Undrafted Free Agents
Kenbrell Thompkins, WR, Cincinnati
Midseason Review: Thompkins has exceeded all expectations for an UDFA. Coming off a strange college career and being thrust into one of the most complex passing systems in the NFL, Thompkins started off the summer with a bang, immediately becoming the talk of camp and probably creating unrealistic expectations.
Thompkins made a big impact the first half of the season scoring two big TDs vs. the Buccaneers and catching the game winning touchdown in the last seconds against the Saints. Thompkins’ momentum has started to evaporate as his skills have plateaued a little bit. He’s lost his starting job to Aaron Dobson and recently was made inactive against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
There’s no doubt he’s had great moments, but it’s tough to overlook his mistakes. He’s dropped a ton of catchable balls, runs sloppy routes, and gets out-muscled at the top of his route/catch point. His habit of leaving his feet and diving unnecessarily makes for awkward timing between himself and Tom Brady. How he bounces back in the second half will likely determine how we remember his rookie season.
Long Term Impact: There is no denying that Thompkins has NFL ability, but I don’t think he’s the type of player many expected coming out of training camp. In my opinion, Thompkins has the ceiling of a #4 receiver in the NFL and provides nice depth this season. It’s not out of the question that the Patriots will look to upgrade this position further in the off-season and Thompkins could find himself in a battle for a roster spot next summer.
Ryan Allen, P, Louisiana Tech
Midseason Review: Allen outperformed incumbent Zoltan Mesko during training camp and earned himself a 53 man roster spot. He’s proven that his training camp performance was no fluke. Through 10 weeks Allen ranks 8th in the NFL in punting average (46.4). While there have been a few poor punts mixed in, all the results suggest he is one of the better young punters in the NFL.
Long Term Impact: Allen’s performance so far suggests that he could be the Patriots punter for a long time to come. I don’t think there is any doubt that the right decision was made on cut-down day. Allen has an incredible leg and once he learns some of the finer points of NFL punting, he will be even better.
Joe Vellano, DT, Maryland
Midseason Review: The Patriots would be absolutely lost on the defensive line without Joe Vellano and fellow rookie Chris Jones. Vellano wasn’t even given a signing bonus to sign with the Patriots and entered training camp as a long shot to even make the practice squad. Safe to say he has outperformed all expectations. Vellano wins with effort, strength and hustle, just like he did at Maryland. He’s a tackling machine for a defensive tackle and a real playmaker.
He always finds a way to the football, even if sometimes it’s too far downfield. He finds ways to get off blocks and chase the ball, but can penetrate and get into the backfield as well. Vellano’s performance thus far has turned heads around the league and has GMs wondering why they didn’t take a chance on him. Without a doubt one of the best rookies on the team, logging major snaps, at a position of need.
Long Term Impact: Vellano’s ceiling is a bit limited due to his lack of athleticism, but he refuses to be outworked. He is the epitome of a blue collar football player and leaves it all out on the field. He has the type of character and work ethic to keep him around Foxboro for a long time. While Vellano is playing starter minutes right now, he’s probably best suited for a rotational role when everyone’s healthy. He’s a keeper.
Chris Jones, DT, Bowling Green (Drafted in 6th Round by Houston Texans)
Midseason Review: Potentially the steal of the off-season. Jones was not only released by the Houston Texans, the team that drafted him, he was released by the Buccaneers a week after claiming him off waivers. Jones has proven to be an integral member of the defense and provides some much needed pass rush from the interior. Through week 10 he leads all rookies in sacks with 5.0 and that total could have been higher. Jones combines with Joe Vellano to form an unheralded DT tandem that has literally held the Patriots defense together at a time of need. The impact he’s made with no training camp, off-season, and only 2 weeks to learn the system is remarkable.
Long Term Impact: Because of his ability to rush the passer Chris Jones has even more long term potential than Joe Vellano. He’s been a perfect fit on the Patriots defensive line, showing versatility to move around and play major snaps without much knowledge of the system. Similar to Joe Vellano with his ability to make plays behind and at the line of scrimmage. The way he handled the “FG push” after the Jets game showed the class and mental toughness in a very tough spot for a rookie. I foresee Chris Jones staying in New England for quite sometime and being a key contributor for years to come. Needs to get better at the point of attack and needs fight off blocks quicker. He can get overwhelmed and driven out of the hole. Not great against the double team. At this point in the season he has to be considered the steal of the Patriots draft/UDFA class.
Chris Barker, Josh Kline, Kanorris Davis, AJ Francis:
None of these players impact the team enough to properly evaluate their current and future value accurately.