Patriots roster analysis: Why Brad Hawkins is in a difficult position

With training camp already underway, the New England Patriots have fully set their sights on the upcoming 2022 season.

The team currently has 87 players under contract, but only 53 of them will be able to survive roster cutdowns in early September and ultimately make the active team. Over the course of spring and summer, just like we have in years past, we will take a look at the men fighting for those spots to find out who has the best chances of helping the Patriots build on their 10-7 record.

Today, the series continues with rookie safety Brad Hawkins.

Hard facts

Name: Brad Hawkins

Position: Safety

Jersey number: 35

Opening day age: 24

Size: 6-foot-0, 205 pounds

Contract status: Under contract through 2022 (2023 ERFA)

Experience

What is his experience? Hawkins entered the NFL earlier this year, when he was signed by the Atlanta Falcons as an undrafted rookie free agent. He spent only two months with the Falcons, however, before his release in mid-July. Subsequently, Hawkins joined the Patriots in early August — getting an opportunity to compete for practice reps and preseason playing time. All in all, his experience at the pro level is still limited at this point in time but he does bring plenty of it to the table from his time at the University of Michigan.

Before arriving in the NFL, Hawkins spent five seasons in Ann Arbor. Originally arriving as a wide receiver, he made the move to safety as a freshman and never looked back: in total, he appeared in a school-record 56 games, including 31 as a starter. Hawkins ended his college career with 178 tackles, eight pass deflections and a pair of forced fumbles; He also saw extensive action in the kicking game, playing on special teams exclusively in 17 of his games as a Wolverine. After his senior season he was invited to the East-West Shrine Bowl.

What did his 2021 season look like? Coming off the Coronavirus-impacted 2020 season, Hawkins decided to take advantage of the NCAA’s special eligibility rules to stay in school for a fifth season. The decision was a good one, with the young defensive back producing arguably his finest season to date: appearing in all 14 of Michigan’s games as a starting safety alongside future first-round draft pick Daxton Hill, he registered a career-best 60 tackles — missing eight more for a rate of 11.8 percent.

Hawkins also forced a pair of fumbles and had one recovery, all while again seeing action as a core special teams presence. His performance also earned him some individual recognition: he was voted to the third All-Big Ten team and was named the conference’s co-Defensive Player of the Week after a mid-October game in Nebraska. Additionally, his teammates picked him as an alternate captain. All in all, Hawkins’ final college campaign was therefore a solid one and the natural next step in his development.

2022 preview

What is his projected role? Hawkins served a dual role during his time at Michigan, and the expectation is that he will do the same in the NFL. That means that he will work as a safety, primarily in the deep parts of the field, and additionally see snaps on special teams. While he will likely not earn a starter-level role on the defensive side of the ball early on in his career, his kicking game experience might help him get onto the field fairly regularly.

Does he have positional versatility? Besides his ability to play several roles as a special teamer, Hawkins also showed that he can wear numerous hats on the defensive side of the ball. In 2021 alone, he lined up as a deep safety (459 snaps) and in the box (226) as well as in the slot (86), along the defensive line (20) and split out wide (8). That usage was a continuation of how the Wolverines employed him the previous seasons as well.

What is his special teams value? Hawkins was a core special teamer throughout his time in Michigan, and he should be able to be a Day 1 contributor in the game’s third phase right away. That means that he will be used on the kickoff return and coverage squads, the punt return and coverage squads, and possibly the field goal and extra point disruption units. Special teams might actually be Hawkins’ path to an NFL roster or practice squad.

What is his salary cap situation? As noted above, Hawkins originally arrived in the NFL as an undrafted rookie signing by the Falcons. While Atlanta gave him a standard three-year deal, his release in July changed his outlook: the 24-year-old arrived in New England via a one-year contract that is structured in a rather straight-forward fashion. Hawkins is playing on a $705,000 salary that is also his cap number; the deal does not include any guarantees or bonuses.

How safe is his roster spot? Any free agency pickup coming aboard this relatively late in the process cannot be viewed as anything more than a camp body — especially if said pickup is also a rookie with virtually no prior NFL experience. Of course, Hawkins will get his opportunities to surprise and possibly carve out a spot on the practice squad or even the 53-man team but he will need to prove himself against some quality competition such as fellow safeties Cody Davis, Joshuah Bledsoe, Brenden Schooler. or Jalen Elliott. His outlook is not rosy.

One-sentence projection: Hawkins will remain on the roster for at least one more week, but it would not be a surprise to see him released as part of the first wave of cutdowns later this month.

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