One of the most exciting days of a football player’s life is the weekend of the NFL Draft. The anticipation of awaiting your name to be called and becoming a part of a professional organization is a dream come true. After all, many players dedicate their entire lives to that moment: playing in the NFL.
Following the draft, the new draft classes from each team must immerse themselves with the team. Practices, OTAs, and training camps are just the beginnings of their new identities.
The New England Patriots were fortunate to draft nine new players to their team. Bringing in new talent to support the organization is imperative each year. Rookies have a tough year as they enter a new system, learn a new playbook and adapt to life in the NFL.
As with any professional team, certain setbacks and injuries can cause a player to reset for the following season. The rookies that were drafted last season for the Patriots found themselves in this situation. Looking forward to the 2019 season, those who were placed on injured reserve or with limited playing time have the opportunity to be playmakers.
How can Ja’Whaun Bentley, Braxton Berrios, and Keion Crossen assist the Patriots on their quest to defend the Super Bowl Championship title in 2019?
Ja’Whaun Bentley, Linebacker
Finding a linebacker that is not afraid to make plays and keep the opposing offense out of the endzone is not an easy task, especially when defenses require stamina and strength to carry a team throughout a game. The Patriots looked toward the draft class and found what they needed. In the fifth round of the 2018 class sat a special defensive player. Lining up alongside the talent of Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy was rookie Ja’Whaun Bentley. A graduate of Purdue University, the 6-foot-2 linebacker was exactly what New England needed. His playing style was similar to the veterans’ and would fit nicely within the organization.
As a rookie, Bentley showcased his talent and started to win over the hearts of the fans. During his time with the Patriots, he recorded 14 total tackles and even snagged his first interception. Many on the team were excited for all that he could bring to the table. Unfortunately, in late September, the team had to place him on injured reserve for the rest of the season.
Looking forward to next season, Bentley will have the opportunity to continue what he started. As long as he stays healthy, his productivity will continue to improve. The defense last season was able to showcase why they can win championships. If he can utilize the mentorship by his veteran teammates, opposing defenses should be on the lookout.
Braxton Berrios, Wide Receiver
If given the opportunity, Tom Brady can turn anyone into a stellar wide receiver. Perhaps that is exactly what excited Braxton Berrios, a receiver from the University of Miami when he was drafted by New England. As he cycled through training camps and learned the NFL playbook, teammates likened his playing style to another wide receiver. Berrios had the quickness and mental toughness that was showcased through the former receiver, Danny Amendola. He was recognized early on by having a focused attitude.
His rookie season was not able to be a showcase for the wide receiver. The New England Patriots placed Berrios on the injured reserve for the year to provide roster space in 2018. While he was essentially redshirted for his rookie season, the team is looking forward to his contributions next season.
One of the reasons for all the excitement is for him to join the likeness of his fellow receivers. Julian Edelman, Phillip Dorsett, Chris Hogan, Cordarrelle Patterson, and Matthew Slater were all utilized last year. With free agency looming on the horizon, the Patriots need to have a supporting receiver core for Tom Brady. By utilizing a fresh face to the playbook, the Patriots can take his ability to get open for scoring opportunities. The young receiver will need to earn the trust of Brady; once that happens, look for Braxton Berrios to succeed with the team as a receiver.
Keion Crossen, Cornerback
Defenses win championships. To the defense-minded head coach Bill Belichick, recruiting top defensemen that can seamlessly rotate through the playbook is key. Drafted in the seventh round overall out of Western Carolina was Keion Crossen. His 165 career tackles showed New England that he was a great fit for their organization.
When Crossen had his first opportunity to showcase his talents on the field, it did not initially go as planned. During the preseason, he received several penalties. Typically, those type of mistakes would warrant immediate cuts from the team. However, Bill Belichick saw something special in the cornerback. Because of his resilience and commitment to improving, Crossen made the 53-man roster.
Playing in 11 games throughout the 2018 regular season, Keion Crossen recorded 14 sacks. His versatility was a highlight to coach Belichick playing him throughout the year. As one of the fastest corners on the team, he was called upon to shadow those quicker receivers on the opposing offense.
Throughout the playoffs, his playing style was widely recognized. He contributed three sacks during his three postseason games. Next season, expect the Patriots to continue to develop his ability and familiarity. Because of his versatility, they will bring him in to cover and play that outside corner role. Lining up alongside New England’s veteran corners will only improve his game and bring confidence for the seasons to come.