Kenbrell Thompkins (above) could have a key role, even as an undrafted free-agent, in New England.
How did he earn that title after going undrafted out of Cincinnati?
First, let's look back at why he went undrafted in the first place.
It starts with his past, including seven arrests by the age of 18, and a roundabout journey through college. His route through each level—both community college and university—included a committal and a transfer before he would finish.
That was enough for seven rounds to pass with Thompkins not hearing his name called. It was painful for him at the time, but he's not letting it bother him as he pursues his opportunity with the Patriots.
I could remember sitting down and actually just waiting for my name to be called and for it not to be called, it was actually an experience that I will remember for the rest of my life. But honestly, none of that even matters right now. I’m here right now playing football right now. I got a great opportunity to play football here. I’m living in that moment.
There was a three-day window for Thompkins to get drafted, and that window unceremoniously closed on Thomkins' fingertips. As they say, when a window closes, a door opens.
Had Thompkins been drafted, he may never have had an opportunity to reel in passes from Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, but after the pain of going undrafted, he wasn't thinking about his next quarterback.
"I just came here just make sure I was playing football," Thompkins said. "Just trying to be on top of the things that I needed to be on top of. I’m just living in the moment right now."
His sharp route-running and ability to win one-on-one matchups has made him a favorite target of Brady thus far in training camp.
His emergence is not for a shortage of talented pass-catchers, even after what head coach Bill Belichick referred to as a "re-do" at receiver: long-time Patriots Wes Welker and Deion Branch parted ways with the team; veteran Danny Amendola was brought in as a free-agent; the Patriots drafted Aaron Dobson in the second round and Josh Boyce in the fourth round.
"Anybody can go out and make one good play," said Brady, "but if you go out and make a bad play after that, I mean you can’t win football games that way. You've got to do it day in and day out, week in week out, and that’s how you get to be a good team. That’s how you get to be a really good player and you contribute. The more dependable guys you can have, the better your team is going to be."
He's stood out so much, in fact, he's begun earning reps with the first-team offense on a consistent basis.
His sharp route-running skills and his ability to read the defense have made him a favorite target of Brady's. He is primarily lining up on the boundary as an "X" receiver, but he has also lined up in the slot as the "Z" receiver.
The Patriots have been looking for an "X" since trading Randy Moss in 2010, but Thompkins' ability to do both will make him an instant hit in New England, where versatility is the key to extended playing time for any player.
Now, Thompkins has the tall task of taking his success in practice and translating it to the football field. Thus far, he has logged five receptions for 26 yards in the preseason. He had four catches for 23 yards against the Eagles, and just one catch for three yards against the Buccaneers, but Amendola was busy catching passes all over the field in the latter of those two games.
That sets up an interesting situation for Thompkins against the Lions: the bounce back game. How does he perform the week after being held to a small stat line? That could be one of the biggest tests any undrafted free-agent faces in the preseason.
If his demeanor is any indication, he's not letting it get to him.
Erik Frenz is also a Patriots/AFC East writer for Boston.com. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand or via team news releases.