Seventeen selections apart, Yodny Cajuste and Hjalte Froholdt became part of the same plan.
Their first names, pronounced Yod-nee and Yell-duh, go well together. Their roles on the offensive line may very well, too.
Cajuste and Froholdt are pieces of clay for 71-year-old New England Patriots O-line Dante Scarnecchia to sculpt. They’re developmental depth now with the chance to become more later.
That is all New England’s war room could have aimed for in the third and fourth rounds of the 2019 NFL draft.
The Patriots went with West Virginia’s Cajuste at pick No. 101 overall, and he’ll join a group of offensive tackles that is headlined by last year’s first-rounder in Isaiah Wynn and the longstanding Marcus Cannon. Cajuste, measuring in at 6-foot-5 and 312-pounds, should contend to be the team’s top swing tackle as a rookie. He started 30 games for the Mountaineers despite not playing football until his senior year at Florida’s Miramar High School.
Cajuste redshirted at West Virginia in 2014 before taking his place on the blindside. The basketball convert would finish having been first-team and second-team All-Big 12, as well as the conference’s co-offensive lineman of the year after not allowing a sack in 2018. He’d garner second-team All-America honors in the process.
But Cajuste, who at one point in the process was pondered as a potential top-50 draft choice, missed action with a knee sprain and a torn ACL during his 2015 and 2016 seasons in Morgantown. He opted out of his invite to the Senior Bowl due to an ankle injury, and did not test in 40-yard dash, three-cone drill, shuttle, vertical or broad jump while at the NFL Scouting Combine.
Cajuste later underwent quad surgery.
“He played in a passing system,” Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio said of Cajuste in his press conference following the selection. “He’s a fairly athletic kid. I think he’s a three-year starter. He’s a player we spent time with at a couple of different checkpoints here.”
With Wynn coming off a torn Achilles that robbed him of his rookie campaign after only nine preseason snaps, Cajuste adds a layer of insurance. And with Cannon now 31 years old and carrying team-friendly cap hits well below $8 million through 2021, Cajuste also adds a layer of youth that could be applied on the right side.
“I feel like I’m a hard worker,” Cajuste said on his introductory conference call. “I take coaching well. I feel like I’m just ready to be a New England Patriot. I’m just blessed to be in this position.”
The $66 million Trent Brown and fellow tackle LaAdrian Waddle departed from Foxborough for the Oakland Raiders and Buffalo Bills, respectively, in free agency.
As for Arkansas’ Froholdt, whose card was filled out by New England at No. 118 overall, he can be penciled in as both a backup center behind captain David Andrews and a 2020 name to monitor at left guard. The 6-foot-4, 306-pound Froholdt began playing football at age 12 in Denmark and arrived in the United States as a foreign-exchange student for his sophomore year of high school. He’d go from Ohio’s Warren G. Harding back to Denmark and later returned by way of IMG Academy in 2014.
“I always had an interest in football, but mainly it was because I wanted the American experience,” Froholdt told reporters on his call. “I wanted to get better at football and take it back to Denmark and maybe play a little bit better back in Denmark and learn something. But, of course, there’s always been dreams and we kind of just talked about how it seemed unrealistic about college and the NFL and whatnot. It was never really the intention – I came over wanting to get a supersized meal and drive some big cars, and it turned out as something really different.”
Current Patriots defensive consultant Bret Bielema recruited Froholdt to Arkansas. And there he’d transform from a freshman defensive tackle to a 37-game starter on the offensive side the rest of the way. A second-team All-SEC nod followed for Froholdt, who logged work at left guard and center. So did trips to the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl and Indianapolis for a player who allowed a quarterback pressure on only 1.2% of pass-blocking snaps last fall, according to Pro Football Focus.
“He ended up playing basically three years as a starter and never missed a game,” Caserio said of Froholdt’s stay with the Razorbacks. “He played against a number of good players and a number of good people. He’s smart, got good size. He’s got pretty good playing strength. He can play multiple positions inside there.”
Froholdt will vie for the top backup interior spot with holdovers Ted Karras, Brian Schwenke and James Ferentz. A year down the road, he could be the in-waiting left guard should ironman Joe Thuney’s market surpass New England’s checkbook.
Those designs won’t be drawn out overnight.
But in Yodny and Hjalte, the Patriots drafted options. Options that are better off a year early than a year late. Options that just so happen to have a ring to them.