Ranking the Patriots' Top 5 Sleepers to Watch in Camp
Training camp is a hotbed for finding sleepers, players slated to rise above expectations and surprise onlookers. New England Patriots receiver Julian Edelman is no longer going to take anyone by surprise. Neither will linebacker Jamie Collins.
Sleepers are relatively unproven but have an opportunity to contribute. They have a certain skill or skill set that will propel them onto the field and allow them to succeed.
Here are five talented players who might just get that opportunity to shine in 2014.
Jemea Thomas (CB/S)
Despite his 5'10", 194-pound frame, Jemea Thomas brings the boom.
Whether he is pancaking gunners as a "vice" on punt returns, wreaking havoc inside as a "star" cornerback or lighting up receivers in a deep half, opponents always need to be aware of where Thomas is on the field.
Strong competition abounds in the defensive backfield with Darrelle Revis, Logan Ryan, Alfonzo Dennard, Kyle Arrington, Devin McCourty and Duron Harmon likely crowding out any potential upstarts. Brandon Browner will be along to further buffer the secondary after serving his four-week suspension.
That suspension, however, might be just what Thomas needs to get a chance. He could see some time at the "star" or "money" positions in sub-packages, where he can use his coverage, tackling and pass-rush abilities to his fullest.
If he gets an opportunity to break into this talented group of defensive backs, the sixth-round price tag for Thomas will seem like a steal.
Josh Boyce (WR/KR)
Receivers need to bring something unique to the team—Aaron Dobson's size and Julian Edelman's agility for example—to carve out a niche and earn playing time.
Josh Boyce brings scorching speed.
The less Boyce thinks, the faster he becomes. He told Nick Underhill of MassLive.com that "I think I feel – not that I didn't know the playbook; I think I'm playing faster. I'm not thinking as much. When the play is called I just do my job instead of wondering what I got."
Acting as a "Z" receiver, Boyce has the ability to stretch the field vertically and take the top off of the defense, thus opening up the middle of the field for Dobson and Rob Gronkowski and helping to vacate the underneath areas for Edelman, Danny Amendola and Shane Vereen.
Boyce will likely need to beat out Kenbrell Thompkins to be the fourth receiver in the game.
Michael Buchanan (DE)
According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required) Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich accounted for more than 47 percent of the quarterback pressures in 2013. For the New England Patriots to have success, they need another player or two to help them out in 2014.
One potential source of help will be second-year defensive end Michael Buchanan. He registered five pressures in his first four weeks, but his playing time was cut short when Andre Carter was brought on board midway through the season.
Buchanan's promise is easy to see, but so are his limitations. Oliver Thomas from NEPatriotsDraft.com summed it up perfectly:
In glimpses last season, Buchanan revealed his enamoring 4.44-second short-shuttle time as he burst off the snap. He revealed his 6.91-second three-cone speed as he bent the edge. He revealed his 4.78-second 40-time as he closed on the ball. And he revealed his length as his 34-inch arms wrapped around the quarterback.
He revealed all the athletic and physical characteristics the Patriots saw in him as a high-value, late-round selection. Yet as a player who looks the part of an “Elephant” but also runs like a deer, finding a medium between the two proved confounding.
It proved to be a wage between surge and inconsistency.
If "surge" wins out over "inconsistency" in training camp, Buchanan could be the third cog in the outside pass rush.
Josh Kline (OL)
Versatility is not just a buzz word that Bill Belichick likes to throw around. Logan Mankins—a left tackle in college at Fresno State—took some reps at left tackle with Nate Solder injured in 2013, in addition to manning his normal left guard spot. He didn't miss a beat.
That plug-and-play ability is not easy to come by. Josh Kline—an undrafted free agent in 2013—certainly exhibits it. He played all five line positions at Kent State and acquitted himself well filling in at left guard in Week 15, 16 and 17.
With Ryan Wendell and Dan Connolly uncertain to make the 53-man roster in 2014 and Mankins a question mark for 2015, Kline's ability to play left guard, center and right guard should elevate him on the depth chart.
Regardless of where you see him lining up, Kline is a player to watch this training camp.
James White (RB)
When looking at James White, it is tough not to be reminded of former New England Patriot Kevin Faulk. He has great vision and is excellent in the passing game. Don't pigeonhole him just yet, though. Doug Kyed from NESN.com doesn't see White limited to third down:
White isn’t a bruiser like Ridley or Blount, but he wasn’t afraid to run through the middle of the defense. White gains yards by getting skinny through holes and by using an effective stutter step to make defenders miss.
The 2013 fourth-round draft pick has exceptional receiving and blocking skills, which certainly will come in handy on third down. It also could help him find the field on first and second down in obvious passing situations.
Like current Patriots running back Shane Vereen, White's ability to play in nearly any situation will allow him to step in and contribute should Vereen or Stevan Ridley play poorly or suffer an injury. With both scheduled to be free agents in 2015, White could get in an early audition this year.