UDFA Signings In 2022, Did the Patriots Find Another Hidden Gem?

May 10, 2022
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The NFL draft is always a spectacle, with months of excitement leading up to the day of the first round. But once all the selections have been made, there are more exciting matters to look forward to.

At the conclusion of the draft, it’s time for teams to snag the undrafted free agents they had their eye on. And the Patriots almost never disappoint with their UDFA signings.

D’Eriq King – QB – Miami

New England is a team that lives by the words, “the more you can do, the more valuable you are” and D’Eriq King from the University of Miami is just that. The prototypical Patriot is a not often seen multi-dimensional player with experience at quarterback, wide receiver, and running back.

With the unique skills he possesses, King can be used anywhere he is needed. Across his six years spent between the University of Houston and Miami, he totaled 8,378 yards and 76 touchdowns as a QB.

Given their drafting of Bailey Zappe and Mac Jones heading into only his second year, King is unlikely to see much time under center. But Matt Groh has said they will use him in a multitude of ways. Could we see King implemented in wildcat or trick plays?

Although the team is currently loaded at running back, King can be used on the ground as well. Rushing for 2,055 yards and 32 touchdowns in college, he can certainly be a playmaker in the run game when needed.

Did I mention he also could play as a receiver? Throughout his college career, King caught 61 receptions for 520 yards and three TDs. How will Belichick choose to utilize him? Where will he be most effective? No matter what position he plays, King can produce on the football field when given the chance.

Kody Russey, C, Houston

Because Ted Karras signed with the Cincinnati Bengals in free agency, the Patriots were left with only David Andrews at the center position on their roster. They chose not to draft a backup for him, and instead signed Kody Russey from the University of Houston as a UDFA.

Before transferring to Houston, Russey spent five collegiate seasons at Louisiana Tech. During his time there, he started in 46 of the 49 games he played in and was a contributing factor to the record-breaking success of the team’s offensive line.

In the 2019 season, Russey’s skillset helped his team rank second in scoring offense (32.5 PPG), fourth in rushing (168.4 YPG), and second in total offense (436.8 YPG).

The same year, the OL produced a 1,000-yard receiver. As the Patriots continue heavily incorporating the run game, Russey’s proven experience and success could be a big benefit for his new team.

His success continued throughout his college career, making him an instant captain once transferred to Houston in 2021. Russey started in all 14 games during his final season and with his protection, his quarterback (Clayton Tune) led The American in completion percentage (68%). With Mac Jones young in his career, Belichick has ensured he will have elite protection for years to come.

Brenden Schooler, S, Texas

It appears the Patriots have a keen sense of versatility when it comes to adding players to their team. Signing Brenden Schooler out of the University of Texas gives them some depth to their secondary (if that’s where they choose to use him.)

Or it adds a dynamic player to their special teams unit, which is where most have projected Schooler to play.

Before transferring to Texas in 2020, Schooler spent four years at Oregon with the latter three years as a wide receiver. He eventually switched to safety, playing two years for the Longhorns.

Starting in seven of the twelve games in 2021, Schooler totaled 50 tackles (36 solo), one 1.5 TFL, 0.5 sacks, one forced fumble, and two pass breakups.

Because he appears unlikely to continue his time on the defense, joining special teams could be a great landing spot for Schooler. As New England continues to stress the importance of special teams, signing a player with major versatility and experience is very much on-brand for Belichick and company.

LaBryan Ray, DT, Alabama

With a defense in need of some size and overall upgrading, the Patriots signed LaBryan Ray out of the University of Alabama. Having been coached by Nick Saban during his four years there gives Ray an immediate leg up on the rest of those undrafted, as the Patriots and Alabama have been said to coach quite similarly.

A former five-star prospect and top 30 overall recruit, Ray was unfortunately plagued with injuries during much of his college career. At 6-foot-4 and 283 pounds, he has the size and athleticism needed in the NFL. During his time at Alabama, he played in 44 games totaling 37 tackles, 13.5 TFL, and six sacks.

Ray is projected to sit on the depth chart behind the likes of Deatrich Wise Jr. and Henry Anderson. But a known run-stuffer, he could move up a spot if his skill set translates well once working with New England.

DaMarcus Mitchell, LB, Purdue

Most fans and media were sure Belichick would address the vacancies left at the linebacker position in the draft, especially in the first few rounds. That inevitably didn’t happen.

In fact, the Patriots didn’t draft a linebacker at all this year. But once the draft concluded, they did decide to bring in DaMarcus Mitchell out of Purdue University.

A former running back at Southwest Mississippi Community College, Mitchell went on to attend Purdue and moved to the defensive edge upon arrival in 2020.

He became an effective edge rusher for the Boilermakers, tallying 59 total tackles, 13 TOT, 5.5 sacks, four passes defended, and three forced fumbles in two seasons.

With the Patriots in need of help on the edge, Mitchell has the potential to get more opportunities to show what he can do. As camp draws near, his performance on the field could ensure his place on the roster sooner than later.

Devin Hafford, CB, Tarleton State

It was clear improving the team’s cornerback room was important for Belichick in this year’s draft. He double-dipped at the position, selecting corners back-to-back in the third and fourth rounds. But that didn’t stop him from also bringing in Devin Hafford from Tarleton State as a UDFA.

Appearing in 56 games during his six years at the school, Hafford displayed a ton of athleticism and playmaking abilities that should transfer well to the pros.

During his last year in 2021, he totaled 50 tackles, 13 passes defended, and two fumble recoveries. On top of that, Hafford had six interceptions returned for 76 yards and one for a touchdown. Belichick has been historically good at finding diamonds at the position post-draft. With the departure of J.C. Jackson, the cornerbacks will have a bigger load to carry this season.

Adding Hafford potentially on top of those who were drafted could have the Patriots locked and loaded with some explosive performers in the secondary. And to keep up with the much-improved teams in the AFC, it may just be what the team needs to do.

Liam Shanahan, IOL, LSU

Is there a cooler story than a Massachusetts native signing with his hometown team? Before attending Louisiana State University, Liam Shanahan was a three-year starter on the offensive line at Harvard.

There, he started in 30 games and was named the team’s best offensive player in 2019. And earned All-Ivy League first-team status the same year.

As the starting center for the 2020 and 2021 seasons at LSU, Shanahan started in 23 games at center/guard. And was once again recognized as an all-academic team member.

Given the help needed on the OL, Shanahan though likely needing to compete for an immediate roster spot, could bolster some of the weaker spots on the line. He would also add the depth needed to upkeep a healthy team and rotation.

Jake Julien, P, Eastern Michigan

He may not be the “punter God,” but the Patriots did make sure to bring in punter Jake Julian from Eastern Michigan University.

Although Jake Bailey has shown he can be reliable and excel as their punter, adding a potential backup to the position is always a good idea. Throughout the last handful of years, the Patriots have dealt with the struggle of finding a kicker post-Stephen Gostkowski.

There were times when some thought Joe Cardona may need to make kicks in a game. So with this in mind, adding an extra punter is a good way for the team to protect itself from potential injury later on.

Regardless of what happens between now and the start of the season, Julien is a punter with quite the leg. During his time at Eastern Michigan, he totaled 221 punts attempted for 9,726 yards.

And he became the only punter in school history to record two 70+ yard punts in his career; one for 73 yards and the other for 78 yards. He consistently had balls downed within the opponent’s 20-yard line and averaged 44 yards per punt.

On A Side Note…

Bailey will be entering the last year of his rookie contract. And because of how the CBA proven performance escalator operates, his contract significantly increased after the 2020 season.

Because he made the Pro Bowl that year, his salary jumped up over three million from what his salary would have been had he not.

Does that open a door for Jake Julien? Is it possible the Patriots will cut Bailey to save money? Or will they extend him to open up some cap space? Time will tell.

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