Matt Cassel: Why some rookies may struggle to catch on with Patriots

Matt Cassel
·4 min read

Cassel: Why do rookies struggle to make an impact with the Patriots? originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

The Patriots do an outstanding job of developing players. However, it doesn’t always translate to the field.

You can see it with N’Keal Harry: They’re giving him every opportunity to play. Obviously he missed eight weeks last season on injured reserve and came in late, so maybe that was a factor in why he didn’t produce last year.

But he hasn't been productive this season, and I don’t know if that’s a matter of coaching or a matter of not being ready for the NFL yet. 

List of WRs taken after Harry in 2019 draft may irk Pats fans

It’s a hard thing, because you see other rookies around the league like DK Metcalf and Deebo Samuel who jumped right in last season and made their mark as rookies.

Being a rookie in New England is intimidating. I had to study like crazy just to get the basics of the offense down. You know you’re coming to a proven winner, so the expectation level is high. You have to be mentally tough, because Bill Belichick and the coaching staff hold you accountable every day.

For some rookies, I think there’s a fear factor that hinders them at times. Instead of playing free and going “balls to the wall,” they’re thinking too much because they don’t want to make a mistake. That can be very impactful on a young player who may not be playing the way they want to play.

When I was with Kansas City, we had guys like Dexter McCluster who were impactful players right away, but then we also had guys like John Baldwin, our first round draft pick out of Pittsburgh, who struggled.

He was going through some of the same struggles that Harry has dealt with in picking up the offense and being consistent. The Chiefs tried to get him out on the field and basically gave him the starting position. He still had to earn it in our eyes, but he was given every opportunity to be successful. But it was a challenge for him, and the next year he was traded.

You never know what you’re going to get with a rookie. It’s the mentality of the rookie and the person himself: Can he handle adversity? Does he take constructive criticism?

For some of these young players coming into the league, that's tough. They’ve had so much success and everybody has told them they’ve been so great for so long, and then all of a sudden you hit some adversity and face some criticism that you don’t necessarily take as constructive criticism.

I’m not saying that’s the case with Harry, but that was probably the case with John: He was told he was so good for so long, and he struggled with the accountability standpoint.

Patriots Talk Podcast: Did the Patriots blow it at the trade deadline? | Listen & subscribe | Watch on YouTube

In New England, there's an expectation that you have to earn your spot. It’s very clearly stated from the first meeting that everybody makes their own role, and you have to earn your role. It doesn’t matter where you were drafted. If you can help us win games, we’re going to play you. If you’re not ready to play yet and we think there’s somebody better than you, then they’re going to play.

Other organizations maybe play to the politics of it a bit more and say, “We drafted this guy high, so we have to play him.” So, they might give a guy too many opportunities because they don’t want to look bad, rather than saying, “We’ve got to play this other guy. He might be the sixth-round draft pick, but he’s outperforming this guy right now, so we’re going to put him on the field.”

Other teams may ride that train a little longer just because they don’t want to explain why they missed on a guy.

The Patriots do everything in their power to get rookies caught up to speed. I just don’t know if they’ve drafted well at the wide receiver and tight end positions. They have drafted well in the past and landed immediate impact guys like Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, but at the wide receiver position, they’ve failed to bring up guys who have made an impact.