Unlike a lot of other teams — and this is part of the reason why they're the Patriots and everyone else isn't — the Patriots do not hand their draft picks starting positions or main roles before they even set foot on a field or prove themselves. Often, that's a path to failure for many rookies. The Patriots, instead, put their rookies on the road to success by giving them smaller, defined roles to start with, which then, perhaps, can be expanded once they master the basics.
Michael Lombardi, who has longtime ties to Bill Belichick and was recently a personnel executive with the team, touched on this in his podcast, The GM Shuffle, a few months ago as he related the story about how 49ers draft pick (and future Hall of Famer) Charles Haley was taught only the defense for passing situations as a designated pass rusher as a rookie.
"Once you draft these guys, you have to have a plan for these guys because if you give them the Manhattan phone directory and say, 'Learn this,' he ain't learning it — you might as well put him off for next year. So you have to define the role for the player as soon as you draft a player. What New England will do is say (Chase) Winovich, he'll come in and here's his role. He's going to play, this, this, X, Y and Z. That's all. Once he gets that, then maybe we'll teach him a little bit more. We'll start to grow him, allow him to grow more. ... You have to develop the player. That allows him to have an impact on your team moving forward."
The Patriots' approach has been confirmed by multiple team sources and, frankly, it's fairly obvious if you've been paying attention. Patriots draft picks, even if they're taken in the first round, are not relied upon to start a season unless it's complete desperation at their position. This is very much by design. "Good teams can take players in Round 1 and develop them. The bad teams have to rely on them," said a team source.
With that in mind, we'll be projecting the initial role for the Patriots rookies (and second-year players who didn't or barely played as rookies last year), discuss best-case and worst-case scenarios for their role by the end of the season and offer a comparison to past draft picks. But first, we'll start with the depth chart at their respective position, and how they fit to start.
Player: Byron Cowart
Pick: Fifth round (159th overall)
Patriots scheme position: Tackle
Ht/wgt: 6-3, 298
Positional depth chart