By all accounts the Patriots had one of their most successful rookie classes of recent memory in 2021. They found a quarterback, defensive lineman and running back who all immediately stepped in and made a fair share of plays, while stacking some important experience that will serve them well as they head into their second seasons.
However, they are but three of the nine total picks and 10 total rookies, as others were developing behind the scenes in what could amount to red shirt seasons. With plenty of questions facing the team during free agency, there are a handful of 2021 rookies who could find themselves embedded in a competition for meaningful snaps in 2022.
How did the 2021 rookie class do and how might they come together in 2022? Let's break them all down!
Selected 1st round, 15th overall
2021 stats: 17 games started, 22 touchdowns, 13 interceptions, 3,801 passing yards
Snap percentage: 96.3 percent
After months of speculation, the Patriots were fortunate to have Jones fall to them at 15th overall, as the Alabama product confirmed he was an excellent fit for New England's offense. Jones won the starting job during camp, helped by a strong performance against the Giants in joint practices where it all seemed to really start clicking. He had his ups and downs over the course of the 2021 season, but that was to be expected. To win the job and start 17 games was a huge boost to Jones and the Patriots. Now the only questions are how good he can be and how well the Patriots can build around his strengths.
Outlook: Jones' rookie season was extremely impressive, but he and the Patriots are up against some very good teams in their division and conference. He and the offense must make solid strides this offseason to keep pace. His smarts, accuracy and anticipation were off the charts, and this years' experience should pay significant dividends, but he's a throwback pocket quarterback and will need a full complement of weaponry to continue to challenge the league's iron.
Selected 2nd round, 36th overall
2021 key stats: 17 games played, 1.5 sacks, 46 total tackles, 9 QB hits
Snap percentage: 55.4 percent
The Patriots made just one trade in last year's draft to ensure they secured the services of Barmore and few trades have paid off more handsomely. His high energy and strength were immediately apparent in training camp, as Barmore emerged early on as a passing down contributor and saw his role continue to grow as the season progressed. Disruptive defensive linemen are worth their weight in gold and Barmore should continue to make an impact, especially when teams look to single block him. He's a load for anyone to handle one-on-one and his value to the defense is significant.
Outlook: Barmore was listed as PFF’s choice for a Patriots breakout player in 2022 and for good reason. As the Patriots look to reload their defense, it's clear that Barmore is an important piece to the process. If he can ascend to a true every-down interior defensive linemen, he'll play one of the most important roles on the team.
Selected 3rd round, 96th overall
Key 2021 Stats (preseason): 2 GP, 6 Total tackles
Perkins showed up positively in the final preseason game against the Giants but remained behind the scenes as the regular season started, being Inactive in the first 13 games and then landing on Injured Reserve for the final five games. Despite not seeing any game action, Perkins popped up on the injury report in five different weeks, with a shoulder injury hampering his start to the season and then an ankle injury causing the end of his season, after he had battled an ankle injury earlier in the season over Weeks 5 and 6. Hopefully, he's fully healthy to participate in the offseason program.
Outlook: Perkins was seen as a disruptive edge player when he was selected out of Oklahoma, but how exactly he fits in the defense and what makes him different from fellow unproven edge players like Josh Uche and Chase Winovich is hard to know at this point. Like some of the other rookies that spent 2021 behind the scenes, there's intrigue for Perkins in his second season at a position of long-term need along the edge of the defense.
What the scouts said (NFL.com): Despite some physical deficiencies, he plays with forward focus and the attitude to go find the football. There are differences of opinion in the NFL scouting community regarding his NFL potential, but the lack of traits and functional quickness are challenges that could limit him.
Selected 4th round, 120th overall
2021 Key stats: 12 games played, 606 rushing yards, 5 touchdowns, 4.6 yards-per-attempt
Snap percentage: 24.0 percent
Stevenson immediately made his presence felt, ripping off a 91-yard touchdown in the opening preseason game against Washington and carried that success over to the regular season, topping 100 yards twice. His style complemented Damien Harris’ well as the Patriots offense was at their most effective when the duo was taking turns running over defenses. He never seemed to go down on first contact and ran over plenty of would-be defenders. He's a uniquely balanced running back with surprising speed for his size.
Outlook: The only question is how high Stevenson's ceiling is because he already showed as a rookie that he could be a valuable rotational piece. His comfort catching the ball, combined with his tough after-contact running make for a devastating combination and could deliver the kind of balanced approach that the offense needs more of. With a full offseason to reset, Stevenson's trajectory is absolutely pointing up.
Selected 5th round, 177th overall
Key 2021 Stats: None
As expected when the Patriots drafted him, McGrone spent his entire rookie season on the Physically Unable to Perform list due to a torn ACL suffered during his final season at Michigan. He was briefly seen taking things in during OTAs, but should be expected to be in the thick of things in 2022.
Outlook: With significant questions at the linebacker position, McGrone has a significant opportunity heading into his second season. A tough and fairly mobile inside linebacker, McGrone offers an in-house glimmer of hope for a group that needs to get younger and more athletic. He is one of the biggest wild cards on the team heading into 2022.
What the scouts said (NFL.com): McGrone plays with a naturally physical demeanor and carries heavy pads as a body-on-body tackler. He has the skill and strength to make the plays that are in front of him, but he tends to play the game through a straw, limiting his field recognition and ability to play with efficiency against play-action and misdirection. There isn't enough good tape to suggest he can be a factor on passing downs, but he has the talent to be an early down backup who could move up the ranks.
Selected 6th round, 187th overall
Key 2021 Stats: None
Bledsoe spent most of the season on the Physically Unable to Perform list but was moved to the active roster for two weeks in December before another injury landed him on Injured Reserve. Despite not seeing much practice and no play time, Bledsoe was certainly involved behind the scenes and should be mentally prepared to jump into things next season. Even those two weeks of practice should provide some experience to build from.
"Josh did everything he could do in the spring and then he was limited in training camp with the PUP designations," said Bill Belichick late in the season after Bledsoe had returned to practice. "As far as meetings and staying up with things, he did a good job. Cam McGrone did as well. When he had an opportunity to begin his practice period coming off of PUP, he showed some preparation, gained confidence, his teammates gained confidence in him that he knew what he was doing even though he hadn't had a chance to practice it that much."
Outlook: Bledsoe is a prototypical hybrid safety and despite the presence of Adrian Phillips and Kyle Dugger, he could still find an opportunity for a rotational role on defense. He should be in the mix, especially if the team needs to replace Devin McCourty.
What the scouts said (NFL.com): Stocky safety/nickel hybrid with good strength and a compact frame but a lack of desired agility in coverage. Bledsoe played nickel primarily and had a disappointing ratio of touchdowns allowed to plays on the ball during his career. His hips tend to hang up when he tries to flip and mirror route breaks. He's missing the make-up burst to close the distance and prevent the catch against NFL-caliber receivers. Bledsoe plays with strength from press and good awareness from short zone, which might be the best option for what he brings to the table.
Selected 6th round, 196th overall
Key 2021 Stats: None
Sherman spent the entire season on the practice squad but did get a call up against the Texans though he did not play any snaps. After playing right tackle in college, Sherman appeared headed for the interior in the NFL as a guard.
Outlook: There is some uncertainty along the offensive line and Sherman's development could provide some valuable depth in his second season. With a full spring in the offseason training program, a jump in strength and conditioning could pay dividends. There are opportunities throughout the o-line.
Selected 7th round, 241 overall
Key 2021 Stats (preseason): 3 targets, 2 catches, 11 yards
It was a developmental year on the practice squad for Nixon, who was cut after training camp and immediately joined and stayed with the PS all season long. Nixon didn't show much in camp or in the preseason but has the kind of size and speed that could eventually help the Patriots.
Outlook: Nixon remained behind Kristian Wilkerson on the depth chart throughout the season, with Wilkerson getting the call up against Jacksonville late in the season. With a year in the system, Nixon will be looking to make a splash in training camp to make sure he at least sticks on the practice squad for another season. He would need to make a major leap to secure a 53-man roster role, but it's not out of the question.
What the scouts said (NFL.com): Dangerous three-level talent with speed and short-area athleticism to play inside or outside as a pro. Nixon had impressive flashes over his first two seasons at UCF before playing in just four games this past year due to a shoulder injury. His play strength and hands are both in need of work in order for him to be considered a trustworthy option for play callers and quarterbacks. He has the juice to win foot races deep and displays enough route-running potential to uncover against pro coverage on the first and second levels.
Key 2021 Stats (preseason): 4-of-7 on XP, 6-of-8 on FG, Long - 50 yards
Nordin showed off a big leg in camp but had some consistency struggles, especially in a tough second preseason outing against the Eagles in which he missed a field goal and two extra points. Still, Nordin did enough to earn himself a spot on the initial roster before landing on Injured Reserve with an Abdominal injury. He came off IR in early December and the team moved him back to the practice squad where he remained for the final weeks of the season.
Outlook: Nordin signed a futures deal after the season and will look to get back into the mix this summer. Knocking off veteran Nick Folk would be no simple task though, as the veteran has had a consistent two-and-a-half years in New England. Folk is a free agent but expressed his desire to keep playing. Having a developmental kicker behind the scenes is always a good thing and if Nordin can be consistent in the summer, he has the kind of power that could eventually overtake a vet like Folk.