What to Expect from Patriots' 2012 Rookie Class in 2013

James DiMaio@@JamesDiMaioCorrespondent IFebruary 5, 2013

What to Expect from Patriots' 2012 Rookie Class in 2013

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    The New England Patriots' 2012 rookie draft class showed a lot of promise this season, but they'll need to impress even more in 2013.

    While Chandler Jones and Dont'a Hightower lived up to their draft status, others like Alfonzo Dennard and Justin Francis exceeded theirs.

    Here's a breakdown of each Patriots rookie along with an outlook at what their roles may be in 2013.

Marcus Forston, DT

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    Draft Status: Undrafted free agent
    2012 Stats: None accumulated.

    Marcus Forston spent most of his time on the practice squad in 2012, but cracked the active roster a couple times and even played against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 3.

    It's hard to get a good read on Forston because he barely saw the field.

    He did earn practice honors four times in 2012 (per Mike Rodak of ESPNBoston), so there is definitely something the Patriots like about this guy.

    2013 Outlook: Forston looks like he might find himself back on the practice squad again in 2013, especially with CFL star defensive tackle Armond Armstead joining the roster this offseason.

Markus Zusevics, OL

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    Draft Status: Undrafted free agent
    2012 Stats: None accumulated.

    Like Marcus Forston, Markus Zusevics was primarily a practice-squadder in 2012.

    He was activated to the roster once on Thanksgiving, but didn't get any playing time.

    2013 Outlook: Zusevics was considered a mid-to-low round draft pick before injuring his pectoral muscle during the combine last February and missed all of training camp because of the injury. Maybe he has a chance to earn a role on the team in 2013, but it's a long shot.

Justin Francis, DE

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    Draft Status: Undrafted free agent
    2012 Stats: 3 sacks

    Justin Francis was a nice surprise in 2012.

    He seemed to get better as the season went on and capped off his rookie season with three sacks against the Dolphins—albeit his only sacks of the season.

    Francis flashed explosiveness at times in 2012 from the defensive end spot and also as an interior sub-rusher at times.

    2013 Outlook: Francis, at worst, will be a rotational rusher in 2013 and looks like a top backup option to Chandler Jones. However, if he keeps improving, he may land an even larger role in 2013.

Brandon Bolden, RB

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    2012 Stats: 56 carries, 274 yards, 2 touchdowns
    Draft Status: Undrafted free agent

    Before being suspended for four games for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing drugs, it was very hard to understand how this kid went undrafted.

    Brandon Bolden has a similar build and playing style to Patriots star running back Stevan Ridley. He finds holes and explodes through them with great burst.

    He may not be quite the athlete that Ridley is, but he's probably a bit more physical.

    You can never have enough big bulldozing running backs on your roster.

    2013 Outlook: Bolden should get a good amount of carries in 2013 as the second in-between-the-tackles running back on the depth chart.

Alfonzo Dennard, CB

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    Draft Status: Seventh-round pick
    2012 Stats: 35 tackles, 3 interceptions, 1 forced fumble

    Alfonzo Dennard played extremely well in 2012, beating out Kyle Arrington and cementing his spot as the starting right cornerback.

    Despite being a bit undersized at just 5'10'', Dennard covered well against bigger receivers and looked particularly good at defending the deep ball as the season went on.

    Drafted in the seventh round, Dennard looks like the steal of 2012 draft.

    2013 Outlook: Dennard should be a big part of New England's secondary going forward. He may have to fend off a healthy Ras-I Dowling for a starting role, but there's nothing that suggests he won't be able to do that.

Nate Ebner, S

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    Draft Status: Sixth-round pick
    2012 Stats: 17 tackles

    When the Patriots drafted safety Nate Ebner in the sixth round, we all knew we weren't getting the next Ed Reed, but we did think we were getting a really good special teams guy.

    Well, the former rugby star didn't let us down.

    He finished second on the team with 17 special teams tackles (per Mike Reiss of ESPNBoston), behind only Pro Bowl special teamer Matthew Slater (20).

    While he didn't grab any headlines, Ebner put up a solid rookie season playing primarily on special teams.

    2013 Outlook: Ebner looks to be a key member of the special teams unit going forward while also serving as a reserve safety.

Jake Bequette, DE

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    Draft Status: Third-round pick
    2012 Stats: None accumulated

    Jake Bequette may find himself on the hot seat in 2013 after essentially doing nothing in 2012.

    The Patriots' 2012 third-round draft selection was leapfrogged on the depth chart by undrafted rookie defensive end Justin Francis and only dressed for two games.

    To be fair, young players develop at different rates. Given his good size (6'4'', 265 lbs) and collegiate production at Arkansas (10 sacks in 2011), there is still a lot to like about Bequette, but Bill Belichick will only wait so long.

    2013 Outlook: If Bequette immerses himself in the playbook and gets stronger this offseason, there's no reason to think he can't help the team in 2013. If all goes well, Bequette should be a situational pass rusher next season.

Tavon Wilson, S

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    Draft Status: Second-round pick
    2012 Stats: 41 tackles, 4 interceptions, 6 passes defensed

    Wilson showed a lot of promise as a rookie but also had a couple mental lapses that resulted in some huge passes down the field.

    Wilson seemed to eventually settle into his role in the sub-defense though, being favored over veteran safety Patrick Chung as the fifth defensive back.

    The former Fighting Illini is a good athlete with ideal size for the position (6'0'', 210 lbs).

    Many Patriots followers, including myself, have been pretty dead set on the Patriots bringing in safety help this offseason, but if Wilson continues to develop, he may be the man for the job.

    2013 Outlook: At worst, Wilson will continue to play in nickel and dime packages, but has a real chance to crack the starting lineup as the strong safety alongside free safety Devin McCourty.

Dont'a Hightower, LB

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    Draft Status: First-round pick
    2012 Stats: 60 tackles, 4 sacks

    Dont'a Hightower was the starting strong-side linebacker for the Patriots the moment he walked in the door.

    The Alabama product got better as the year went on, making plays defending the run and pressuring the quarterback.

    2013 Outlook: Hightower figures to be a huge part of New England's defense as the starting strong-side linebacker for years to come.

Chandler Jones, DE

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    Draft Status: First-round pick
    2012 Stats: 45 tackles, six sacks, three forced fumbles, five passes defenses

    Jones was well on his way to earning double-digit sacks before injuring his ankle halfway through his inaugural season.

    Before getting hurt, Jones was disruptive in the passing game and stout against the run.

    His first priority this offseason should be getting healthy, and then he needs to hit the weights hard and grow into his long frame a bit more.

    2013 Outlook: Jones will return as the starting right defensive end and will be a key cog along the defensive line. If he stays healthy, expect Jones to be one of the better pass rushers in the AFC next season.