Patriots rookies look strong in Week 1

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The Patriots dropped a 25-20 game to the Eagles in Week 1, a result that was more about the Patriots’ mistakes than anything else. However, one significant bright spot was the play of New England’s Rookie class. In order for the Patriots to contend for a playoff spot, they will need to get impact production from their rookie class.

Offensively, Demario Douglas looked like he belonged on the NFL stage with four catches for 40 yards. His mix of quickness and speed is something the Patriots have not had at slot since Julian Edelman retired. Given how Bill O’Brien has used slots in the past, Douglas could have a large role in the offense going forward. Rookies Sidy Sow and Atonio Mafi started at guard and held up better than many people expected against an elite Eagles pass rush. There was some pressure up the middle and the two did not win enough in the run game, but they look like solid depth pieces behind starters Cole Strange and Mike Onwenu.

Their performances did not go unnoticed. David Andrews talked about the two rookie lineman and how they competed.

“I think the last time, I guess, that would have happened was 2016 with (Joe)Thuney and (Ted) Karras and then maybe me and Shaq (Mason) in 2015. I thought they did a good job. They got a lot of reps all summer, I think that helped them. You’ve got to learn the hard way, right? So, you learn by going out there – we all do, right? By taking our licks and bumps, getting beat and things like that. So they’ll have a lot to clean up, we’ll all have a lot to clean up from this game. I’m proud of the way they competed, the way they answered against a really good defensive football team and arguably one of the best fronts in football. But, like I said, we’ve just got to be better when it counts.” 

The one rookie who struggled in his debut was Kayshon Boutte who failed to keep his feet in bounds on 3rd and 4th down conversions in the second half.

The Patriots defensive rookies, especially their top two draft picks, were impressive. Christian Gonzalez had the unenviable task of matching up against AJ Brown and Devonta Smith for most of the night. He had one pass breakup on a critical fourth-down play, a sack, seven tackles and one tackle for loss. Keion White didn’t show up on the stat sheet besides one deflected pass, but he earned a 74.9 Pro Football Focus grade and was credited with four quarterback pressures in only 13 pass rush snaps. Marte Mapu had three tackles while being used in a variety of roles in coverage and against the run.

Matthew Judon talked about the rookies impact on the game.

“It’s a, ‘Welcome to the NFL.’ We knew when we drafted them, when we got them in here and actually put pads on that they were really good players. I think for Gonzo (Christian Gonzalez) to go out there and play the way he played, for Keion to get in and play how physical he played, Marte was in the game, him making plays just kind of all over the field. I don’t really know Marte’s background too much; I watched highlights and stuff, things like that. But, for him to be able to play linebacker, safety and outside linebacker, that’s kind of unbelievable. As a rookie, those three guys had a lot of big plays. They handled it tonight exceptionally. They went out there and played their butts off.”

The Patriots took a punter and a kicker in the draft, the first team to do so since the 2000 Raiders. Both started and looked good, especially punter Bryce Baringer. Baringer averaged 45 yards per punt and dropped three inside the 20. He’d like to have his one touchback back, but the good far outweighed the bad. Chad Ryland hit two extra points; he was not called upon for any field goals.

The Patriots invested a great deal in the 2023 draft and the early results are promising. Obviously, it’s only one week, but the first step is a positive one for the rookies. New England will need that to continue if they are going to march toward the playoffs.