These Patriots practice squad players could make an impact in 2020.
Most seasons, the Patriots practice squad tends to be made up of forgettable players who will never see the field in an actual game. They’re players on the downside of their careers, or former collegiate standouts whose careers never got off the ground.
That isn’t to say that the practice squad isn’t important. These players are hardworking, essentially acting as tackling dummies for the starters all season long. They also need to be versatile players who are able to replicate looks from Lamar Jackson to Patrick Mahomes to Ben Roethlisberger.
So, no, you likely don’t know their names on a year in, year out basis. Still, they’re important members of any organization.
2020 has been a different beast altogether. COVID-19 has made it so that depth is at a premium. There was even some talk of expanding rosters beyond their 53-man limit because of potential disruptions to rosters from COVID-19. That didn’t happen, but it does make the odds practice squad players find themselves suiting up for actual games much more likely.
Normally, these important players are designed to remain unknowns. Today, they may need to step up as known entities. These are the practice squad players to look out for in 2020.
Myles Bryant was signed as an undrafted rookie following this 2020 NFL Draft. The defensive back played his college football at Washington, where he had 3 interceptions as a senior.
Over the course of his entire college career, where he saw significant action in three seasons, Bryant had 15 passes defended and 177 tackles.
Defensive back Myles Bryant #5 of the Washington Huskies tackles Brady Russell #38 of the Colorado Buffaloes at Husky Stadium on October 20, 2018 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Coming into the NFL, Bryant was known for his play at the line of scrimmage. He’s strong in press coverage and attacks downhill. He also gets off blocks better than you’d expect a defensive back to be able to. Bryant’s speed, more than anything, lets him close on receivers and balls that he’s attacking.
However, the biggest knock on Bryant is his size. He’s only 5-9 and 185 pounds. That could be generous, too. It’s simply hard to compete with NFL receivers and tight ends when they tower over you. That isn’t to say shorter players can’t succeed, but it’s harder. He doesn’t have the strength to compete with stronger receivers and has a tendency to get beat downfield. That’s why he fits into the practice squad.
One of the few guys who has actual game experience, Xavier Williams has played in over 40 games in his career. Starting with Arizona, then playing on Kansas City for the past couple of seasons, Williams will be some very necessary depth on the defensive line for the Patriots.
An interior defensive lineman by trade, Williams stands at 6-2 and 309 pounds. That’s exactly the type of size you’re looking for out of a defensive lineman, whose entire job is to take up blockers. Ideally, he shoots a gap, forcing two offensive linemen to block him at once due to his sheer mass. This opens a gap for linebackers to shoot into.
Though he does have extensive experience, playing in the NFL for six seasons now, Williams doesn’t have stats that jump off the page. He has 83 tackles, four of which were tackles for loss, on his career.
Williams, more than anyone else, will be a likely candidate to move up to the 53-man roster if there are any extended absences from the defensive line.
Not to be confused with the comedic actor, Bill Murray is a rookie out of William & Mary. During Murray’s time at William & Mary, he dominated the CAA from the defensive line. He had 143 tackles and 19 sacks, to go along with 6 passes defended. It’s not surprising the the Tribe captain was also a two time All-CAA selection.
Murray could also make a mark on special teams, which we all know Bill Belichick and the Patriots take very seriously. In the course of his college career, Murray was able to block 10 kicks.
An explosive pass rusher, Murray was able to dominate CAA offensive lines by simply being faster than them. He’s just not strong enough to beat NFL offensive linemen right now, because he can’t rely on his athleticism to simply run past them anymore.
It’s fair to point out that playing in the FCS was more than a couple steps behind the talent Murray will see in the NFL, even on a practice squad. However, he’s all potential. His size, 6-4 and 265 pounds, makes him a good size as a hybrid edge rusher. If he can develop his strength to attack offensive linemen on the pass rush and develop technique to play a little bit of coverage, then Murray may be able to make a mark for the Patriots.
A native of Lynnfield who comes to the Patriots out of Boston College, Jake Burt offers a unique option from the tight end position. His college stats weren’t exactly dominant, but you can argue it wasn’t his fault. He only played in seven games as a senior, where he caught 15 passes for 14.1 yards per catch. This was in a Boston College offense that emphasized the power running game and had a walk on quarterback for half the season.
So nothing to jump out at you, but not awful either.
Jake Burt #84 of the Boston College Eagles watches helplessly as a pass is thrown over his head by Jeff Smith #5 during the second half against the Syracuse Orange on November 28, 2015 at The Carrier Dome in Syracuse, New York. Syracuse defeats Boston College 20-17. (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)
Burt was a dominant run blocker in college. That could end up being incredibly important for a Patriots team that has depth issues at tight end and on the offensive line. In a pinch, he could fill in at either spot, though preferably things would never get so bad that he would need to kick down to tackle.
If Burt can prove he can stay healthy, he has the blocking ability and receiving potential to justify bringing him onto the roster as a third tight end for short-yardage situations. He’ll need to prove that on the practice field first, though.