Two undrafted rookies have particularly stood out at training camp. The first is towering tight end Justin Jones.
He has displayed more chops as a receiver than many would have credited him with. Jones has also worked hard on using his frame to be more of a force along the line of scrimmage.
Boston.com writer Zuri Berry recently detailed some of Jones' best efforts:
But as training camp has worn on, Jones has shown himself to be quicker than his 4.9 40-yard dash speed would suggest, and his hands have been a fantastic presence throughout the offseason, building himself up a reputation as someone to watch in each practice.
In camp, he has struggled at times blocking by standing upright too often. But he has improved dramatically. And as he has continued to improve in the trenches, the miraculous catches he has had have come more often. These are the expectations he has set for himself, improving every day and making catches no one else can.
The Patriots need depth behind awesome but brittle starter Rob Gronkowski. It would help if that player has the same ability to be a mismatch at every level of coverage as well as someone who can supplement the O-line.
At 6'8" and 275 pounds, Jones should have everything he needs to be that kind of player. The early reviews are good; now it's time to keep the progress going.
Defensive back Malcolm Butler is proving to be another undrafted star. He's shown a true opportunistic streak, as Boston Herald reporter Jeff Howe described: "Nearly every practice, cornerback Malcolm Butler makes a big play to get his hands on the ball."
Ball-hawking used to be the trademark of a Belichick secondary. Amid the high-profile additions of veterans Brandon Browner and Darrelle Revis, it's encouraging to see an eager and opportunistic rookie still making his mark.
This year's rookie class will ultimately be defined by the health of its members. The Patriots have asked their fans to take a leap of faith and believe the risk for a player like Easley is worth taking.
There is also a need for patience when considering how many of the first-year batch have been reduced to walking wounded during training camp.
As things stand, the team will once again rely on a veteran core to drive a Super Bowl push. That is unless White can emerge as a feature of the ground game.