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Future bright for Pats undrafted rookie special teamers

The Patriots special teams took some lumps in 2022, but a trio of rookies helped reset the unit's future trajectory.

Pictured are Patriots defensive lineman DaMarcus Mitchell (97), defensive back Brenden Schooler (41) and wide receiver Raleigh Webb (44). Photos by David Silverman and Eric J. Adler.
Pictured are Patriots defensive lineman DaMarcus Mitchell (97), defensive back Brenden Schooler (41) and wide receiver Raleigh Webb (44). Photos by David Silverman and Eric J. Adler.

The Patriots had their ups and downs on special teams in 2022. On one hand, dynamic returner Marcus Jones sparked the kickoff and punt return teams with excitement nearly every time he touched the ball. For those efforts, Jones was named to the AP All-Pro team as well as the PFWA's All-AFC and All-Rookie teams. But on the other hand, the Pats' special teams units, long a source of advantage for New England, came in dead last in the league in DVOA for the season.

But those two extremes overshadow what were promising performances from a trio of undrafted rookie special teamers who all emerged as core contributors, headlined by Brenden Schooler, who was also named alongside Jones to the PFWA All-Rookie team. Schooler led the team with 14 special teams tackles, good enough to tie him for eighth in the NFL, while playing a whopping 330 special teams snaps in his first year.

"Schools is an instinctive kid," said Bill Belichick during the season. "He picks things up quickly. He's played multiple positions for us, in the kicking game, in both the coverage and the return units, so that's been valuable for us, and it's been good experience for him. Again, I think when you play multiple spots like that, you not only learn how to play the spot you're in, but then you understand what some other guys are doing, what their issues are, how they can help you, or not help you, and so forth, based on having played that position himself. He's a pretty versatile player and a smart kid."

Schooler was also joined by another undrafted rookie who made the team out of camp, DaMarcus Mitchell. Mitchell played 315 special teams snaps while also tallying eight special teams tackles of his own. After losing core veteran special teamer Cody Davis to injury, the team grabbed another undrafted rookie to help on special teams, signing Raleigh Webb from Baltimore's practice squad.

Webb arrived in Week 7 and played 139 snaps for the rest of the season, playing every game from that point on in New England.

"Cam [Achord] and Joe [Houston] spend a lot of time with all the rookies there, with Schools, and of course now with Raleigh] Webb in there and DaMarcus Mitchell. Those guys have really taken a lot of extra time and of course [[Matthew] Slates’ [Slater] done a great job with them as well. Those guys spend a lot of time together. They're kind of our core group and they're on just about every unit, except for field goal protection.

"Playing with Slater is always a good thing for everybody else, because you know he's going to attract a lot of attention. Schools' starting to draw some double teams too, so I guess that's a compliment in a way to recognizing his production."

With Slater's plans for 2023 still unknown, the contributions from 2022's rookie class on special teams are reassuring, not to mention that they're all on manageable rookie deals. The Patriots might've taken some lumps on special teams in 2022 but they appear to have found a new young core to build around, with an assortment of coverage players and an explosive returner who's a danger to take any kick to the house.

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