Offense: James White, RB, #28
I picked White to win the receiving back role for two reasons. The first is based on how he performed in the Kansas City and Buffalo games. White played the 4th quarter and that blowout and work nicely as an outlet receiver and was able to move the ball in the air for Jimmy Garoppolo. In Josh McDaniels offense, having a running back who can catch passes out of the backfield as well as pass protect is almost equally as important as Julian Edelman being able to line up anywhere in the offense. LeGarrette Blount is the primary power back, so he'll get close to 40% of the staff over the course of the season. As the main receiving back, that means 50% of the snaps will go to White.
The second reason is because continuity is very important in the Patriots' system. This is White's second year on the team, which gives him the edge over Dion Lewis and Travaris Cadet. Lewis and Cadet aren't slouches, coming from offenses that have featured them as 3rd-down backs. In past offenses, we've seen Kevin Faulk, Danny Woodhead, and Shane Vereen utilized in this role with all of them performing very well. Woodhead is the only one of the three who picked up the role his first year with the team (Due to Faulk tearing his ACL, but even then Woodhead didn't get inserted there for at least a few weeks). White would likely be the #3/4 read, but if he can execute the same route concepts as Vereen, he adds a 4th potent threat to the offense. Most teams don't have that. Due to all of the coverage that Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman take with them, it's unlikely that opponents will match up a defensive back against White. Most linebackers do not cover well in space, but if opponents try to go with small linebackers, the Patriots will run the football and let their big OL overwhelm the small Front 7.
I would estimate that why will get about 80-100 carries with the yards per carry value of around 3.7 along with 50-70 catches for about 400 yards and five touchdowns. He is not going to put up Vereen numbers right off the bat, but should be equally as productive but in the season. Now in the case that he doesn't make the team, whoever wins that role replaces him as my breakout player on offense.
Defense: Jamie Collins, LB, #91
Jamie Collins what's the best linebacker on the team last year. As we all know, Collins is a freak of an athlete and often puts it on display, in an exciting and jaw-dropping way. Collins is big and physical near the line of scrimmage as well as nimble enough to excel in coverage (wheel routes notwithstanding). In zone defense, he'll knock down the receiver crossing into his zone if he is inside the 5 yard window. An avid tackler with tremendous range and explosive pop behind his hits, he will put the runner to the ground in usually one hit. I don't expect Collins to put up absurd numbers because the Patriots have two very good linebackers on their team as well.
With both Jerod Mayo and Dont'a Hightower recovering from a serious injuries, this may be the opportunity for Collins to get some work in with the green dot helmet during preseason. One game he held that privilege, the defense only gave up 7 points against a very potent San Diego offense. I believe that Mayo and Hightower will be back for the week one game against the Steelers, I don't see either guy taking on the full workload they would normally do. I'm not sure how the Patriots use their linebackers, but early on Collins will have the largest share of the snaps. Given Collins' ability to wreck offenses in both the run and pass game, he will play linebacker in both the base (4 DB) and sub (5+ DB). I believe Collins will be taking home some awards this year (Pro Bowl and All-Pro nods).
My #2 pick would've been defensive lineman Dominique Easley. He should be very close to 100% healthy knees now that he's almost 2 years removed from ACL reconstruction surgery.
So who do you think will have a breakout season for the Patriots this season?