The NFL sees its fair share of surprises every year, with the New England Patriots often at the forefront. Whether it is Malcolm Butler turning from undrafted rookie to superstar or Logan Mankins getting trading away shortly before the 2014 season, there are always some unexpected developments and players that surprise one way or another. This year, there are plenty of candidates again – for better or for worse.
According to ESPN Boston’s Mike Reiss, cornerback Jason McCourty is New England’s surprise player to watch this preseason: coming off a solid 2017 season with the Cleveland Browns, the offseason trade acquisition did not play in last week’s preseason opener and is currently competing for a roster spot alongside the Patriots’ top cornerback trio of Stephon Gilmore, Eric Rowe, and Duke Dawson.
Seeing McCourty lose out on a roster spot would qualify as a development few predicted in March. However, the veteran is far from the only player who did not quite meet the expectations with which he entered this year’s training camp. Let’s take a look at other players who surprised over the last few weeks for the right or wrong reasons.
WR Cordarrelle Patterson
The Patriots acquired Cordarrelle Patterson via trade this offseason and the former first-round draft selection did more during training camp than “just” serve as a kickoff return specialist: the 27-year old displayed big play abilities as a wide receiver as well and made numerous highlight reel plays during practice. It will be interesting to see how New England will use the athletically impressive Patterson as part of its offense this season.
CB J.C. Jackson
Joining a team as an undrafted rookie free agent is never easy, but cornerback J.C. Jackson embraced the challenge: breaking up more passes than any other player during New England’s first weeks of training camp, the Maryland product was able to build on a productive spring. As a result, he saw regular reps alongside the team’s top cornerbacks and is a serious candidate to make the 53-man roster.
RB Mike Gillislee
After a difficult first year with the Patriots, Mike Gillislee’s second campaign with the team also is off to a rocky start. While he was given plenty of opportunities to earn a role as the team’s big back – especially with Sony Michel and Rex Burkhead nursing injuries – the 27-year old failed to consistently take advantage of them. As a result, he currently appears to be behind Jeremy Hill on the depth chart and on the outside looking in when it comes to a roster spot.
OT Trent Brown
When starting left tackle Nate Solder left New England via free agency, he created an enormous hole along the team’s offensive line. The team did quickly find someone to fill it, though: Trent Brown. After being irregularly used during minicamp, the offseason trade acquisition left little doubt about who would fill Solder’s shoes during training camp. Displaying strength and outstanding moving abilities for a man his size, the 25-year old established himself as Tom Brady’s blindside protector in 2018.
DE Trey Flowers
Trey Flowers is the Patriots’ best edge defender of the last two seasons and entering a contract year. However, one would not recognize those things when watching him during training camp: Flowers, who was dealing with an undisclosed injury, was rather quiet in one-on-one and full-team work. That being said, the fourth-year man is expected to become more active during games and when fully healthy again.
DE Keionta Davis
After spending all of his rookie season on injured reserve due to a lingering neck issue, Keionta Davis returned to the practice fields this summer and delivered some solid performances. While he is far from a lock to make the Patriots’ 53-man roster, the Chattanooga product saw plenty of snaps with the starting defense and currently appears to be the number five player at the defensive edge position – exceeding expectations.