New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick often stresses the importance a player’s second year in the system has for his development. There are plenty of recent examples of men taking a significant step from year one to year two: Mid-round draft picks Trey Flowers and Shaq Mason are the latest examples of players improving into reliable starters over the course of their first full offseason in New England.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at this year’s second-year Patriots and how they developed from 2017 to today.
The draft class
DE Derek Rivers: The Patriots’ highest picked player last year missed all of 2017 due to a torn ACL suffered during his first training camp. Rivers, a third-round selection, returned to the field this summer and saw plenty of practice reps with the starting defense. Despite that, however, he failed to earn a regular spot in the rotation at the defensive edge: Rivers is little more than a depth player at this point in his career.
DE Deatrich Wise Jr.: As opposed to Rivers, Wise Jr. had a successful first year in the league and despite some ups and downs proved himself to be a capable situational pass rusher. His second season in the NFL is more of the same and as such an encouraging step into the right direction. The 24-year old is still primarily used versus the pass — he leads New England with 3.5 sacks — but has also shown an ability to set the edge better in the run game.
The undrafted class
DT Adam Butler: A solid first training camp and preseason paired with an injury suffered by Vincent Valentine helped Butler earn a spot on the 53-man roster last season. One year later, he has manifested himself as the Patriots’ number four defensive tackle. And even though he does not have the highest ceiling among New England’s second-year players, the 24-year old a reliable pass rusher from the interior.
OT Cole Croston: Like Butler, Croston made the Patriots’ 53-man roster last season. He only saw action in four games during his rookie campaign, however, and was buried on the depth chart most of the year. 2018 is more of the same: the versatile lineman spent time on New England’s active roster and practice squad and is not showing much signs of a second-year jump.
DE Keionta Davis: After missing all of 2017 due to a bulging disk in his neck, Davis returned this offseason and promptly was able to earn a roster spot. Since making the team, the 24-year old appeared in six games as the Patriots’ number four defensive edge in terms of playing time. While he has been inconsistent at times, Davis’ year so far can still be seen as a minor success considering his injury history.
WR Cody Hollister: Signed alongside his twin brother last year, Cody Hollister spent all of 2017 on the Patriots’ practice squad. He failed to improve his standing on the team this offseason and because of a back injury was waived in late July. Hollister was later placed on the team’s non-football injury list and will miss the entire year because of it.
TE Jacob Hollister: Just like his brother, injuries are an issue for Jacob Hollister this season. After appearing in 11 contests during his rookie campaign, the former undrafted free agent was limited to just four games so far in 2018. Dealing with chest and hamstring injuries, the 25-year old caught four passes for 52 yards so far — failing to both live up to the potential he displayed during training camp, and to build on his rookie season.
WR Riley McCarron: After the Houston Texans released him early during his first NFL season, the Patriots signed McCarron to their practice squad. The former undrafted free agent spent his entire rookie campaign on the scout team and appeared poised to take the next step after joining New England’s opening day roster this September. However, a muffed punt during his first game led to his release. Shortly afterwards, he was placed on injured reserve.
CB Jomal Wiltz: Jomal Wiltz’s second year in the NFL looks like his first: the Iowa State product spent most of 2017 on the Patriots’ practice squad — he was added in late September after the Philadelphia Eagles let him go — and currently is also a member of the team’s scout team. Any potential second-year jump will have to take place out of the public eye.
The free agent class
RB Rex Burkhead: After a successful first year in New England, the Patriots re-signed Burkhead to a three-year, $9.75 million contract in March. However, he has not been able to build upon a very good 2017 campaign that saw him amass 518 yards from scrimmage and eight touchdowns (all career-highs). Instead, Burkhead was placed on injured reserve after just three games due to a neck injury. He recently returned to practice and appears to be on track to be activated to the 53-man roster soon.
WR Phillip Dorsett: Brought aboard via trade from the Indianapolis Colts in early September 2017, the former first-round draft pick had a quiet first season in New England. Dorsett’s second year with the team saw him get more playing time and produce better numbers — at least early on. Since the return of Julian Edelman and the acquisition of Josh Gordon, Dorsett has been relegated to the number four receiver role.
OC James Ferentz: The journeyman joined the Patriots in March 2017 but failed to earn a roster spot. Instead, the son of Bill Belichick confidante Kirk Ferentz spent all of his first year with the team on its practice squad — where he also started his 2018 campaign. However, the 29-year old was promoted to the active roster in early November and served as a backup during the team’s last two games.
CB Stephon Gilmore: The high-priced 2017 free agency signing had an inconsistent first year with the team. Gilmore started slowly but by the end of the year was one of the NFL’s better cornerbacks. His development appears to continue in 2018: while he had a forgettable game against the Tennessee Titans two weeks ago, the 28-year old is one of the league’s better man-cover corners — showing why New England opted to invest in him.
DT Lawrence Guy: Like Gilmore, Guy is in the middle of a second-year jump. Signed to a four-year, $20 million contract last offseason, he was a solid contributor in 2017. This year, however, the 28-year old is the team’s best and most-used defensive tackle — and a player that has looked strong against both the pass and the run so far.
QB Brian Hoyer: Hoyer is a bit different than other players on this list considering that he spent the first three of his 10 years in the NFL with the Patriots. However, he only re-joined the team last October after New England traded backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to the San Francisco 49ers. Since then, Hoyer serves as Tom Brady’s lone backup and was able to beat out rookie Danny Etling this summer.
All in all, the team’s second-year players — whether originally acquired as rookies or seasoned veterans — are producing at an inconsistent level. Some like Stephon Gilmore, Deatrich Wise Jr. or Lawrence Guy are showing strong signs of a second-year jump while others have failed to do the same due to injuries (think Jacob Hollister and Rex Burkhead) or insufficient play (think Riley McCarron and Cole Croston).