular thing. I think when you get to this point, there’s players that I would say especially in this round, this was pick players you want to have on your team, get into your program, however you need to do it you go ahead and do it,” he explained. “I think as we kind of looked at the board, kind of projecting forward here a little bit, whether or not we actually were able to utilize all the picks, it’s a little bit similar to last year when we kind of traded up. I wouldn’t say it was for any particular reason other than sort of pick and resource allocation and trying to get players on the team that we thought made sense. I would say it was really more driven by that than any one particular thing.”
One position the Patriots did not address Thursday or Friday was quarterback. With Tom Brady now in Tampa Bay, the Patriots are left with veteran Brian Hoyer and 2019 fourth-round pick Jarrett Stidham on their depth chart. Caserio said the plan is to have a third quarterback join that group, whether it’s through the draft or another avenue.
“There’s still some players I think that have a possibility ending up on this team. We have the picks sort of spread out [Saturday]. There’s different ways that you can get the players on your team,” he said. “We’re going to have a third quarterback on our roster, pair them up with Jarrett and Brian. These guys are working hard at the start of the off-season program. We’re going to have another player here at this position. Where he comes from and how he gets here is sort of yet to be determined. There’s a few guys I think that we like and we feel comfortable with. Now it’s just a matter of how we get them on the team.”
New England is scheduled to make six picks on Saturday: one pick in the fifth round, four picks in the sixth round, and a final pick in the seventh round.