In a three-part segment leading into the start of training camp, we examine the expectations for the Patriots' free agent acquisitions, rookies, and veterans this season.

Yesterday we talked about the free agent acquisitions. Today, let’s take a look at some rookies.

Let us use a different scale for “grading” these guys today.


1 Tom Brady: There cannot be any question about this. Brady, the 199th pick of the 2000 Draft, has become one of the best quarterbacks of all time. It is arguably the greatest draft pick ever. He has exceeded every expectation that there ever was for him, so getting “Brady status” when it comes down to expectations is huge.

2 Matt Light: Drafted in the second round of the 2001 Draft, Light came in and became Brady’s most trusted lineman, his blindside protector, for 11 seasons. Light was one of the best draft picks in recent memory, but since he was selected in the second round, his expectations were already somewhat high. Not quite Brady status, but well above average nonetheless.

3 Vince Wilfork: Wilfork was selected in the first round of the 2004 Draft, and he has lived up to expectations. He has become the anchor of the Patriots' defense, and has helped lead them to a Super Bowl title along the way. He gets the middle spot because he has lived up to expectations.

They were high. He has exceeded them to a degree, but like I said, they were already so high. He definitely has not underperformed; he has done what he was asked to do as a first-round pick.

4 Laurence Maroney: Maroney was selected in the first round of the 2006 Draft, and looked very promising in his first two seasons. He rushed for over 1,500 yards combined in those two years. But then what? He has not done anything since then.

Maroney is no longer in the league, and he definitely underperformed in his NFL career. Was he a complete bust? I would not say that – he helped the Patriots in 2006 and 2007, but then did nothing. Not the worst pick ever, but definitely not what he should have been.

5 Jermaine Cunningham: Cunningham was drafted out of Florida in the second round of the 2010 Draft, and there were high expectations for him to fill the void left at defensive end when Richard Seymour was traded. He is now fighting for a roster spot just two years later. I would call that a bust.

Okay, let us get to it.

Chandler Jones
Fan expectations: Matt Light
What they should be: Vince Wilfork

Analysis: People are going to expect a lot from Chandler Jones. The guy has incredible length, he is athletic, he was drafted in the first round, and – oh yeah – he is a PASS RUSHER. This team needs someone who can consistently get after the quarterback, especially after losing Mark Anderson [and possibly Andre Carter] in free agency.

But I think fans should simmer down just a bit. This guy can get after the quarterback, that is for sure, but he is not the best run-stopper. He may end up being just a third-down specialist, who knows? I just would not get my hopes up too high for Jones in his first season. He is just a rookie, and while I think he will definitely help this defense, do not expect a 12-sack, Pro Bowl-caliber season.

Dont’a Hightower
Fan Expectations: Matt Light
What they should be: Vince Wilfork / Matt Light

Analysis: This guy is the real deal. Not many Patriots fans thought Hightower would be on the draft board for their second pick, so this could turn out to be a great pick. Hightower is versatile, he is fast, he is a BCS champion, and he is a leader.

But just like Jones, he is just a rookie, and he will be playing behind players like Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes. When he is on the field, he should be a stud, but let us not think that he will end up going to the Pro Bowl this season. That is highly unlikely.

Jake Bequette
Fan Expectations: Vince Wilfork
What they should be: Matt Light

Analysis: How this kid slipped to the third round is beyond me. I watched Bequette in college, and he is good. He has played against some stiff competition, including Alabama, LSU, Georgia, Florida, and that vaunted Arkansas offense every day in practice. This guy is not the most athletic, or the biggest, but he has heart and he is a leader. I think that he will be able to do some great things for this team, and I think he will impress in 2012 for the Patriots.

Tavon Wilson
Fan Expectations: Laurence Maroney
What they should be: Laurence Maroney

Analysis: As a second-round draft pick, you are expected to start almost immediately. Wilson, had the Patriots not drafted him, may not have even been drafted. The value here was horrible. Even if he does turn out to be great, he would have slipped at least a few rounds and they would have been able to use that second-round pick on another quality player (Kendall Reyes?).

I hope he turns out to be a good player for his sake, because the expectations are pretty low. I do not expect too much from him, especially this year, but maybe he will surprise me.