How quickly can an NFL team and its players determine how successful a rookie class can — and will — be when all is said and done? All 32 teams, including the New England Patriots, will need to ask themselves such a question in the weeks, months, and years following the 2022 NFL Draft.
Nearly a decade ago, then-Patriots safety Duron Harmon didn’t need too long to realize he and his fellow 2013 draftees had the potential to be a special group.
New England selected seven players in 2013, including three — Harmon, cornerback Logan Ryan, and linebacker Steve Beauharnais — who played together at Rutgers. The Patriots also used their first selection (52nd overall) on Jamie Collins, a versatile mid-major linebacker who thrived at Southern Miss.
In a recent interview with Sportscasting, Harmon reflected on a trio — Harmon, Ryan, and Collins — that won a combined six rings in New England. All three saw significant action as rookies, with Collins and Ryan starting eight and seven games, respectively.
“Not only were we on the field, but we had some productive moments,” said Harmon, who grabbed two interceptions over 15 games and three starts in 2013. “We also had rookie moments where we made mistakes and was able to learn from them to help us later down the road.”
The magic moment, Harmon said, came in a November 2013 showdown against Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos. All three rookies started in a game the Patriots trailed 24-0 at halftime. Although East Coast viewers began closing their eyes or writing the Sunday Night Football game as a blowout, the Patriots still had 30 minutes left to pull off an improbable comeback.
And, led in large part by the rookies, they did exactly that.
Harmon tallied 11 tackles, and Collins added 10 stops. Ryan intercepted Manning at Denver’s 30-yard line early in the fourth quarter, a play that gave the Patriots excellent field position. Tom Brady hit Julian Edelman for the go-ahead touchdown and the Patriots, who entered as +2.5 underdogs, eventually won 34-31 in overtime.
“I think at that moment, I said, ‘OK, I think we can be a pretty good group that can have a sustainable career in the NFL,'” Ryan recalled.
Indeed, all have had sustainable careers. Harmon won three titles with the Patriots from 2013-19 and is now entering his first season with the Las Vegas Raiders. The 31-year-old is still going strong and recorded two interceptions in 17 games with the Atlanta Falcons a year ago.
Ryan, who patrolled the Patriots’ secondary alongside Harmon for four seasons, inked a three-year, $30 million contract with the Tennessee Titans in March 2017. Over six years after intercepting Manning, Ryan picked off Brady in the latter’s final home game with the Patriots: a Wild-Card Round loss in January 2020. Now, cornerback and quarterback are reunited on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after Brady ended his 40-day retirement earlier this offseason.
As for Collins, the veteran linebacker has bounced around the league since being traded midway through the 2016 campaign. He’s had two stints with the Patriots, including a 10-game tour last year, and remained a free agent as of publication.
Although everyone understandably loves fawning over the NFL draft’s first night, don’t ignore what could come over the following two days. New England found three impactful starters, all of whom became champions, in that range nearly a decade ago.
Will history repeat itself in 2022? If so, the Patriots’ devoted fanbase might want to begin preparing for another title parade.