Part of the Patriots' “recipe” for success this season has been their ability to plug and play rookies into major roles on the team due to a string of injuries on defense and significant personnel turnover on offense. For example, against the Texans this past Sunday, the Patriots started five rookies on defense. The results have been far from perfect for New England, but there have been some positive moments from these players. In total, the Patriots have 13 rookies on their 53-man roster.
Some of these players will see their roles diminish as veterans get healthy. Others will only see their roles expand down the stretch. Let’s take a quick look at what each player has done thus far and what we can expect from them as the season winds down:
Ryan Allen, Punter: Undrafted out of Louisiana Tech, beat out veteran Zoltan Mesko for a roster spot in camp, and has since average 45.9 yards per punt with a next of 39.5. He ranks in the middle of the league for punters in most major categories, although he does have the league lead in punts for touchbacks.
Chris Barker, Offensive Line: Reserve interior lineman has been a healthy scratch most weeks, but played his way onto the active roster following the Marcus Cannon injury. Undrafted out of Nevada, he was claimed by the Patriots in September after being released by the Dolphins.
Steve Beauharnais, Linebacker: The seventh round pick out of Rutgers has been inactive for most of the season, playing in just one game. Still, he holds some developmental value as a thumper at inside linebacker, hence why the Patriots have kept him around on the 53.
Josh Boyce, Wide Receiver: 4th round selection out of TCU is currently 5th on the Patriots depth chart, but caught a pass last week and looks like he could be the team’s primary kick returner down the stretch.
Michael Buchanan, Defensive End: A seventh round choice out of Illinois, Buchanan was the primary 3rd defensive end early in the season before being hopped by Andre Carter. Has loads of potential, and still could contribute as the 4th end down the stretch.
Jamie Collins, Linebacker: Second round pick out of Southern Miss has emerged as a starter the last two weeks for the Patriots but has played limited snaps. He should see his role continue to grow in the coming weeks, as he has excellent three-down potential.
Aaron Dobson, Wide Receiver: Currently nursing a knee injury, Dobson has emerged as the team’s top outside receiver. He still can look awkward catching the football at times, but his confidence has improved with each passing week as he continues to build chemistry with quarterback Tom Brady.
Duron Harmon, Safety: Although he had some struggles against the Texans, the rookie 3rd round pick out of Rutgers impressed as a starter in the absence of Steve Gregory. At this point, even if Gregory supplants him as a starter, he should be a key contributor as the 3rd safety down the stretch.
Chris Jones, Defensive Tackle: Claimed off waivers in September after being dumped by the Buccaneers as a sixth round draft choice out of Bowling Green, Jones has emerged as a 3-down player for the Patriots since the Achilles injury to Vince Wilfork. Jones isn’t very good against the run and isn’t a natural fit for the Patriots two-gap tendencies, but he has picked up an impressive five sacks this year.
Josh Kline, Offensive Line: Kline has bounced on and off the Patriots active roster after going undrafted out of Kent State. He is one injury away from being thrown into action, but for now is a developmental prospect, like Chris Barker, on the interior line.
Logan Ryan, Cornerback: Third round choice out of Rutgers has two interceptions on the year, and jumped Kyle Arrington on the depth chart in the team’s week 13 victory over the Texans. He’s been perhaps the team’s most impressive rookie this year, allowing just 19 of the 37 passes thrown this way to be completed, with no gains longer than 27 yards allowed (according the ProFootballFocus.com). That’s in nearly 395 snaps played. He’s also allowed the lowest yards per snap in coverage, and the highest cover snaps per receptions and cover snaps per target on the team. Impressive stuff.Kenbrell Thompkins, Wide Receiver: Undrafted out of Thompkins began the year as the team’s starting X-receiver, before being jumped by both Aaron Dobson and Julian Edelman (and even briefly Austin Collie) on the depth chart. His confidence looked shaken, as he was plagued by poor chemistry with Tom Brady. After being a healthy scratch against the Steelers week nine, Thompkins has re-emerged. He’s currently dealing with a hip issue, but could be back to his role as the starter at x-receiver upon his return.
Joe Vellano, Defensive Line: Undrafted out of Maryland, Vellano was also promoted to a starting role following the injuries to Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly. Vellano has been an effective penetrating defensive tackle for the Patriots. He’s probably best-suited in a role as a sub-package pass rusher, but has made some plays in the backfield against the run due to his ability to get around blockers. He’s not a two-gap player, but has flashed despite having just a single sack on the season.
In case you were wondering, the Patriots also have defensive backs Kanorris Davis and Justin Green who were on the active roster and contributed, but are now on the practice squad. They also have two rookies on injured reserve in T.J. Moe and Cory Grissom as well as two rookies on the non-football injury list in Armond Armstead and wide receiver Mark Harrison… and I haven’t even mentioned the rest of the rookies on the practice squad.
In short, the Patriots are very young, and are still improving. The team and these rookies might be fighting through some various struggles at times, but they will continue to get better as they gain more experience, both in 2013 and beyond.