Training camp is here! The NFL's most quiet period has come to an end as the New England Patriots have started this year's camp last week. The 90 players currently under contract are now in the process of fighting for spots on either the team's 53-man roster or its 10-man practice squad.
As we have done throughout the offseason, we will continue to take a look at the men fighting for those few select spots on the 2017 Patriots – and to find out who will and might be asked to help the team defend its Super Bowl title.
Today, we will continue the series with one of New England's undrafted rookies.
Name: Sam Cotton
Position: Tight end
Jersey number: 85
Opening day age: 23
Size: 6'4, 250 lbs.
2016 review: After establishing himself as Nebraska's number one tight end option during his 2015 junior campaign, Sam Cotton returned for his senior season with the Cornhuskers. The business/marketing major appeared in all 13 of his team's games and made a career-high 11 starts. But while his numbers were unspectacular – eight catches for 87 yards –, Cotton was able to improve his already solid blocking.
The Nebraska native was a key cog of a running attack that gained 169.2 yards per game. But while he showed physicality and strength at the point of attack, Cotton was neither invited to the scouting combine nor to one of the senior events after the season. What he did do, however, was perform well at his pro day: He ran the three-cone drill in 6.87 seconds which would have ranked second among combine tight ends.
Cotton would also have been in the top 12 in the broad jump (127 inch; 4th), vertical jump (35.5; 6th) and 40-yard dash (4.80; 12th). However, his solid pro day was not enough to make up for the lack of statistical offensive production. It was therefore no surprise to see Cotton go unselected during the draft.
2017 preview: Even though he was signed later than some of his undrafted colleagues, Sam Cotton did not remain out of work for long: Three weeks after the draft, the Patriots brought him on board and added him to a tight end group that is settled at the top with Rob Gronkowski and Dwayne Allen but in flux further down the position depth chart.
As a result, Cotton now finds himself in a four-man competition for what appears to at best be one spot on the 53-man roster. In order to win the battle against Matt Lengel (more experience), James O'Shaughnessy (more versatility) and Jacob Hollister (more athletic upside), the 23-year old needs a very good training camp. So far, that has not been the case as Cotton has failed to stand out.
Realistically, therefore, it looks as if he is at best fighting for a spot on the Patriots' practice squad. However, as long as Cotton fails to prove that he does indeed have upside as a pass catcher, even that seems like a long-shot. Of course, things can change quickly during training camp and the preseason, though.