The Patriots went 2-2 in the preseason games, but for the most part I liked what I saw in these games. I was more interested in seeing Jimmy Garoppolo, the rookie class, and some of the new defenders in the secondary. While the preseason headlines were dominated in Brady's successful attempt to vacate an unfair suspension levied in the NFL's Kangaroo Court, the Patriots had a relatively successful preseason based on what I was watching. These are the players who shined in the preseason games:
DE Trey Flowers: Flowers should have been picked near the top of the 2nd round. You're talking about a guy who had great production in the SEC and excelled against the conference's best tackles. He gave fits to Cedric Ogbuehi and La'el Collins, two guys who would have been Top 15 picks if not for unfortunate circumstances. Flowers is only 6'2", but that's irrelevant when you factor in length. Flowers boasts 34 1/2" arms, 10" hands, and a 84 1/2" wingspan. Flowers got knocked in the draft because of a 4.93 40, but finished Top 5 in vertical, broad jump, and the 60-yard shuttle. Flowers is not going to be confused for Chandler Jones, but he is excellent with his hand usage and playing with leverage against taller offensive lineman. Flowers dominated in the first and final preseason games, using his length and power as a weapon to disrupt plays. I was ecstatic when the Patriots drafted him in the 4th round because I thought they were getting a starting caliber player at the position. Flowers is currently 4th on the depth chart at DE behind Jones, Jabaal Sheard, and Rob Ninkovich, but I think he will get a decent number of snaps which may vary depending on injuries.
DE Rufus Johnson: I did have notification when the Patriots signed Johnson that he was a raw, but talented player who came out of a small school. Johnson dominated second and third string offensive lines all preseason long and looks to be a keeper, but the Patriots have 5 players at the position who were roster locks before June 1st. However, we've seen Bill Belichick do crazy stuff to keep talented players on the roster, such as having 4 QBs on his opening day roster in 2000 so he wouldn't lose Tom Brady to another team. Rufus Johnson has forced BB's hand and he may have to cut someone from another position to keep Johnson on the roster. Johnson is taller than Flowers at 6'5", but brings similar length and burst from the edge. Johnson's athleticism makes him a special teams candidate too. The Patriots probably don't need to dress five defensive ends on game days, but I'd rather have the problem of having too many good players than not having enough. I believe Johnson earned a roster spot this preseason.
RB James White: Dion Lewis and Brandon Bolden are likely ahead of White in the pecking order, but the 2nd year RB flashed his ability to make defenders miss in the open field. White's pass protection is still very raw compared to the actual demands of the position, but we could see him in 2 RB sets as a receiver, a runner, and a decoy. Even though Shane Vereen is a Giant, the Patriots are still stacked at the position and James White looks like a future starter in that role. White doesn't boast the same downfield speed that Vereen had that made linebackers dread him, but White is much more shifty and elusive in traffic.
CB Tarell Brown: The Patriots signed Brown just before the start of camp, as they were waiting for him to be healthy before bringing him in. Brown had been underrated by the national media since he played in San Francisco before the short-lived Jim Harbaugh era. Brown was the 49ers best CB in 2010-2013, although the end of his tenure there was marred by injuries. Even though Brown is 31, he can still play pretty well. He's not a #1 CB anymore, but that's not his role in New England. Butler is the #1, Brown is the #2. While Brown is no Revis, he'll be a strong contributor to the team.
CB Bradley Fletcher: I couldn't imagine that Fletcher drew positive reactions when the Patriots signed him, but the reality was he was playing in a scheme that he didn't fit in for the Eagles last year. Fletcher has not been a #1 CB and he's not a zone guy. What Fletcher does have is length and straight-line speed, which plays more in man than zone. Fletcher has had a strong preseason, only allowing 6 yards a completion and 3.6 yards per attempt. He earned the veteran's treatment and didn't play the 4th preseason game, which was a sign that he earned a roster spot. When looking at contract figures, Fletcher was pretty much a lock to make the roster when the Patriots signed him. He'll likely the team's #3 CB and will play outside with Brown moving to the slot. I think Fletcher will be closer to the player he was in St. Louis than in Philadelphia this year.
QB Jimmy Garoppolo: I would be remiss if I forgot the great Jimmy G. Garoppolo has taken a step forward this preseason and showed that he has future starter potential moving forward. Despite struggling against the Green Bay Packers, Garoppolo put on a clinic against the New Orleans Saints and led the Patriots to a victory against the Panthers. He looked sharp on his short throws and poised in the pocket. Had the Patriots needed to start Garoppolo for 4 games, I believe the team could have finished 2-2 at worst with losses to Buffalo and Dallas. It should be interesting to see what happens if Jimmy G continues to improve in this offense, both he and Brady have contracts expiring after 2017 and I see both able to play beyond that.