Key defensive depth
The Patriots drafted five defensive players in this year’s draft, including three in the draft’s first three rounds. While the Patriots should not have to rely on them as heavily as their rookie pass-catchers, their early draft picks are already looking to ready to step in and play when called upon.
Second-round pick Jamie Collins has worked mostly with the second-team defense in training camp, but he is a very intriguing player who should only get better as he continues to develop. As a rookie, expect him to contribute immediately as a situational player on passing downs.
Collins has the potential to be a major asset to the Patriots as a pass defender. He can line up anywhere from edge rusher to middle linebacker, and can make an impact as both a pass-rusher and dropping back into pass coverage. His versatility is his greatest strength: the Patriots will be able to drop him into coverage from rush looks, which can create confusion for opponents. He gives the Patriots a linebacker with the size and athleticism to match up with tight ends off the line or running backs and H-backs out of the backfield.
The Patriots did have one rookie working consistently with the first-team defense on Saturday, that being third-round pick cornerback Logan Ryan. With neither Alfonzo Dennard nor Ras-I Dowling participating in the scrimmage, Ryan took the majority of outside cornerback reps with the starters opposite Aqib Talib.
In his test as a starter, Ryan performed well. He locked down on his opponent on the majority of plays, playing close to his opponent and displaying fluid hips. He occasionally let his receiver get open behind him, but he displayed his great instincts in knowing where to be on each play and when to break free from his man. He also showed his impressive ball skills, which he has in all three practices I’ve attended, with an end zone pass breakup versus Thompkins.
To be fair, Ryan didn’t get the full test of a starter Saturday. Ryan Mallett led the first-team offense in Tom Brady’s place for nearly the entire scrimmage, and Ryan was mostly matched up against Thompkins and Kamar Aiken. Nonetheless, he looked like a player who will be ready if called into action.
The Patriots’ other third-round pick from Rutgers, safety Duron Harmon, has also been coming along nicely in training camp. He has been working with the second-team defense, and has been better than expected in pass coverage. He has shown good range in covering ground in pass coverage, and has been making plays on the ball. He has come away with an interception in each of the past two practices I have attended.
Other rookies of note
Standing 6’5” and 255 pounds, seventh-round pick defensive end Michael Buchanan stands out on the field with his length. He has not made a huge impression in the three days I have attended training camp, but has worked mostly with the second-team defense and has high potential with his combination of size and athleticism. He is competing for a roster spot with Jermaine Cunningham, Marcus Benard and Jake Bequette among others, but he should be in good position to make the team.
If any of the Patriots’ rookie draft picks are squarely on the bubble, it would be seventh-round pick linebacker Steve Beauharnais. Beauharnais has not made a big impression in training camp, and is competing with Dane Fletcher and Jeff Tarpinian for what will likely be only one roster spot at linebacker. At this point, Beauharnais seems like a practice-squad candidate who is going to have to come on quickly to crack the 53-man roster.
The rest of the Patriots rookies are roster longshots, but one worth noting is punter Ryan Allen. The competition between him and incumbent punter Zoltan Mesko seemed relatively even on Saturday, with both punters getting consistent distance and hangtime.
Allen would truly have to stand out above Mesko to unseat him, and that didn’t seem to be the case on Saturday, the first practice I attended that included punting practice. That said, he has shown the skill to be a punter on an NFL team, and it would not come as a surprise if he is quickly picked up by another team following the Patriots’ final cuts.
In the previously mentioned youth movement of pass-catchers, undrafted rookie tight end Brandon Ford was expected to be a factor and compete for a roster spot. He has not made much of an impression or received significant reps in the three practices I have attended, however, and appears to be on the outside looking in while Sudfeld has shined.
Dan Hope is the chief editor of Buffalo Bills Draft.