On April 25, the 2020 NFL Draft concluded. Since then, fans have wondered what role the newest members of the New England Patriots will fill. This article will be a part of a three-part series in which we project the roles of the 2020 Patriots draft class. We’ll start on the offensive side of the ball where the Patriots spent six of their draft picks. (NOTE: The UDFA’s will be featured in part three of the series.)
Devin Asiasi, TE, UCLA
In somewhat of a surprise, the first offensive player selected wasn’t until the third round. Asiasi was selected in the third round, 91st overall. The tight end out of UCLA will have the opportunity to play a major role in year one. We previously touched on Asiasi and the tight end position in Five Patriots who Need to Step up on Offense.
The depth chart at tight end is not pretty. Matt LaCosse and Ryan Izzo are the returning tight ends, joined by Asiasi and Dalton Keene, another rookie, who appears next on this list. We don’t see LaCosse or Izzo filling the void at tight end. LaCosse faced a barrage of injuries last season, and when he was on the field he had a hard time getting the ball. LaCosse finished the season with 13 catches for 131 yards and 1 touchdown. Meanwhile, Izzo struggled to see the field after week 6. Izzo finished the year with 6 catches for 114 yards and 1 touchdown. Izzo and LaCosse both had their fair share of blocking struggles, which is an important skill for a tight end in the Patriots system to have.
Not only is the competition weak at tight end, but we also like who Asiasi is as a player. Asiasi moves well and is a good target in the middle of the field. His blocking will need some refining but overall, we feel he’s ahead of the returning tight ends. Having a legitimate pass-catching option at tight end will be a welcomed sign for the Patriots.
Projected Role: We believe Asiasi becomes the most productive offensive rookie. Asiasi splits starting snaps to start the season and finishes as the starting tight end, receiving a majority of the snaps at the position.
Dalton Keene, TE, Virginia Tech
In another slightly surprising move, the Patriots double-dipped at tight end early in the draft, both selections coming in the third round. Keene was selected in the third round, 101st overall. Keene is an interesting prospect. His versatility and athleticism alone give him a great chance of playing time in year one. The problem I see when watching Keene is that he wasn’t asked to do a lot of traditional tight end duty at Virginia Tech. Keene was hardly involved in the passing attack, and we never got to see how his route-running skills would hold up in the NFL. He finished his three-year career at Virginia Tech with 59 catches for 748 yards and 8 touchdowns.
Keene will be asked to play a different role with the Patriots than he did in college. I don’t want to knock the guy too much for the offense he was in, and I do like a lot of things about Keene. He has great run after the catch potential and only had one drop in his career. Keene is a smart player, who seems to do anything the coach asks of you. Keene’s athleticism allows him to line up all over the field. He offers the Patriots a strong H-back option. The Patriots have an opportunity to use Keene in unique formations, so his versatility can shine. Who knows, with some polishing Keene could develop a dynamic route tree and unlock major potential.
Projected Role: Keene’s versatility will get him early playing time on special teams and specific packages. Keene will get action as an H-back, and provide a unique look for the Patriot offense. However, he has a big learning curve ahead but because he’s a smart player, as the season carries on we think he’ll get more and more playing time.
You heard it here first, by the end of the end season we believe Keene is the number two tight end, only trailing fellow rookie Devin Asiasi. There’s a reason the Patriots double-dipped at tight end so early in the draft– they need help at the position, and we predict they get it. If the Patriots had proven veterans ahead of Keene, we don’t think we’d see much of Keene in his rookie season outside of situational roles, but the fact is anything Keene can give them is an upgrade.
Justin Rohrwasser, K, Marshall
(NOTE: For the purpose of this series we’ll include a kicker with the offensive selections.) With the 159th overall pick in the fifth round, the Patriots selected Justin Rohrwasser. Rohrwasser made 77.4% of his kicks in 47 games at Marshall. His last season at Marshall he made 85.7% of his kicks. Kicker was a major need for the Patriots after going through kicking struggles all last year. It will be interesting to see if Rohrwasser provides stability back at the kicker position.
Project Role: Well this one’s pretty easy, we predict Rohrwasser will be the starting field goal kicker. Knowing you’ll have the same kicker week in and week out is a welcomed reality after the mystery they had last year at the position. There is some debate who does the kickoffs, but we’ll go with Rohrwasser for kickoff duties.
Michael Onwenu, G, Michigan
Considering where Michael Onwenu was selected, he was one of our favorite picks of the Patriots draft. Onwenu was selected in the sixth round, 182nd overall. He has the size and strength to be a successful NFL interior lineman. Onwenu is really big for a guard weighing in at 344 lbs. Pass protection was one of Onwenu’s strengths in college, and he should be able to translate that to the NFL with his elite strength. The guard position is interesting because as of right now, Joe Thuney is still a Patriot, and until he’s no longer a Patriot, Thuney and Shaq Mason will be the starting guards.
The past couple of years we’ve seen the Patriots prioritize getting younger backup interior linemen. Hjalte Froholdt was selected in last year’s draft, along with three more interior linemen in this year’s draft. Jermaine Eluemunor, who was acquired in a trade with the Ravens, could be pushed off the roster in favor of someone like Onwenu. Onwenu isn’t a perfect player. He will be asked to refine his technique so he’s not relying on pure strength, but getting a player of this potential in the sixth round is a huge plus.
Projected Role: Barring any injuries on the offensive line, we think Onwenu comes down with the Foxboro Flu and redshirts his rookie year. An injury to any of the starting interior linemen, or a Joe Thuney trade, would push Onwenu onto the final roster. Onwenu has great potential, and I don’t think the Patriots would be able to slide him onto the practice squad. If Joe Thuney isn’t resigned following the season, we could see Onwenu as the next man up.
Justin Herron, G/T, Wake Forest
Justin Herron was picked in the sixth round, at 195th overall. Herron played tackle at Wake Forest but his body build is more suited to play at guard. It’s interesting the Patriots opted not to draft a traditional tackle prospect in the draft. As many others believe, we also see Herron switching to guard. Herron plays more athletically than Onwenu but doesn’t have the same strength. I see more of a project piece here. Herron is another young interior linemen the Patriots can throw in and develop. The Patriots want to get as many looks as they can, with Thuney set to become a free agent next year.
Projected Role: We see Herron making the practice squad. Hopefully, with a year in the practice squad, it will help Herron gain more strength and improve his technique. We don’t expect much in year one.
Dustin Woodard, C, Memphis
With their final pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, the Patriots selected Dustin Woodard, a center from Memphis. Woodard was selected in the seventh round, 230th overall. Versatility is the word that comes to mind when we think about Woodard. He played both guard positions as well as finishing his college career playing center.
Maybe I just miss seeing David Andrews play, but I get Andrews vibes the more I read or watch Woodard play. Woodard is very undersized weighing only 291 lbs. Woodard is also very athletic and was a great run blocker at Memphis. Sounds like Andrews right? Andrews is listed right now, at 300 lbs, and we’ve all seen his tremendous run blocking throughout his career. To top it all off, both Woodard and Andrews were both overlooked coming into the draft, with Woodard going in the seventh round, and Andrews going undrafted. I’m not saying Woodard is Andrews, but I am saying that they have very similar scouting reports coming out of college.
Everything isn’t perfect though, and there is a concern when it comes to Woodard making the roster. Because he is undersized, there is worry about his ability to hold up in pass protection against NFL level strength. Although, there are a couple of things that can help Woodard carve out a roster spot: 1.) The Patriots covet linemen who can backup multiple positions. Versatility can buy you a lot of opportunities. 2.) The Patriots haven’t addressed the center position, aside from Woodard, after losing Ted Karras in free agency. We know Andrews is back in the fold but with no clear backup, there’s a great opportunity here for Woodard.
Projected Role: Woodard makes the final roster and backs up Andrews and the two guard spots. His versatility and the lack of a backup for Andrews give him a slight edge over Onwenu to make the final roster. We don’t think Woodard plays in a game this season, but his role as a top backup will have him prepared when Andrews is a free agent at the end of the season. A great get in the seventh round.
As always, let us know if you agree or disagree in the comments below!