The Patriots aced the draft this year. To recap how they used their picks:
Round 1, Pick 32: Traded to Saints for WR Brandin Cooks and a 4th round pick.
Round 2, Pick 64: Traded to Panthers for DE Kony Ealy
Round 3, Pick 83: Derek Rivers, EDGE, Youngstown State
Round 3, Pick 85: Antonio Garcia, OT, Troy
Round 4 Pick: Traded to Colts for TE Dwayne Allen
Round 4, Pick 131: Deatrich Wise, EDGE, Arkansas
Round 5 Pick: Given up to Bills for RB Mike Gillislee
Round 5 Pick: Traded to Chiefs for TE James O’Shaughnessy
Round 6, Pick 211: Connor McDermott, OT, UCLA
Round 7 Pick: Traded to Lions for TE Michael Williams
All of these players will be important pieces for the Patriots this year, and this is easily the best haul of the year compared to the rest of the league. Even though the team only drafted four players, they ended up with six more in other ways, and still had a decent amount of roster spots left to fill to get to the limit of 90 for training camp and the preseason. This meant that they could sign plenty of undrafted free agents. These are players that were not selected for any reason. Undrafted free agents, or UDFAs, that have made the Patriots in recent years are Malcolm Butler, David Andrews, and Brandon Bolden. Other former UDFAs that impacted the team recently include Danny Amendola, Chris Hogan, and LeGarrette Blount. There is a very clear track record of succeeding within the organization as an undrafted player, so here we can look at some people from this year that have a chance to make an impact. Let’s get into it.
Harvey Langi, LB, BYU
Most well-known for supposedly being given a first round grade by the Patriots last year despite staying in school, Langi is an impressive linebacker prospect that should have been considered in the later rounds of the draft. He is a very athletic linebacker that was questionably moved to the edge rusher position in 2016 after finding success playing the MIKE and WILL roles for the Cougars in the year prior. He collected 68 tackles with 6.5 for loss, 4.5 sacks, and 2 interceptions as a linebacker, and in his lone year coming off the edge he had five tackles for loss and two sacks. It is clear that he will fare better if the Patriots move him to linebacker, as he shows good range and instincts that can translate to the pros. Langi moves very well and flies around the field, delivering hard hits wherever he goes. He may need more work with his discipline, and he missed tackles at times, but there’s a solid foundation to work upon for Matt Patricia. Considering the lack of depth and talent at linebacker for New England, it would not be a surprise to see Langi make the team for Week 1.
Jacob Hollister, TE, Wyoming
Hollister’s brother Cody, a former receiver at Arkansas, was also brought onto the team, which is a cool thing to see in football. Jacob was arguably more important to his team in 2016, where he was part of a potent offense with Brian Hill and Tanner Gentry, as well as some underclassmen. He was able to collect 32 catches for 515 yards and 7 touchdowns in 2016. In the Cowboys’ offense Hollister was frequently moved around in an Aaron Hernandez-esque role, where he went from fullback to in-line to wideout in almost every game. Hollister shows decent blocking skills, although he could add more strength in an NFL weight program. He has impressive run-after-catch ability where he shows some good elusiveness and speed for a tight end. While he did have some issues with drops, he was not helped by his quarterback, future draft bust Josh Allen. The reason Hollister has such a good chance to make the Patriots’ 53-man roster is because of a large question mark at the third tight end spot behind Rob Gronkowski and Dwayne Allen. While the team traded for James O’Shaughnessy, he is mainly a special teams player that was not much of a factor on offense. The team also returns former tackle Michael Williams, who is not much of a threat in the passing game either, remaining more of a blocker. Ideally there is a good in-between player, and that just may be Hollister.
DJ Killings, CB, UCF
Killings earned the most money out of any Patriots UDFA, with over $30,000 in guarantees. While teammate Shaq Griffin got most of the buzz around draft season, Killings is a talented CB that tested very well for his class. At Central Florida’s pro day, he ran a 4.38 40 yard dash, as well as bench pressing 22 reps, which would have been tied for the most of any defensive back at the NFL Combine. Killings may be considered a little undersized at 5-10 and 190 pounds, but he showed off his strength and he plays with tenacity. While at Central Florida, he was able to collect 8 tackles for loss, as well as five interceptions. Showing the ability to attack the ball is an important trait that Bill Belichick greatly values in his defensive backs. The Patriots have a stacked cornerback depth chart, but one spot left up in the air is the cornerback who plays in the slot, who must have good man coverage skills and be very athletic. This may be the spot for Killings, who could follow in the footsteps of Malcolm Butler and make the team early in his career.
Josh Augusta, DL, Missouri
To call Josh Augusta a space eater would be an understatement. At 6-4 and 345 pounds, he is a mass that can be hard to move when he is on his game. Augusta makes his best moves in the run game, where he uses his strength and leverage to collapse lines. He collected 19 tackles for loss and 4 sacks in his Tigers career, and while he’s a little slow to be a sack master on the interior, he’s a clear force against the run. Augusta was also known for being used in the run game on the other side of the ball as well, collecting two rushing touchdowns in the red zone. While that’s less likely to happen in New England, the former Mizzou standout will likely have a chance to make some plays on the Patriots’ defensive line. While they have a solid four interior linemen with Alan Branch, Malcom Brown, Vincent Valentine, and Lawrence Guy, Branch may be on his way out soon and a younger player with similar talents could take his place.
Cole Croston, OL, Iowa
A former 225-pound walk on for the Hawkeyes, Croston comes out as a 6-4, 315 pound offensive tackle with experience all across the offensive line. The Patriots went back to a very familiar pipeline with Kirk Ferentz at Iowa, who has a history of churning out strong prospects on both sides of the lines. Croston missed four games in the past season due to a lower body injury, but when healthy he played on both the left and right tackle spots of the offensive line. While he played on the outside for his career, many believe he best projects to the inside as a guard. Croston is relatively weak for the position, only benching 17 times, but he had an impressive 3-cone as a bigger guy, and his athleticism is decent for his size. His true weakness is just that; weakness. He gets pushed around far too often as a tackle, and that must change if he is going to face bigger players inside. The Patriots enter training camp with not a lot of depth on the interior of the line, with just Ted Karras behind Joe Thuney, David Andrews, and Shaq Mason. Most teams carry around 8 or 9 offensive linemen, and with four tackles and four interior players solidified, it will be a fight for Croston. Considering his advanced technique while working with Ferentz at Iowa, I would say he has the upper hand in the battle.