Best of the Best: Patriots Rookie Free Agents

Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports
Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

Not every draft pick makes the team, so you can imagine the long odds for any player not selected in the NFL Draft.

If one of these dreamers are good enough, a team gives them an extended look on the practice squad. If another team had an eye on you, he can be signed off a practice squad onto the active roster. If neither happens, there are 31 other practice squads they can hope for.

Every year, about a few of these rookie free agents make the original team they signed with. Last year DT Adam Butler beat the long odds and not only made the team but contributed throughout the season. Of the dozen signed, these four appear talented enough to either make the roster or make the practice squad:

Shane Wimann, TE/FB Northern Illinois – Wimann’s highlight video is a violence film. There’s no sound, but you’ll want to add sound effects. Block after block, Wimann is either perfectly driving cut blocks through the thighs or manhandling defenders before slamming them to the ground.

For such a punishing blocker, you wouldn’t expect Wimann to look so good as a receiver. Wimann made a career out of running out and up routes, repeatedly beating defenders for big gains down the sideline. Wimann didn’t shy away from going over the middle either, making catches in traffic as well.

And while Wimann didn’t get a lot of passes thrown his way, he made the most of them, by catching a touchdown about once every four receptions.

Because Wimann played two positions, he could cost TE Dwayne Allen and FB James Devlin’s their roster spots, freeing a slot for an additional player. That increases Wimann’s value, as the additional roster spot would be very appealing to the Patriots.

Trent Harris, DE Miami – Harris’ highlight video includes the moniker, “Toolbox Trent.” One viewing of that video gives you a good understanding why. Want to improve the pass rush? Harris can fix that. Leaky run game? Harris can address that need too.

Harris might lack the ideal length and elite athleticism found in top prospects, but his hustle is ceaseless. That, along with good anticipation, quickness off the snap, and quick play recognition helped Harris become a difference-maker for the Hurricanes.

Harris was a leader on and off the field for the Hurricanes. Like teammate turned Patriot Braxton Berrios, Harris was a team captain in 2017. He backed that up by leading the team in sacks with 8.5 (including two against a Notre Dame O-line that had two top-10 draft selections), had a team best six quarterback hurries, totaled 10.5 tackles for a loss, and earned a third-team All-ACC selection according to the official Miami football profile.

New England passed on selecting an edge rusher in the draft despite the obvious need. The Patriots did sign free agent Adrian Clayborn from Atlanta, but his 9.5 sacks were inflated by his six in one game against the Dallas Cowboys.

Experience and health hopefully improves the pass rush to the point where coaches don’t have to rely on blitzing to produce pressure and sacks. If Harris make a smooth transition to the pro game, he should be able to contribute.

Corey Bojorquez, P New Mexico – You would think a team that didn’t punt in the Super Bowl would have little to no interest in a new punter. Then you remember the importance of special teams to head coach Bill Belichick.

Based on Ryan Allen’s 2017 performance, it’s understandable why Belichick brought in two challengers. Allen’s 43.4 gross average was in the bottom third in the league.

That’s why two punters will join the competition in training camp. Ryan Anderson has the Rutgers connection that Belichick trusts, but Bojorquez was the player last season.

Bojorquez’s 47.3 yards gross average per punt in 2017 was best in the nation. In addition Bojorquez had 31 punts of 50 yards or longer, 32 downed inside the 20, and 25 fair caught.

Ralph Webb, RB Vanderbilt – Webb is a well-built (5-10 202 pounds according to the official Vanderbilt football profile) third down back. Webb holds almost every Vanderbilt career rushing record, including 16 100-yard games, 35 total touchdowns (32 by land) and 4,173 rushing yards. And despite a heavy workload over four years, Webb started 49 consecutive games.

In 2017 Webb set a new Commodores single-season rushing record with 1,283 yards and added 21 receptions for 166 yards.

Whatever numbers Webb put up, they were legit. He played in the SEC and came up big against the premiere schools: He rushed for more than 100 yards against Tennessee, Florida and Ole Miss last season.

There’s no vacancy in New England’s backfield, but Webb could find a spot on the practice squad. Injuries happen and lack of depth burned the Patriots before. New England currently has a surplus of backs, but it only takes one runner going down to present an opportunity to Webb.

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