New England Patriots: Rookie OTAs and Minicamp Report
When evaluating a rookie class playing for the New England Patriots, you need to first realize some important facts.
No. 1: This Franchise is an NFL powerhouse and stacked with veteran talent, making it hard for rookies to contribute.
No. 2: Team management likes to trade within the draft and often comes out of the weekend with less (or more) picks than it entered with.
This class is a good example of that as the Patriots actually made seven selections.
They went into the draft with only five picks (an all-time league low) and after trading down with the Minnesota Vikings they received four picks for their No. 1 selection (No. 29 in the 1st Round).
The good news? The team signed six of the seven draft picks pre OTAs and inked wide receiver Aaron Dobson, 59th overall selection in 2013, late this week.
As I stated previously, this is a difficult team for rookies to make an impact on. However, the Patriots have quietly become one of the younger rosters in the league over the past 2-3 years.
A simple message for college players joining this team, if you have talent, work hard and do your job (quoting coach Bill Belichick), you will see the field. This draft class has four to six guys who are obvious candidates to see the field, led by WRs Dobson and Boyce.
With the offseason defection of long-time star WR Wes Welker and release of fellow starting wideout Brandon Lloyd, the team has a major need at that position. Both will be counted on to contribute. Undrafted free agent T.J. Moe, out of Missouri, was an offseason star at WR and kick returner before he tore an Achilles and was placed on season-ending IR.
A name to store away offensively that has more to do with the unfortunate situation the Patriots are facing at TE with both Rob Gronkowski (injury) and Aaron Hernandez (injury, legal) dealing with serious issues: Undrafted free agent TE Zach Sudfeld, out of Nevada. An H-back type, No. 44 Sudfeld was catching everything at OTAs.
Defensively, I could see as many as four Patriots picks playing defensively while former Rutgers starting MLB Steve Beauharnais looks like a special teams dynamo in the making. OLB Jamie Collins is an athletic freak and weapon that Belichick will move around all over the field and attack formations ala Mike Vrabel and Willie McGinest.
He is one of the better pass rushers in this draft and could rotate with Chandler Jones and Ron Ninkovich at DE or play OLB in the Pats' 4-3 scheme. Just a beast on film that blows up plays, Collins could even see time at ILB or MLB in certain schemes. He fit a variety of roles for the Southern Mississippi defense during his college career.
Meanwhile, fellow Rutgers DBs Logan Ryan (CB) and Duron Harmon (S) have experience in a pro system and if they turn out to be half the player that Scarlet Knight DB Devin McCourty is, they are steals. While he is more of project, as someone who watches tons of Big 10 Football (Michigan alum), Let me tell you Illinois DE Michael Buchanan has raw talent.
In summary, the 2013 Patriots draft class will be asked to contribute more than in recent years but they will have to earn their time on the field. Coach Belichick likes competition and depth but he also likes talent. Veterans at WR like Danny Amendola, Michael Jenkins and Donald Jones are being counted on to play but there are opportunities available.
While the starting secondary appears set, the NFL offenses of today feature multiple receiver sets almost 50 percent of the time so nickel and dime packages see the field often. A Ryan or Harmon could break in here. Look for Collins and/or Buchanan to get reps on obvious pass downs early in the season.
And do not forget to factor in the February signings of Defensive linemen Jason Vega and Armond Armstead, two guys who have produced in the CFL and could boast the pass rush. This is a sneaky good class and the type the Patriots get production from.