The most critical time for developing a player is the first NFL offseason, which is between Year 1 and Year 2 in the NFL. The Patriots got pretty strong contributions from the 2015 rookie class, drafting their stud DT of the future, grabbed a quality CB prospect off the scrap heap, and two guards with promising futures. There are other prospects that didn't make an impact but are still on the team in Darryl Roberts and AJ Derby. Both have intriguing value, but neither made it out of camp without injury.
The Patriots were prepared to trade down from the 32nd pick until the Colts forgot to draft Malcom Brown. The Patriots quickly stopped negotiating and blitzed to the podium to make the pick. Brown flashed a lot his rookie year, getting better as the season progressed. Brown isn't going to be as sturdy as Vince Wilfork against the run, but has a promising future as a quality 3-down defensive tackle that can line up anywhere from head on from the center (NT/0-tech) to the outside shoulder of the tackle (5-tech). Brown has very good functional mobility at 6'2" 325 and is very good at shedding blockers in both the run and pass game. At least twice a game we saw Brown stop a run play by himself where he shed a block and made the tackle within a blink of the eye. 2016 will be a critical year for him to develop into that blue-chip player we're expecting.
Coleman wasn't even on the Patriots roster during training camp and preseason, but the Patriots took a chance on him to start the year. Our own James Devlin was quick to identify Coleman as a prospect that had similar athletic numbers to some of the elite NFL CBs. In addition to those measurables, he shows the ability to quickly close space between him and the receiver when out of phase like Malcolm Butler, which is a crucial skill to have. When Tarell Brown's foot got injured in Week 3, Coleman stepped up to play the #3 CB role and hasn't looked back since. Coleman missed a few games due to a broken thumb and a concussion, but showed promise as a future starter. With Logan Ryan slated for free agency after 2016, the Patriots could naturally promote Coleman to the #2 CB role. I believe Coleman will take the #2 spot before the season starts.
Mason came into the NFL from a run-first offense with a triple dive option at Georgia Tech, so he had an extending learning curve when it came to pass blocking. Over the course of the season, he got better at it but is still too inconsistent. His ability to pull and lead block on power runs as well as his movement skills for zone runs will keep him in the lineup as the Patriots try to get him to improve in pass protection. It's only a matter of teaching and applying that technique in games. Even though he's short and has stubby arms, I believe he will be a Pro Bowl guard before his rookie contract expires.
Jackson is the opposite of Mason when it came to entering the NFL. Jackson was a 3-year starter at Florida State and was a plug and play starter in the draft. I believe the Patriots got a steal when they were able to convert the 96th pick into Tre Jackson, Joe Cardona, and Darryl Roberts. Jackson his rookie year looked timid when asked to pull and lead block, even though he's played years under a Power Blocking Scheme at FSU. Hopefully that was just rookie jitters and not a future problem, something that Dante Scarnecchia or whoever they wind up hiring as the OL coach will have to fix. If Scar returns I think he will get the most of out Jackson, who Scar liked as a prospect in the 2015 draft.
These four players are part of the 2015 rookie class, who I expect to be major contributors in 2016. The Patriots typically prefer they have veterans in place to play while the rookies learn their craft on and off the field. We'll see the same cycle in the 2016 draft, which is basically drafting to replace those veterans the following year. It's how the Patriots build their roster from the bottom up.