With 8 practices in the books, the Patriots rookies have been thrown into the fire of the New England football machine. This infusion of youth is always a welcome aspect of summer and is the vital lifeblood of a dynasty now approaching its third decade.
While there’s still a long ways to go, it’s always fascinating to see how the next generation of players assimilate into the system out of the gate. With joint practices in Detroit set for next week, along with the first preseason game, we’re just touching the tip of the iceberg.
Before the competition elevates to include an actual opponent, let’s take a look at how the top 10 Patriots rookies stack up in the first power rankings of the summer.
1 - Jakobi Meyers
By now you’ve probably heard that undrafted rookie Jakobi Meyers has been one of the most consistent receivers in camp. He has good size and speed, and has caught everything thrown in his direction, including multiple difficult catches. Meyers has been seeing time with Tom Brady and the top unit in recent practices and will be a major player to focus on as we transition into games. If he performs in next week’s game like he has in training camp practices, the Meyers hype train will gain even more steam.
2 - N’Keal Harry
It might be a little disappointing to see the first-round-pick Harry looking up at an undrafted rookie at his position, but Harry has strung together two solid days of practice and is starting to trend upward. Earlier in camp his hands were inconsistent and he struggled to separate, common problems for most rookie wide receivers. But Harry has an outstanding frame and, as he adapts to the NFL’s tight coverage, should start to blossom even further. Separating and making plays down the field is what will take Harry to the next level and past Meyers atop this list.
3 - Jarrett Stidham
Stidham had a terrible first day of practice, holding the ball for an eternity and looking lost. But since day 2 he has consistently improved, delivering well-placed passes and slowly processing the field quicker. That kind of improvement is all you can ask for from a rookie quarterback. He’ll get plenty of game snaps in Detroit and then we’ll truly get a sense of how good he can be. The biggest key – continuing to speed up his decision-making. He has an NFL arm and if he shows he has an NFL processor to go with it the Pats might have found something in the fourth round.
4 - Damien Harris
While it’s impossible to truly judge a running back in training camp practices, Harris has had his moments. He was stuffed twice on the goal line in one practice, which was disappointing, but he’s caught the ball well and shown good quickness through the hole. Like his youth football teammate Stidham, we’ll get a much better sense of how good Harris in game action, where running backs can truly shine.
5 - Jake Bailey
The punter competition is off to a slow start, as the specialists have spent much of their time kicking on the lower fields. Bailey kills the ball when he gets ahold of it and had been pretty consistent until Friday’s practice when both he and Ryan Allen had their shanks. Bailey should get a chance to kick this preseason, unlike Corey Bojorquez last summer, and then we’ll really get a good look at him.
6 - Chase Winovich
Winovich is buried on the depth chart behind perhaps the deepest linebacker/edge group since the 2000’s but hasn’t looked out of place. His work setting the edge and as a backup pass rusher shows how he’ll be expected to develop as he transitions to playing more from a two-point stance.
7 - JoeJuan Williams
Like Winovich, the second-round pick Williams is looking up at a ton of good players. Between Stephon Gilmore, Jason McCourty, J.C. Jackson and Jonathan Jones, the Pats’ corner group has been the strongest unit in training camp, frustrating Tom Brady and his new look receiver corps every day. But Williams has better size than anyone in that group so there could very well still be a role for him on defense. It’s just hard not to be a little disappointed to not see him scratching the surface with the top group at all yet.
8 - Gunner Olszewski
Likely to be a fan favorite in the preseason, Olszewski has looked pretty good considering he was division 2 cornerback in college. He’s your prototypical slot receiver and doesn’t appear to be all that far behind second-year receiver Braxton Berrios, who many were expecting to be a factor this summer. Olszewski’s biggest problem? Slipping. If he can find some cleats that work and stay on his feet, he’s a dark horse to surpass Berrios, who’s been dropping balls left and right while taking the top slot reps in place of Julian Edelman.
9 - Hjalte Froholdt
Froholdt is clearly behind Ted Karras and James Ferentz along the interior of the offensive line but he’s been there every practice and should see his fair share of game action next week. If Joe Thuney ends up filling in at left tackle it could bump Froholdt up the depth chart.
10 - Byron Cowart
Cowart missed a couple practices last week, never a good thing for a rookie but bounced back Thursday with some solid play on the goal line. While the trio of Mike Pennel, Lawrence Guy and Danny Shelton have looked excellent in shutting down the offense, the fifth-rounder can’t afford to miss any more time and needs to make the most of his game reps.