The New England Patriots' Top Preseason Performers so Far

Nick LantzCorrespondent IIAugust 14, 2013

The New England Patriots' Top Preseason Performers so Far

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    With one preseason game down for the New England Patriots, there have already been some stellar individual performances.

    There were a lot of positives that came from the Pats' 31-22 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles, especially in New England's running game.

    It is still way to early to predict how things will unfold, but Patriots fans have to be pleased with how the starting offensive unit looked during those first two impressive drives on Friday night.

    There are so many question marks surrounding this team, especially with a new receiving corps, but the Pats certainly got off on the right foot against the Eagles. The funny thing is that they did so by establishing their run game early.

    Here are the six top performers for the Patriots thus far in the preseason.

LeGarrette Blount, RB

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    By far, the most impressive performer on Friday night was that of LeGarrette Blount. He answered a lot of questions in his first exhibition game with the Patriots.

    After watching his role with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers strongly diminish last season, Blount definitely impressed during his first action in a Pats' jersey. He carried the ball 11 times for 101 yards, including two touchdowns—all game-high totals for New England.

    Not only did Blount prove that he can be the Patriots' short-yardage power running back, but he also showed that he could break off some big runs as well.

    One of the most impressive plays of the night found Blount completely changing his direction on a carry, trotting 51 yards down the field for a touchdown on the first play of the drive. He also powered his way in for a score from one yard out in the third quarter.

    It was tough envisioning what the 6'0" 250-pound back's role would be behind Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen, but it looks like he may be a strong option for the Pats in short-yardage situations.

    Bill Belichick was happy to add Blount in the offseason and has been impressed by him so far, noted Pat Yasinskas of ESPN.com.

    I’ve had a lot of respect for LeGarrette and what he’s done through his career. He’s had a good spring for us and a good training camp for us. I think he helps us.

    It will be interesting to see how Blount responds this week against his former team, Tampa Bay, which has a strong run defense. Still, the Patriots have to be pleased with their new power running back.

Kenbrell Thompkins, WR

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    For weeks now, so many people have posed the question: Who will Tom Brady be throwing to this season?

    One of the answers to that question is Kenbrell Thompkins, which may surprise many football fans.

    He came in as an undrafted free agent from the Cincinnati Bearcats and has done nothing but positive things at receiver for the Patriots. Throughout organized team activities and in camp, Thompkins has often been running with the first unit and has really turned some heads.

    The rookie wideout continued to impress in his first preseason game on Friday.

    He made a team-high four catches for 23 yards against the Eagles. Though he didn't rack up the yards, Thompkins showed very strong hands and was Brady's favorite target while they were together.

    During the team's second drive, Thompkins caught all four passes thrown his way from Brady. He seems to be the type of possession receiver that the Pats can rely on.

    Thompkins has sure hands, he's pretty physical and may actually be Brady's best option for getting short third-down conversions.

    At first, it was a question of whether or not he would make the team. Now it seems like Thompkins will not only make the squad, but will actually be a major factor in the passing game.

Stevan Ridley, RB

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    Stevan Ridley set the tone in Friday night's preseason opener for the Patriots. He left off right where he started last season by racking up the yards on the ground and finding his way into the end zone.

    On the first offensive play of the game, Ridley broke free for a 62-yard run, putting the Pats in scoring range just 15 seconds into the game. He later capped off the drive with a 1-yard touchdown.

    Ridley finished with eight carries for 92 yards, none more exciting than his tone-setting dash down the field on the first snap of the game.

    However, this comes as no surprise. Ridley was one of the top running backs in the league last season. His 12 rushing scores in 2012 left him tied for No. 3 in the NFL with Adrian Peterson.

    Even with the potential emergence of Shane Vereen and despite the addition of a bruising back like LeGarrette Blount, Ridley is still the main running back for the Pats.

    He will definitely have another stellar season in 2013 and shouldn't have any trouble topping 1,000 yards yet again.

Marcus Benard, DL

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    Expectations were not very high for Marcus Benard coming into his first season with New England.

    He had injured his elbow during the 2012 preseason and was ultimately cut by the Cleveland Browns after being placed on the injured reserve list.

    However, if what Benard showed Friday night is a sign of what is to come, then that would be a huge boost for the Patriots.

    Benard played very well against the Eagles, coming up with five tackles and one sack. He spent time with both the first and second defensive units.

    The 256-pound defender showed off his versatility during Friday night's exhibition game, spending time at defensive tackle, defensive end and even at linebacker.

    "While it was nice to see him get some opportunities to flash his versatility, he’s best as an edge rusher," noted NESN's Doug Kyed.

    If Benard can continue to play well, then he has a good chance to get plenty of playing time for the Pats. Who knows, maybe he could return to his 2010 form, when he had 7.5 sacks.

Tom Brady, QB

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    Just as Patriots fans would expect, Tom Brady was nearly perfect during his two drives at quarterback for the Pats against the Eagles. Though it is a small sample size, Brady looked just as accurate and comfortable as ever.

    Surprisingly, he did not even have to make a single pass attempt during the team's first scoring drive, as the Pats marched right down the field by pounding the ball up the middle.

    It was during the Pats' second drive that Brady impressed. He hit seven of his eight targets with the only incompletion coming when Brady simply got rid of the football before taking a sack.

    To cap off the drive, he threw a beautiful pass to Shane Vereen in the end zone where only his running back could make a play on it. After that touchdown, Brady sat back and watched Ryan Mallett and Tim Tebow perform under center.

    Brady hit Kenbrell Thompkins four times, Danny Amendola once, Aaron Dobson once and Shane Vereen once for a score. He had no issues with his brand new receiving unit on that drive.

Shane Vereen, RB

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    Shane Vereen made the play of the game against the Eagles with his 13-yard diving touchdown catch in the first quarter. Split far left on the play, he made a tremendous snag in the back corner of the end zone.

    This should be a sign of what is to come for the Patriots—Vereen making big-time plays as a receiver.

    He caught two passes for 18 yards on the night and also carried the ball three times for 12 yards. Vereen was one of the many Patriot running backs who excelled against Chip Kelly's defense.

    With Danny Woodhead's departure, Vereen will be much more of a factor in the passing game this season. He has good speed and can be used effectively coming out of the backfield and split out wide or in the slot.

    Vereen will be one of the Pats' most improved players this season.

    Honorable Mention: Logan Ryan (6 tackles, 2 PD)