The New England Patriots are like every other team; they take their chances on young players hoping for high returns on the investment. Some years that investment pays off, such as drafting two star tight ends at the same time in Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski (too bad Hernandez shot himself in the foot).
Other prospects don't work out so well, such as receiving disappointments like Bethel Johnson and Chad Jackson. The failures sometimes have much more of an impact on the team than the successes. The lack of an impact runner or receiver can break a team when they need help the most.
But leave it to Bill Belichick to take advantage of players in the later rounds of the draft (or undrafted free agents) to find the Tom Bradys of the league. Yes, it was a mere 13 years ago that perhaps the biggest coup in draft history brought the franchise quarterback out of obscurity into NFL fame.
Last year, we saw the Patriots featuring two younger running backs, selected in the second round of the 2011 draft. Stevan Ridley truly had a break—out campaign as he amassed 1263 yards and 12 touchdowns. His counterpart, Shane Vereen, showed flashes of brilliance that should portend a similar opportunity for him.
On defense, we saw two young guys in the secondary show their potential in the aerial game. Alphonzo Dennard was passed over by many teams due to character concerns, but rewarded the Patriots with three interceptions, including an 87 yard pick—six and above average coverage and tackling skills. Tavon Austin also flashed some good coverage and closing skills, actually outplaying Dennard with four interceptions.
This year may just top 2012 with several lesser—known rookies being thrust into immediate action out of sheer necessity. Who expected Marshall product Aaron Dobson to be drafted in the second round? And what contribution might be expected out of fourth rounder Josh Boyce out of Texas Christian?
But my picks for the players who will "come—out—of—nowhere" and lead the team to the promised land are UDFAs Kenbrell Thompkins and Zach Sudfeld. Forget a couple of drops in a preseason game that means nothing for these undrafted "up-and-comers". Thompkins will soon become Brady's go—to—guy on the outside, while Zach Sudfeld will be the new Aaron Hernandez, as well as, the fill-in for Gronkowski at tight end.
Look for these two targets to takeover and provide an explosion of production for this offense. Both of them will be touchdown machines receiving the ball from Hall of Famer Tom Brady who has a knack for putting the ball where only his guy can get it.
While I have high hopes for a couple of rookie defenders from the Rutgers pipeline (Logan Ryan and Duron Harmon) to make their contributions sooner rather than later, Thompkins and Sudfeld will feed off of Brady's greatness to instant stardom for the Patriots. Write it down; pick 'em for your fantasy team. These two will beat the injury bug and monster—it—up!