The Patriots used the draft to create competition in the trenches and then within hours of the immediate aftermath of the selection marathon to generate more of it at the skill positions.
Quarterback and receiver depth were areas where many had projected the Patriots would zero in on with their dozen picks, but they instead used it to bolster depth along the offensive line (including tight end) and the defensive front seven.
New England then added a pair of quarterbacks, Louisiana Tech’s J’Mar Smith and Michigan State’s Brian Lewerke, and a quartet of receivers (Auburn’s Will Hastings, Mississippi State’s Isaiah Zuber, Syracuse’s Sean Riley, and Miami’s Jeff Thomas) as undrafted free agents.
The 25-player stockpile will begin with a virtual rookie minicamp as their introduction to life as a professional.
“At this point I’d say we’re planning kind of a normal spring in terms of covering material and giving them information, testing them to make sure that they are comprehending it [and] can give it back to us,’’ Patriots coach Bill Belichick said Saturday.
Here are some of the battles that will bear watching whenever the players are allowed to take the fields of Foxborough.
New England used third-round picks on Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene and then added Boston College’s Jake Burt and Rashod Berry of Ohio State as free agents. These fourwill push holdovers Matt LaCosse and Ryan Izzo for immediate playing time.
Asiasi is a flexible athlete with good hands. He shows promise with his blocking, providing a good initial pop. He must prove that he can sustain his blocks through the whistle. Keene offers the versatility to play multiple spots, including H-back/fullback hybrid. Berry, who also playing defensive tackle at Ohio State, projects as an in-line blocker. Burt, who reportedly received an $80,000 guarantee, the largest such guarantee for an undrafted tight end, had 15 catches for 212 yards and a touchdown this past season for the Eagles.
J’Mar Smith possesses excellent athleticism (his father, Kenny was an NFL defensive linemen who spent some time in New England) and brings a dual threat presence to the room.
He threw for nearly 3,000 yards last season, leading the Bulldogs on an eight-game winning streak and a bowl win over Miami. He served a two-game suspension for violating an unspecified team rule but apologized and was reinstated.
Lewerke is a smart and tough player, who was a two-time captain. He has a good pocket presence and surprising mobility.
With four arms in camp, there will be no shortage of guys to throw to. The new guys all have extensive slot experience, so whoever is pulling the trigger will have quick options.
Thomas could be the biggest boon of the bunch – if he toes the line. Thomas, who was suspended multiple times by multiple Hurricanes coaches, has tremendous quickness, speed, and body control.
Hastings was a Jarrett Stidham favorite at Auburn who flashes good straight-line speed. Ditto for Riley. Zuber played in 13 games but caught just 14 passes in 2019.
Barring any moves, the starters should be set with left tackle Isaiah Wynn, left guard Joe Thuney, center David Andrews, right guard Shaq Mason, and right tackle Marcus Cannon.
The competition here will be for backup interior spots and versatility will be a huge factor. Jermaine Eluemunor, Hjalte Froholdt, and Najee Toran are the current in-house backups.
Michigan’s Michael Onwenu (sixth round) was a three-year starter at guard and his combination of size, strength, and deceptive quickness will serve him well. Justin Herron (sixth) played left tackle at Wake Forest but projects as an NFL guard. Dustin Woodard (seventh) played all three interior spots at Memphis and his experience at center will be valuable.
Josh Uche (second) and Anfernee Jennings (third) will immediately be in the mix for edge rushing duties, pushing veterans Derek Rivers and Shilique Calhoun for depth chart status.
Watching Jennings on tape, he appears to have the varied skillset to help fill the void left by Kyle Van Noy.
On the inside, Cassh Maluia (sixth) and undraftees De’Jon Harris (Arkansas) and Kyahva Tezino (San Diego State) will compete for snaps. Maluia has excellent instincts, Harris led the Razorbacks in tackles three times, and Tezino is a lane-clogging thumper.
Top pick Kyle Dugger and Thomas could battle for the punt returner’s job, held by Gunner Olszewski and Mohamed Sanu last season.
Thomas and Zuber could push Brandon Bolden for the kick returner’s job.
Jim McBride can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globejimmcbride.