The Best Rookie Storylines at New England Patriots OTAs
There's a collective sense of rejuvenation and vitality at the Patriots OTAs. New England's rookies are bringing their audacity and skill to the field at full force, giving the team a fresh slant with their incredible diversity.
Some of those rookies are physical beasts, while others are thoughtful leaders. Some are colossal and brutal, while others are swift and agile.
Right now, they're all hungry to earn a job with the best team in the NFL.
Here are the best rookie storylines at Patriots OTAs.
The Rutgers Advantage
The Patriots have eight former Rutgers players on their roster. Five of them are rookies, including linebacker Steve Beauharnais, safety Duron Harmon, wide receiver Mark Harrison and cornerbacks Brandon Jones and Logan Ryan.
These players have a built-in support system at their disposal. They're friends, colleagues, mentors and brothers-in-arms. Any queasy nerves in the huddle can be alleviated by the sight of guys they've already been in the trenches with. The Rutgers rookies talked about the comfort of their camaraderie in this video interview, posted on the Patriots official site.
This emotional foundation is a tremendous secret weapon for the team, as these rookies can help each other elevate and excel throughout OTAs and training camp. That sense of unity will likely push more of them to be "NFL ready" by the time the season rolls around. That's a huge advantage and a fascinating storyline to follow as these young players grow into their professional roles.
Opportunities of a Lifetime
Wide receiver Aaron Dobson has the opportunity of a lifetime at his fingertips. Quite frankly, this offense is his for the taking. He has the skill to establish himself as a top-two receiver, starting now. That's especially true when you consider the fact that Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez and Josh Boyce are currently nursing injuries, which gives Dobson some extra time with Tom Brady.
Sky's the limit for this kid. Now's the time to make his move.
Two more guys with opportunities of a lifetime: Tight ends Zach Sudfeld and Brandon Ford. Both of these guys are undrafted longshots, but they're fun longshots with golden opportunities to swipe a valuable backup spot on the tight end depth chart.
This is especially true of Sudfeld, a beastly target out of Nevada, standing tall at 6'7" and weighing 255 pounds. When healthy, he's a powerhouse player, an efficient blocker and a dynamic red-zone threat. He also carries around a comfortable demeanor, which is nice to see on the field. It's effortless. Here's a great interview with him during OTAs, chatting about New England's sensational use of tight ends.
All of these players have opportunity knocking on their doors. It'll be interesting to see who answers.
A Fortune in Hidden Assets
Gil Brandt, senior analyst at NFL.com, recently compiled a list of the best undrafted rookie free agents. A trio of Patriots newcomers made the list.
Defensive tackle Cory Grissom, out of South Florida, ranked as Brandt's No. 1 defensive lineman. Grissom is a powerful beast with a hard punch to his tackles. His versatility makes him endlessly useful for the Patriots, who are still tinkering with their defensive identity.
The other two Patriots newcomers to make Brandt's list were Rutgers' Mark Harrison and Missouri's T.J. Moe, who made the top cut of wide receivers at No. 4 and No. 7, respectively.
Harrison is an intriguing player. This kid is thick, lengthy and powerful. He has a gritty attitude and he attacks the ball with a nasty snarl in his demeanor. He is definitely a great under-the-radar pickup for the team.
Overall, the Patriots ranked No. 10 on Brandt's additional list of the top 10 team winners in undrafted free agency.
New England's presence on these lists highlight their hidden assets, which could turn out to be extremely valuable. Certainly a storyline worth keeping an eye on.
Potential Sleeper Hits
The Patriots adhere to a totally unique drafting blueprint, stemming from their own idiosyncratic way of evaluating talent and value. Because of this, they always wind up making a few head-scratching selections. Last year, it was safety Tavon Wilson (pick No. 48) and safety Nate Ebner (pick No. 197).
This year, it was safety Duron Harmon (pick No. 91). Harmon was a typical out-of-the-blue choice for the Patriots, but he was also a typically interesting one. He's got the raw machismo and contagious charisma to be a sleeper hit and a fan favorite in New England.
Another sleeper hit/draft steal to watch for is cornerback Logan Ryan (pick No. 83). He's quick and cerebral, with a good mix of reactionary and anticipatory insight on the field. He's physical and fearless, always the aggressor. He's incredibly thoughtful and carries himself like a leader of men.
Their impact on the secondary will surely be a storyline to follow.
One of the unfortunate consequences of losing Wes Welker is listening to so many people point out the "Welkeresque" attributes of New England's remaining receivers, as if Welker lives on through Julian Edelman or Danny Amendola.
T.J. Moe, undrafted out of Missouri, is the latest receiver to get tagged by the ghost of Welker. Tough to see why, though. Watch his highlight reel and you'll see that Moe is completely unique, completely vibrant, completely, well, he's just Moe. Also watch this interview from OTAs and you'll see what a strong personality he has.
Moe's attributes run deep. He's a high-tempo thrasher and gasher, slippery and deceptive with his footwork, a cunning athlete with sharp route-running capabilities. He's quietly fierce and electric. He's tough, too. Sometimes, it takes three or four guys to bring him down.
One of his most defining attributes is his leadership. Welker was many great things, but he wasn't a leader. Moe has the opportunity to bring some much-needed command to the receiving unit, especially as it undergoes this extensive transition.
Moe's storyline will be extremely interesting to watch as the season approaches. In a crowded receiver pool, this kid has the skills and the guts to leave his mark.