Monday night’s game against the Broncos truly highlighted how big the Patriots’ rookies have been this season. Jerod Mayo, Terrence Wheatley, Shawn Crable, Kevin ‘Connell, Jonathan Wilhite, Matt Slater, Bo Ruud, Gary Guyton, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Vince Redd, Ryan Wendell, Mark Dillard, and Tyson DeVree are all rookies that the Patriots have on their team, via active roster, practice squad, or injured reserve. In this piece, I will go through each rookie, analyze their impact, and project their future with the team.
Jerod Mayo, 1st Round
Inside linebacker Jerod Mayo stepped into the starting lineup from preseason day one, and he hasn’t missed a step since. Mayo has shown off his speed, fluidity, smarts, and strength through six games, registering 42 tackles and one fumble recovery. With Rodney Harrison out, he will likely take over the team lead in tackles. While Mayo hasn’t exactly made any huge plays, his solid overall performance has fans, coaches, and analysts raving all around the country. In my opinion, he is still the favorite for rookie of the year. I see him as the face of this defense for the next decade. I think he will make many probowls and really be a rare asset.
Terrence Wheatley, 2nd Round
While cornerback Terrence Wheatley hasn’t exactly amazed anyone with his play, his prospects still look bright. The ability is obviously there, although he struggled in only significant playing time he received (against the Chargers). Patience, however, will be the key with Wheatley, and I am not ready to write a verdict yet. With Rodney Harrison out, the Patriots will be looking for a fifth defensive back (keep in mind that Meriweather was the first defensive back off the bench), and Wheatley will get his chances to seize that position. When all is said and done, I still see Wheatley as a future starter at cornerback. While I would like to see a more physical cornerback next to Ellis Hobbs, Wheatley has plenty of talent.
Shawn Crable, 3rd Round
Oustise linebacker Shawn Crable hasn’t played a down this season… he hasn’t even been active for a game. However, that doesn’t mean that Belichick, or the fans, are down on him. Crable just has to keep practicing hard and working on his game, and he should find a spot on the active roster. He is an excellent pass rusher who has shown promise in pass coverage, and good fundamentals in run defense. I still see him as a potential starter and leader on this defense for years to come.
Kevin O’Connell, 3rd Round
O’Connell might be the Patriots’ quarterback of the future, especially with Tom Brady’s health in question. He has a rocket arm, incredible speed, and is very smart. While his skills are raw, withsome patience, he could really become a special quarterback. In spot duty against the Dolphins, O’Connell went 3/4 with no interceptions. A few years down the road, O’Connell may be forced into the starting lineup, and his success will solely be based on his development up until that point.
Jonathan Wilhite, 4th Round
Amazingly, rookie cornerback Jonathan Wilhite has already jumped fellow rookie Terrence Wheatley on the depth chart. While Wilhite projects as a future nickelback, he has shown some flashes of being a solid, more physical cornerback, with shutdown speed. So far this year, Wilhite has six tackles, but has also looked good in coverage and has certainly looked the most impressive of all Patriots’ rookie defensive backs to this point.
Matthew Slater, 5th Round
Matthew Slater, receiver/safety/special teams ace, has turned a lot of heads in his time thus far with the Patriots. Slater has been a part of every special teams unit, has returned six kicks for 117 yards and has made three special teams tackles. With his great attitude and workmanship, he should be a core part of the Patriots’ special teams for years to come.
Bo Ruud, 6th Round
We haven’t really been able to see the rookie linebacker Ruud play. He was out all training camp, and landed himself on injured reserve. While, at one point, he looked like he could become a solid 3-4 inside linebacker, I’m not sure what type of impact he can actually bring at this point. However, he will get his chances if he can show up healthy at mini-camp next season.
Gary Guyton, Free Agent
Now, we get into the rookie free agents. Gary Guyton, linebacker out of Georgia Tech, was tore up the scouting combine, showing incredible speed for a linebacker. Guyton really impressed during the preseason and training camp, and secured himself a roster spot. Now, by week 8, Guyton is establishing himself as a key role player. He has shown speed, fluidity, strength. He has 11 tackles and a fumble recovery, and has been rotating with Tedy Bruschi, coming in during pass coverage situations and sub-packages.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Free Agent
Green-Ellis saw his first extended action this Monday against the Broncos, rushing for 65 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries. Because of his performance, there has been a lot of hype surrounding the former Ole Miss star, and it is rightly deserved. Green-Ellis runs with his pads low, gets a good first burst through the hole, attacks up field, and runs very aggressively. With all of the injuries at the running back position, Green-Ellis may see extended carries again this week against the Rams, and possibly throughout the season as well. Every once in a while, a rookie free agent back can turn into something great, and while I am likely jumping the gun, I think Green-Ellis may be able to do just that.
Vince Redd, Free Agent
Redd, an outside linebacker, is a huge specimen, at 6’6″, 260 pounds. He is athletic, strong, aggressive, and versatile: all factors that can help lead to a good player. Right now, Redd is on the practice squad, but I think he has all of the tools to make a legitimate NFL player. He will certainly have his chances going forwards.
Ryan Wendell, Free Agent
Wendell, and hybrid center/guard was a solid college player and has played well enough thus far to stick with the team. He is a fundamentally sound blocker who can take on bull rushers and slide his feet well in pass protection. If Wendell can gain more strength, he’ll have a chance to stick with the team next year.
Mark Dillard, Free Agent
Mark Dillard is a safety who showed some promise in the preseason and training camp. Dillard is a strong run support safety who plays well in the box. He struggles in pass coverage, but with work, and solid special teams play, can compete for a roster spot next season.
Tyson Devree, Free Agent
The tight end was actually released following mini-camp but was resigned at the start of training camp. DeVree is a receiving tight end who got some work in training camp and looked pretty solid. He is currently a practice squad guy, and will be a longer shot to make the team next season.