We are now past the midpoint of the 2013 season, and the Patriots head off into their bye week atop the AFC East with a 7-2 record. With so many rookies stepping in and playing huge roles for the Patriots up to this point, why not slap a grade on them? To decide these grades, I have taken into account expectations, performance, place on the depth chart, and the “eye test.”
Jamie Collins, OLB, Round 2 (52) Grade: C
Coming into the season, Jamie Collins looked like a player who could contribute right away to the Patriots defense. At 6-foot-3 and 250 pounds, Collins is built like a defensive lineman with the skillset of a pass rushing linebacker. He recorded over 300 tackles, as well as 21 sacks over his four years at Southern Mississippi. With Jerod Mayo, Brandon Spikes, and Donta Hightower set as the three main linebackers in the Patriots defense, Collins was looked at as a rotational player who could sub in during certain packages. He saw little game action through the first six weeks of the season, but with Jerod Mayo going down with a season ending injury, Collins was thrust into game action. He played pretty well against the Jets in week seven, rushing QB Geno Smith on a couple of plays that earned the praise of Coach Bellichick. Collins struggled mightily against the Dolphins, being pushed around by the offensive line. It seems like Collins just needs some time to sit back and learn the pro game before he can make a real contribution.
Aaron Dobson, WR, Round 2 (59) Grade: B+
Dobson came into the season as the third Wide Receiver on the depth chart behind Danny Amendola and fellow rookie Kenbrell Thompkins. Through the first five weeks of the season, Dobson struggled mightily only recording 13 catches for 140 yards and one touchdown. However, with injuries to Danny Amendola and Tight End Rob Gronkowski, Dobson slowly saw his targets rise in the recent weeks. He hasn’t disappointed with his increase of targets, recording 18 catches for 287 yards and three touchdowns over the last four weeks. At 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds, Dobson gives the Patriots a combination of height and speed that we haven’t seen since the days of Randy Moss. If Dobson continues performing at such a high level, he could be on track for a monster second half of the season.
Logan Ryan, CB, Round 3 (83) Grade: B
If Logan Ryan wasn’t a household name in New England when he was drafted in the third round of the 2013 draft, he sure is now. When starter Aqib Talib went down with an injury, Ryan stepped in with some big plays. One being an interception he returned for a touchdown in Week 7 against the Jets. He has been shining in the top reserve role, and has played himself into an extended role when Talib returns to the team. Ryan has been holding his own in pass coverage, and has even shown flashes in run coverage.
Duron Harmon, S, Round 3 (91) Grade: B-
Hey, another Rutgers player! Many people pegged Harmon as a reach when he was taken late in the third round by New England. Through training camp and practice, Harmon has worked his way up as the top backup behind starters Devin McCourty and Steven Gregory. He filled in for Gregory (who suffered an injury) late in the Pittsburgh game last week, and recorded his first career interception. Harmon is still a ways away from becoming a reliable member of the Patriots secondary, but his on field awareness and intelligence has earned the praises of his teammates, as well as his coaches.
Josh Boyce, WR, Round 5 (102) Grade: D+
Boyce, who is considered the fastest receiver on the team, has struggled finding his niche with New England. After playing in the first five games (1 catch, 24 yards) he has been a healthy scratch for the last four weeks. As it stands through the bye week, Boyce is slotted as the number four receiver on the depth chart. But with the signing of LaQuan Williams, an ex-Raven, he could slide back down to number five (where he was when Austin Collie was with the team).
Michael Buchanan, DE, Round 7 (226) Grade: C-
After being selected in the seventh round, Buchanan started the season as primary defensive end in sub packages. Recent struggles forced the Patriots to bring back old friend Andre Carter to fill that role. Buchanan currently is slated as the number four defensive lineman on the depth chart. After a solid preseason, Buchanan has obvious upside and can learn a lot from a player like Carter.
Steve Beauharnais, LB, Round 7 (235) Grade: F
Beauharnais was the final pick for the Patriots in the draft, and has only dressed for three games this season. He has yet to see the field on defense for the team. It appears that this will be a learning season for the rookie, and people shouldn’t expect much from him this season.
Free Agent Rookies, Grade: A
Players like Wide Receiver Kenbrell Thompkins, Punter Ryan Allen, and Defensive Linemen Chris Jones and Joe Vellano were brought in as free agents after the draft ended. These four players have exceeded expectations so far this season, and have become huge parts of the team.
Allen beat out starter Zoltan Mesko for the punting job, and hasn’t looked back yet. To date, Allen ranks 10th in the NFL with a 46.4 average and 16th in net punting (39.9).
Chris Jones and Joe Vellano have done outstanding jobs filling in for veterans Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly, who both went down with season ending leg injuries. Vellano has played in every game this season, recording 33 tackles and one sack. If you focus on his matchups in game, he seems to win the majority of them.
Chris Jones, his counterpart, has been one of the biggest surprises this season. He saw his first game action against Atlanta when Wilfork went down, and since then has gone on to record 29 tackles, and leads all rookies in sacks (5). He has won my vote for first half defensive rookie of the year.
Kenbrell Thompkins has had an up and down start to his career with the Patriots. After a dominating training camp and preseason, Thompkins had a great start to the season recording 21 catches for 318 yards and four touchdowns (including the game winner against New Orleans) through the first six weeks. However, after down games against the Jets (2 catches, 16 yards) and Dolphins (Did not record a catch) Thompkins was inactive against the Steelers. He has fallen to number three on the Patriots depth chart, and needs to reestablish himself as productive target for Tom Brady.
Overall, I would give the rookies a B for the first half of the season. For the most part, the majority of the rookies have played extremely well, and are poised for great second halves. Stay tuned to clnsradio.com as I will give me final report card on the rookies when the season comes to a close.