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Some brand-new New England Patriots

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Another big chapter of the National Football League’s future unfolded this past weekend in Nashville.

The 32 NFL franchises landed in Music City for the 2019 NFL Draft, where over the course of three days, teams selected the players they hope will lead their respective organizations into the future. Team presidents, general managers, coaches and owners pored over stat sheets and tapes, looking to separate the cream of the collegiate crop from the chaff, all in an effort to put themselves in the best possible position to move forward toward a championship.

The draft isn’t always as exciting in New England as it is in other places – two decades of Patriots success has led to less-than-optimal selection slots as a rule, although that hasn’t stopped them from making some solid picks.

That said, the early consensus is that this has a chance to be one of the better draft hauls of the Belichick era (for whatever that’s worth – see the caveat a few paragraphs down). Rather than go with their usual tactic of trading down and stockpiling, the Pats apparently liked what they saw in the Class of 2019, selecting 10 players in all. And it’s a far-from-typical group to boot, but really, when have the Patriots ever been conventional?

Will all of these players succeed? Of course not. Hell, a good chunk of them may not even make the team at all. But hey – we’re talking about the reigning Super Bowl champions here. They don’t need to hit on every pick. Still, expect at least a couple of these additions to make a splash.

Let’s meet the new guys.

(Obligatory annual caveat: This is not an effort to grade the Patriots draft class. Literally nothing has changed about any of these players except that they have been given an opportunity to potentially make an NFL roster. As to whether any or all of them cash in on that opportunity, well … I can’t say. And neither can anyone else, no matter how authoritative they sound on TV or on the internet. Grading a draft that just happened is nonsense; a worthless exercise. This is just an introduction.)

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First Round (32nd overall): N’Keal Harry, wide receiver, Arizona State

A wide receiver in the first round? Who are you and what have you done with Bill Belichick?

In all seriousness, the reality is that with Rob Gronkowski off into retirement, New England had a real need for a big body to catch passes on the outside. Harry, at 6’2” and 225 pounds, certainly fits the bill on that end. His lack of high-end speed is a bit of a concern, but he looks to have the skill set that will allow him to go up and get the ball. He might not get separation, but he should be strong enough to win the battle for contested catches. Ideally, he fills one of the team’s biggest offensive needs.

Second Round (45th): Joejuan Williams, cornerback, Vanderbilt

From drafting for a position of need to drafting for one of strength, the Patriots actually traded up for the chance to select Williams out of Vanderbilt. The defensive secondary was perhaps New England’s best overall unit, but it was an open secret how much they coveted Williams, whose size (6’4”, 211) and strength make him a rarity at the position. We might see some juggling, but there’s little doubt that the team will find room for a player with this kind of talent.

Third Round (77th): Chase Winovich, defensive end, Michigan

Winovich doesn’t have numbers that leap off the page in terms of measurables. He doesn’t have the elite physicality or dominating stats that tend to mark defensive line prospects. What he does have, however, is a relentlessness that makes him difficult to stop. He’s a “high-motor” guy, and while that sometimes comes off as derogatory, in this case, it will likely help him stick with the Pats. It might take a year or two, but D-linemen picked in this area by the Pats tend to wind up quite productive.

Third Round (87th): Damien Harris, running back, Alabama

Yes, the running back position has dipped in value in recent years, but that just means it’s another market inefficiency for the Pats to exploit. Harris could well be that guy – he’s not an explosive runner, but he’s a powerful one, and he’s shown the ability to catch a pass as well. If that three-down capability carries over to the next level, he could prove to be a valuable player. His ceiling might be on the lower side, but he looks to be a high-floor guy.

Third Round (101st): Yodney Cajuste, offensive tackle, West Virginia

Cajuste is a big-bodied guy (6’5”, 312) who held down the left tackle slot for the Mountaineers. He’s a bit lacking in flexibility, so he’s got some work to do in terms of developing as a blocker – particularly in pass protection. Still, with the sheer physicality he brings to the table, it’s not hard to see him developing into at least a rotation/situational piece.

Fourth Round (118th): Hjalte Froholdt, offensive lineman, Arkansas

Honestly, I hope this dude makes the team just so I can find out how many different ways announcers will pronounce his name (YELL-duh FRO-holt, if you’re curious). A native of Denmark, he never played the game until coming to America as an exchange student as a sophomore. He wound up playing both guard and center at Arkansas; he’s raw, but he’s also the kind of project at which Pats line coach Dante Sarnecchia excels.

Fourth Round (133rd): Jarrett Stidham, quarterback, Auburn

Is this the player who finally takes the baton from Tom Brady? Hard to say, but the toolsy Auburn passer looks like he could maybe be the guy someday. Stidham looked to be on his way to high-round status, but dropped after a mediocre season and some concerns about his makeup. But hey, if you want to learn how to be an NFL QB, serving as the GOAT’s understudy’s a great way to do it.

Fifth Round (159th): Byron Cowart, defensive lineman, Maryland

This is a classic Belichick reclamation project. Among the nation’s top recruits, he struggles at Auburn before bouncing back at Maryland. Still, he’s never quite put it all together. That said, he’s got some real physical gifts and a coach who might be able to teach him the best way to use them.

Fifth Round (163rd): Jake Bailey, punter, Stanford

Drafting a punter is weird. Drafting a right-footed punter (Belichick is enamored of southpaws) is weirder. But Bailey has a massive leg – he started out as a kickoff specialist – and has shown the potential for improvement as far as placement kicks. A strange choice, but he’ll probably make the team.

Seventh Round (252nd): Ken Webster, cornerback, Ole Miss

A roll of the dice. Webster brings an impressive package of physical tools, but he’s been inconsistent on the field. He could stick as a special teams/situational guy, maybe move to safety. But really, he’s a lottery ticket – the exact sort of player you should pick in Round 7.

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