Rookies Looking Ready to Step Up in New England Patriots Training Camp

Second-round pick Jamie Collins is among the Patriots rookies standing out in training camp. (Photo: Stew Milne — USA Today Sports)

NEPD Contributor: Dan Hope

Every rookie goes into their first NFL training camp with an opportunity to prove himself, and a necessity to prove himself should he want to earn immediate playing time with his team. Many rookies are already taking advantage of that opportunity for New England Patriots, and look ready to take on immediate on-field roles for one of the NFL’s premier teams.

The rookie acclimation process is an important one for the Patriots this season, as they are relying at least somewhat on rookies to step up in a number of areas where their veteran presence is thin. While it may be too early yet to draw conclusions on the Patriots rookie class after just eight training camp practices, numerous Patriots rookies are already turning heads and outshining veteran counterparts.

In the three training camp practices I have attended thus far, the rookie standouts have ranged from second-round picks Jamie Collins and Aaron Dobson to undrafted free-agent signings Zach Sudfeld and Kenbrell Thompkins, all of whom who are expected to make an impact for the Patriots this season.

Youth movement among pass-catchers

In 2009, the Patriots enacted their defensive youth movement when they parted ways with Richard Seymour, Tedy Bruschi, Mike Vrabel and Rodney Harrison and replaced those key veterans with young talent. Four years later, the youth movement is taking place among the team’s pass-catchers. None of the Patriots’ top five in receiving yards from last season are participating in training camp, and only one of them (injured tight end Rob Gronkowski) is still on the roster.

The Patriots came into training camp needing their rookie pass-catchers to step up. Fortunately for the Patriots, four rookies are already doing so and looking like viable receiving options for Tom Brady to go to this season.

The Patriots drafted two receivers, Aaron Dobson (Round 2, No. 59 overall) and Josh Boyce (Round 4, No. 102 overall). Dobson has missed some practice due to injury, but showed in early practices that he can bring both size and athleticism as an outside downfield playmaker at wide receiver. Boyce has progressively improved in each practice I have attended, and stood out on Saturday morning by getting open with crisp routes and consistently catching the ball in his hands.

Both players have arguably been overshadowed, however, by undrafted wideout Kenbrell Thompkins. Thompkins has a relative unknown coming out of Cincinnati, but he has quickly made a name for himself in Patriots training camp. He has been impressive as both an intermediate and deep receiver, and displays a strong combination of speed, quickness and size. Just nine days into training camp, Thompkins already looks like a lock to make the roster.

All three of those rookie receivers have received a good amount of work with the first-team offense already, but for what it’s worth, Thompkins worked with the first-team offense during the Patriots’ scrimmage on Saturday morning, while Dobson and Boyce were with the second-team offense. All three receivers are expected to see immediate playing time this season, nonetheless, should each of them perform well in the preseason.

That said, the biggest impression of all of the team’s rookie pass-catchers, especially on Saturday, may be coming from undrafted tight end Zach Sudfeld. Sudfeld likely went undrafted due to a history of injuries at Nevada, but he has been healthy and standing out thus far in training camp.

Sudfeld has terrific size for a tight end (6’7” and 260 pounds) but is also a very good athlete who not only has good downfield speed but also the quickness to make defenders miss. In the three practices I have attended, Sudfeld has shown a consistent ability to get open by running crisp routes and creating mismatches against linebackers and defensive backs. He has displayed soft, natural hands and caught a strong majority of passes that have been thrown his way.

I admittedly slept on Sudfeld as a draft prospect, but I’m not sleeping on him anymore. With Jake Ballard not involved in the scrimmage and both Michael Hoomanawanui and Daniel Fells working with the second-team offense, Sudfeld received nearly all tight end repetitions with the first-team offense on Saturday morning. He has the most ability of all the team’s healthy tight ends, especially as a receiving threat, and looks like the favorite to start at tight end should Gronkowski not return in time for Week 1.

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7 Responses to “Rookies Looking Ready to Step Up in New England Patriots Training Camp”

  1. CMO says:

    Dan – Loved this article. The more like this you can keep coming, will keep me sane until the season starts. This was the perfect read with my coffee.

  2. MacMahler says:

    Great article by Dan Hope. There is some interesting information about both Ryan and Harmon not found elsewhere. Given that the rookie WR’s are being given so many chances, it’s certainly looks like Dobson, Boyce, and Thompkins will make the roster. It’s an exciting change of pace for the Pats. They seem to be incorporating the potential for more big plays, and this goes for Sudfeld in the rookie class as well, and Vereen and Washington in the veteran department. If the OL can give Brady enough time throughout the regular season and (hopefully) the playoffs, “throwing to the open man” should evolve into “open men”.
    Thought I would give out a roster guess reflecting the possible emergence of the above rookies and a few more.

  3. MacMahler says:

    Blount, Rivera, Jenkins last cuts-maybe they come back later depending on injuries.

  4. MacMahler says:

    QB (3) Brady, Mallett, Tebow
    RB (4) Vereen, Ridley, Washington, Bolden
    WR (6) Amendola, Boyce, Thompkins, Slater, Dobson, Aiken (Edelman on PUP for 6 games)
    TE (3) Sudfeld, Fells, Hoomanawanui (Gronk on PUP for 6 games)
    C (2) Wendell, Kline
    G (4) Mankins, Cannon, Connolly, Green
    T (3) Vollmer, Solder, Svitek
    DE (5) Jones, Ninkovich, Francis, Benard, Buchanan
    DT (4) Wilfork, Kelly, Forston, Vellano (Armstead on PUP)
    ILB(3) Spikes, Fletcher, Koutouvides
    OLB(3) Mayo, Hightower, Collins
    CB (5) Talib, Dennard, Arrington, Ryan, Dowling
    SS (2) Wilson, Wilson
    FS (3) McCourty, Gregory, Harmon
    ST (3) Gostkowski, Aiken, Mesko
    Practice Squad: Davis, Zusevics, Sims, Grissom, Beauharnais, C McDonald, Harrison, Winn

    • Freemanator says:

      I like the prediction.
      Edelman can’t be on the PUP any more, as he was taken off, so I’d look for Aiken to slide out at WR, unless he steps it up some more.
      I think Beauharnais will be tough to sneak onto the PS, so if we keep 6 backers, I’d expect him to beat out Koutovides, who really only offers ST value, and no upside.

      I’d also expect us to keep one less lineman (probably Kline), and hopefully only go two deep at QB. Feel that Tebow probably wouldn’t get picked up if waived, and so we could bring him back next year.

      This would give two extra spots, one I’d give to Bequette, to see what he can do, and the other to either a fourth TE (Ballard) or a 7th WR (Aiken).

      • MacMahler says:

        You’re right about Edelman of course. I was thinking that since they are giving Tebow so much time to do a few different things that they have a package of ideas for him developmentally. But yeah, it would make sense to have that roster spot.

        Due to the WR group’s recent injury history as a whole, it would be good to have Aiken there.

        With Kline, I was concerned about the OL being a little thin with Nick McDonald not coming back. (And it was probably impossible, but it would have been great to have
        Donald Thomas still on the team). With Connolly’s situation being unpredictable, and the possibility for wear and tear by playoff time, there’s the question of a backup center and/or guard.

        I agree about Beauharnais also, but am wondering about ST’s if Cole is not on the team. Besides Slater, Koutivides has the most ST experience.

        • Breazy says:

          Ballard is the only healthy TE on the roster who has started a Superbowl. I don’t know how close to 100% he is, but his track record has to count for something. I think Gronk is PUP for 6 weeks and they keep 5 TE.

          I think Tebow is primarily on the roster to simulate opposing option quarterbacks in practice, and for trick plays.

          Special Teamers still need to be viable 3rd string at something for depth. Bill B demands versatility and lots of spare parts. That said, I don’t know which of the ex-Scarlet Knights step up and which don’t.

          Defensive End is the hardest prediction, I think because after Ninko and Jones, what we see on the field doesn’t give us enough clues, and the stuff we don’t see may well be what the coaches decide on.

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