Adding depth options like Onwenu (50) on the offensive line was a prioritized. Katelyn Mulcahy/Michigan Daily
As expected, the final day of the draft lacked the buzz of Friday's action-packed frenzy from a Patriots perspective. Trading away both of their fourth round picks to move back up Friday night for Dalton Keene left them without a pick until midway through the fifth round, with the rest of their selections landing in the drafts final two rounds.
The story of the day for Patriots fans was more who they didn't pick than who they did. Many went into the draft with the expectation that they would add competition at quarterback for unproven Jarrett Stidham. They didn't, notably passing on a shot at adding Georgia's Jake Fromm in the fifth round. The day also came and went without them spending a single pick on a receiver, which was surprising due to the quality and depth of this year's draft class and last year's struggles to generate separation and explosive plays on the outside.
I fully get the logic behind not adding a quarterback, although the value of a competent backup on a rookie contract made Fromm a tempting option at pick 159 to me. I didn't share the sentiment of the fanbase that quarterback was a need that had to be addressed. It seems clear to me that the team deems Jarrett Stidham as worthy of a real shot to prove he can handle himself as "the guy". It would be a disservice to the franchise in my mind to not find out whether he can play or not, with the option of aggressively going after a quarterback in next year's loaded draft class always there as an attractive fallback if Stidham fails this year's audition.
The decision to pass on a receiver was more interesting. It was rumored that the team was high on SMU's James Prosche, who the Ravens traded up to take two selections before the Patriots pick at 204 (Cassh Maluia). Perhaps they would have taken him at 204, but the Pats passed on multiple opportunities to land him earlier in the round, addressing offensive line depth instead. Passing on Ohio State's KJ Hill in favor of nearly unknown Maluia will be a tough pill to swallow if Hill turns into a reliable slot receiver. There will also be second guessing off addressing kicker at 159 rather than with a later pick, as options like Tyler Johnson, Quintez Cephus, John Hightower and Collin Johnson were there for the picking. If one of the later round receivers turns into a contributor and the Patriots offense remains uninspiring, that will be a legitimate decision to second guess.
While I could have gone for a receiver at some point over the weekend, I'm not going to dock them too hard, as I didn't really see value at the position due to an early run that eliminated most of the best options from consideration. Eight receivers had already come off the board when the Patriots made their first pick at 37, and five more went before they traded up to pick again at 60. At that point, the vast majority of the meat from the receiver class had already been claimed. The draft order reflected that drop off in value, as only six receivers went in the lengthy gap between the Patriots selections of Uche at 60 and Rohrwasser at 159. There's an argument to be made that they should have joined the receiver run at 37 instead of gambling on the long term upside of Kyle Dugger, but fans should understand that was the only true spot in this draft when they passed on any receivers who would project to immediately boost the team's passing offense (fans upset about missing out should also be reassured that early assessments on next year's crop of receivers are very promising).
We knew they'd be adding a kicker at some point following the offseason release of Stephen Gostkowski. The Patriots chose to fill that need with their first pick of the day, choosing the relatively unknown Rohrwasser over more heralded names like Tyler Bass (picked at 188 by the Bills) and Rodrigo Blankenship (undrafted).
If you want to second guess not taking a receiver, this pick is one of your legitimate opportunities to complain. Minnesota's Tyler Johnson went two picks later to Tampa Bay, sparking a second mini run that cleared out most of the remaining depth at the position. Johnson was the first of seven receivers to go in a 16 pick span. Meanwhile many wondered if Rohrwasser, who was unknown to most, could have been acquired with a later pick; the TV broadcast joked that he was the first player picked that they had no available footage of.
Second guessing is one thing, but no one should be surprised that the Patriots addressed their pressing special teams need in the fifth round. That's historically been where Bill's chosen to take specialists (Jake Bailey, Joe Cardona, Zoltan Mesko, Matthew Slater), viewing the value of an important contributor in the game's third phase as higher than a position prospect who statistically is a long shot to develop into a noteworthy player at this point in the draft. The Patriots were never going to take their kicker situation lightly, and Bill Belichick clearly placed a good amount of value on landing his guy at a position where having a liability will cost a team games. Maybe they could have waited and still got their man, but Bill's line of thinking is backed by the hindsight of the Bills taking a kicker in the next round. My guess is that the team didn't view any of the receivers available at that point as clear upgrades over the options already on the team's crowded but unproven depth chart.
As for Rohrwasser, everything makes sense in a football sense about this pick. At 6'3" and 230 pounds, he's a big sturdy dude with a strong leg. He went 7-8 from 40 yards and beyond this fall, including a long of 53. That 53 yarder was the most memorable of his season, as it was the game winner against rival Western Kentucky, capping a 4-4 performance in tough rainy conditions. For the season, Rohrwasser was 18-21, with one of those misses being a blocked kick, and 35-36 on extra points. It was a career season to cap a promising career that actually started at local URI, where he kicked capably for two seasons before transferring to Marshall.
His leg strength is appealing not just for his range, which extends comfortably into the mid 50s, but also his ability to drive the ball through tough weather conditions, which is a must in New England. His aptitude for high pressure situations is also impressive, as he never missed a kick during the fourth quarter or overtime in his college career. Another appealing characteristic will be his work on kickoffs, with the high arcing, "just short of the goal line" style kickoffs that Bill Belichick has favored in recent years being a speciality of his.
Question the value of taking a kicker this highly if you want. But the on field profile of this kicker looks pretty good, with the mental toughness to handle pressure kicks and the leg to kick in New England weather being the two most important traits for a kicker here. As long as he can stay out of the news going forward (regardless of your political leanings, no one in the organization wants the PR nightmare of having an outspoken MAGA associated kicker) this looks like a pick that could pay dividends for years to come.
Could they have addressed another need here and gotten their guy later? Probably. But if Rohrwasser is a good, reliable kicker for 10 years here, no one will quibble with missing out on a back up QB dice role or a depth receiver to land him. Don't risk becoming the Chicago Bears (DOINK!) for a fifth receiver.
Trade: NE acquires 6.182, IND acquires 6.212, 6.213
Pick 182: Michael Onwenu, Guard, Michigan
For the fourth time this draft, the Patriots trade up to land a specific target. At this point of the draft there's not a lot of talent left, so packaging two picks to move up and target a player with a standout trait here makes a lot of sense.
In Onwenu's case, that trait is obvious: sheer size and power. At 6'2" and 344 pounds, Onwenu is an absolute mountain of a man, even after actually shedding 25 pounds from the nearly 370(!) he played at this fall. As you'd expect, quickness and athleticism aren't his calling card, but his bulk and strength make him an absolute mauler in close quarters. While he'll occasionally get beaten by elite quickness in pass protection, he's simply too wide for most guys to get around and there's absolutely no going through him.
The selection of Onwensu is interesting, as he's a bit of a departure from their historical preference at the position. In fact, he's a polar opposite of their type, which has typically been undersized athletic technicians who excel at getting on the move and picking off second level defenders. That isn't Onwenu's game at all, but he's the kind of close quarters bully you run behind in short yardage situations, a area that let the Patriots down throughout 2019. With the Patriots likely to lean more on the running game in the next few years as they break in a young quarterback, Onwenu offers an intriguing depth option for a team that still needs to be preparing for the real possibility of life without Joe Thuney coming this year or next.
I would argue that this was the best value pick of the Patriots day three haul. Onwenu's college tape shows a guy who could play in a pinch this season and at the very least handle himself physically in brawls against NFL players. Long term, he has a chance to develop into a starter, albeit one who's ceiling will be limited due to his lack of athleticism. With disappointing trade acquisition Jermaine Eluemunor set to cost $2.13 against the cap, Onwenu will also benefit the Pats quickly from a cap perspective if he can beat the pricier veteran out for a depth job.
There aren't many guys in the sixth round who have a realistic chance to develop into even reliable NFL depth, let alone a starter. Onwenu has the look of a guy who will at least handle his opportunities competently at the next level. Packaging two late picks to move up and get a guy like that at this point in the draft is fantastic value.
Pick 195: Justin Herron, Offensive Line, Wake Forest
Herron has athleticism, can he play guard? Image via Godeacs.com
We'll go with the vague "offensive line" tag here, as Bill Belichick didn't get into specifics as to their plans for Herron. He played left tackle throughout his career for the Deacons, but his body type (he's extremely short and short armed for a tackle) screams guard.
Onwenu was a departure from the Patriots prototype at guard, but the selection of Herron suggests that's more of an outlier pick than any sort of coming shift in preference. Herron fits the Scarnecchia prototype to a T: he's not super big, but he's a smooth athlete who will be most comfortable pulling and seeking out linebackers in the open field. Scarnecchia won't coach Herron, but he was reportedly a scouting consultant throughout the pre-draft process, as the team clearly had interior offensive line depth as a priority.
Herron won't be a favorite to make the team going into camp, but he's a capable athlete who fits their stylistic preference at the position. He'll get thrown into the mix to compete with Hyalte Froholdt, Eluemunor, Onwenu and fellow draftee Dustin Woodard for what will likely be only two depth spots behind Joe Thuney and Shaq Mason. He could be an ideal candidate for the practice squad, as he'll likely need time to get acclimated to a new position at the pro level. I wonder if he could even get a chance to take some reps at center in camp, as the team needs to develop depth options behind David Andrews.
In Scar we trust. It's hard for me to go lower than the B range on an offensive line pick when Scarnecchia advised in the drafting process. Whether their history of developing their late round picks on the O-line continues without Scar coaching the kids up remains to be seen, but Scar has undeniably known how to pick 'em over the years. I dock them slightly for the value, as I wonder if you could have gotten James Prosche here and gotten Herron a few picks later. It's admittedly a nitpick, but what are immediate knee-jerk draft grades for?
Pick 204: Cassh Maluia, Linebacker, Wyoming
With the final defensive pick of the draft the Patriots continue to add athletes to the second level of their defense. At 6'0" and 248 pounds, Maluia is big enough to fit the Patriots baseline expectations for off the ball linebackers. However, his appeal comes from his speed and lateral quickness, which flashed on his film. Maluia formed an athletic pairing with Bengals third round pick Logan Wilson at Wyoming, and it wouldn't surprise me if Maluia's traits caught their eye during work on the more highly touted Wilson.
While Maluia's athleticism gives him a fighting chance, he'll be unlikely to play major defensive snaps anytime soon. He doesn't do well taking on and shedding blockers and his instincts and mental processing remain poor despite being a three year starter. He'll need plenty of coaching up, but the athleticism gives him a chance to find a niche as a rangy coverage linebacker if all goes well. In the short term, he'll try to make the team based on his special teams contributions, as his ability to run and hit makes him a natural candidate to stand out on cover teams.
Nitpicking value this late in the draft is a pretty goofy exercise, but so is grading draft picks before they've even taken a practice snap in the NFL, so here we go. There's a very good chance that Maluia is still there in the seventh round, as he received little buzz as a candidate to get drafted even in these late rounds. Taking a swing at the developmental pass protection upside of Auburn's Prince Tego Wanogho, the instinctual deep coverage play of Iowa's Geno Stone or the reliable route running and separation of Ohio State's KJ Hill would have been my preference, three accomplished players who went off the board between now and our 230th pick, where we probably could have gotten Maluia. All nitpicks aside, it's a late round dice roll on athletic traits. I'll give it an average "C" for now.
Pick 230: Dustin Woodard, Center, Memphis
With their last pick of the draft, the Patriots took one more dart throw at finding capable depth option on the interior of the line. Woodard is another guy who fits the undersized but athletic profile of interior linemen that the Patriots seek out. His versatility, maturity and experience likely appealed to the Patriots, as he chronologically started two years at left guard, one at right guard and his final one at center for a Memphis program that played in three straight AAC championship games, breaking through to win it's conference championship in Woodard's senior year. He's another guy the Patriots could try to develop on the practice squad if he doesn't emerge from the suddenly crowded competition for interior depth jobs.
NFL.com didn't even have a scouting profile on this guy when the Patriots made the pick. However, he fits the profile of what they look for to a T, has some developmental traits athletically, and presumably comes Scar approved. And we're deep into the "who knows" territory of the seventh round. I'm giving it the benefit of the doubt.