The Patriots drafted a kicker in a familiar spot and kept adding at offensive line and linebacker on the third and final day of the NFL Draft.
“This is always a good opportunity to try to improve your football team and I feel like we did that this weekend,” coach Bill Belichick said Saturday night via video conference.
New England stayed true to form in the fifth round, taking kicker Justin Rohrwasser out of Marshall with pick No. 159.
Rohrwasser, from Clifton Park, N.Y., played his first two collegiate seasons at Rhode Island and was 15 for 20 kicking field goals before transferring to Marshall. In two seasons there, he made connected on 33 of 42 field goals, going 18 for 21 with a long of 53 last season.
Rohrwasser was the first special-teamer to come off the board in this draft but is part of a long list of specialists New England has drafted in the fifth round. The list includes Matthew Slater (2008), Zoltan Mesko (2010), Joe Cardona (2015), and Jake Bailey (2019).
“There’s a fantastic lineage of special teams in New England going back decades,” Rohrwasser said. “Going into it, I’m just treating it the same as any position I’d be walking into. I’m going to put all my heart into it, I’m going to work my butt off, I’m going to train hard and just put my head down and go to work.”
Rohrwasser is the only kicker on the Patriots roster at the moment. In March, New England released veteran Stephen Gostkowski, who spent most of last season on injured reserve, and did not re-sign Nick Folk.
In the sixth round Saturday, New England packaged the Nos. 212 and 213 picks and traded them to the Colts for No. 182, which they used to draft Michigan guard Michael Onwenu.
The Patriots soon added to the offensive unit by taking Wake Forest lineman Justin Herron with pick No. 195.
Onwenu is a big, maul-and-brawl type with a solid base who’s listed at 6 feet 3 inches tall and 344 pounds, but said he played at 368 pounds last year.
He was a four-year letterman at Michigan and a two-time All-Big Ten third-team selection, who started all 13 games in each of the past two seasons at right guard. Before then, he played both guard spots as well as some defensive tackle and on special teams.
He had a private visit with the Patriots early in the pre-draft process before visits were canceled.
He’s more difficult to move but less athletic than Herron (6-4, 308), who fits the physical mode the Patriots usually go for at guard.
Herron played left tackle at Wake Forest, where he set a school record with 51 career starts, but projects as a guard in the NFL. He got knocked for some for lack of strength but scouts praised Herron’s quickness and he’s got character traits the Patriots like. Herron was a team captain and a multi-year All-ACC Academic selection.
Herron spoke with the Patriots at the Senior Bowl and the Combine and later FaceTimed with assistant coach Cole Popovich and another time with a member of the scouting staff.
“Those conversations were really good,” Herron said. “It was more about getting a feel for how I diagnose things in my head in terms of plays and how quickly I can pick up on certain plays and adjustments that other teams do.”
The Patriots have a lot invested in their two starting guards, Joe Thuney and Shaq Mason, but can use these picks for depth and to build for the future, especially after losing backup interior lineman Ted Karras in free agency.
To close out the day, the Patriots took linebacker Cassh Maluia from Wyoming with their final sixth-round selection, No. 204 overall, and another lineman, center Dustin Woodard from Memphis, with their seventh-round pick (No. 230 overall).
Maluia (6-0, 248) was an honorable mention All-Mountain West honoree in 2019 when he played in 13 games, when he totaled 61 tackles and a half-sack, two interceptions, and a pass breakup. He has good speed and special teams experience.
“I like to describe my play as aggressive, hard-nosed, and I’ll do whatever I can for the team,” Maluia said.
Maluia said he had some contact with the Patriots during the pre-draft process including a FaceTime interview with linebackers coach Jerod Mayo, which included some virtual whiteboard work.
He was the third linebacker picked by the Patriots, following Josh Uche and Anfernee Jennings. Dont’a Hightower, Chase Winovich, and Ja’Whaun Bentley are at the top of the depth chart there, but there are snaps to be had after the free agency departures of Jamie Collins and Kyle Van Noy.
Woodard (6-1, 295) started 52 consecutive games in his four seasons at Memphis. He’s played all three interior line positions, left guard in 2016 and 2017, right guard in 2018, and center as a senior in 2019.
“I had a good sense that the Patriots were pretty interested, but I didn’t know what to expect,” Woodard said. “I was pretty optimistic and I kept my faith and I think overall, it worked out for the best. I was extremely happy when I saw my name on the screen and got the phone call.”