Patriots’ most impactful rookie on offense has been a big surprise


When the Patriots selected two tight ends — Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene — in the third round of the NFL Draft, the expectation was they would be able to contribute right away.

After all, they were the first two offensive players drafted by the team.

But, through two games that hasn’t happened.

Keene has been inactive for all three, as he’s dealing with a neck injury, and despite being active for all three, Asiasi doesn’t have a single target.

While these two haven’t contributed much, the offense has received a big boost from sixth-round pick Michael Onwenu, who played guard in college, but has seen time as at right tackle and as an extra blocking tight end. He then started at left guard when Joe Thuney shifted to center last Sunday against the Raiders.

“Back to the virtual offseason and those meetings, I thought he did a really nice job of picking up our system and learning it.” co-offensive line coach Cole Popovich said Tuesday of Onwenu. “You could tell he was really putting in the time to learn it, so conceptually, he understood pretty well what was going on around him. Not just one position, and once we got here the way he worked in the drill work, you just see some things and question could this guy do this or not? Give him some one-on-one reps, then started getting some team reps and it kind of builds from there. If you want to point to anything it’s probably the work ethic that he has. That’s probably the No. 1 thing that we saw early on.”

Bill Belichick added” “Mike’s shown a lot of versatility. He played right guard at Michigan, and that’s pretty much the only spot he played. Here, he’s worked both guards and worked at right tackle, and right tackle was a new position for him. Left guard, even though guard is guard, footwork is all different over there where he played yesterday for Joe. It’s kind of like playing left-handed when you’ve been playing right-handed your whole life.

“I think he’s done a really good job. He’s a smart kid, he’s got a lot of physical playing strength, he’s a good athlete, he’s got good football smarts and awareness and he’s done a good job for us, playing right tackle and then yesterday at guard he handled some good situations. He learned a lot and he’s still got a long way to go but did a lot of good things.”

Pro Football Focus gave Onwenu the highest grade of anyone on the Patriots offense in the win over the Raiders.

It’s unclear what the Patriots will do up front moving forward with David Andrews on IR, but if Thuney stays at center, Onwenu has proven he can handling a starting role.