The New England Patriots rookies exceeded expectations as the coaching staff relied on the youngsters to step up for a variety of reasons. Injuries thrust players like QB Jacoby Brissett and LB Elandon Roberts into the lineup, while others like LG Joe Thuney and WR Malcolm Mitchell earned their playing time in camp.
ESPN’s Todd McShay shares his thoughts on the 12 best value players from the 2016 NFL Draft, noting that his list “excludes the top selections” and looks at value “based on their draft slot.”
Thuney ranked 6th as McShay valued him as a mid-day three draft pick; the Patriots selected him the third round.
“We had Thuney as the 10th-ranked offensive guard in the 2016 class coming out of NC State,” McShay writes. “The Patriots placed a premium on protecting Tom Brady up the middle and selected Thuney with one of their three third-round picks. Thuney started every game at left guard and was a big part of New England's improved pass protection on the way to winning Super Bowl LI.”
McShay was shockingly low on Thuney’s prospects, as was NFLDraftScout. Other entities like ProFootballFocus and the Patriots saw Thuney’s value at both guard and tackle and knew that he projected well in the NFL.
If Thuney can make the same sophomore leap that RG Shaq Mason made, then the Patriots interior line could battle for one of the best in the NFL.
Coming in 12th was fourth round WR Malcolm Mitchell, who was selected in the fourth round- right where McShay projected him to go. Mitchell exceeded that draft value down the stretch.
“Mitchell finished with six catches in Super Bowl LI, one of which converted a crucial third-and-11 in the fourth quarter to keep the Patriots' comeback bid alive,” McShay writes. “Mitchell showed the kind of growth you hope to see in a rookie. In the first eight games of his rookie season, he had just seven catches for 95 yards and zero touchdowns. Those numbers ballooned to 32-381-4 in Mitchell's final eight games.”
Mitchell finished the season on a strong note and his 45.6 receiving yards per game over the second-half of the regular season ranked third for all rookie receivers, behind just Saints WR Michael Thomas (80.6 YPG) and Jets WR Robby Anderson (54.4 YPG).
Like Thuney, Mitchell is primed to take his game to the next level in 2017 and could be a big contributor at a crowded receiver position for the Patriots.