While there is subjectivity in all rankings, the idea that the Patriots could even be in the discussion for the bottom spot highlights, in part, the importance of their 2018 rookie class. They need some hits.
This year’s rookie class is headlined by offensive lineman Isaiah Wynn, the tackle/guard from Georgia who was selected No. 23 overall. Wynn could ultimately be Tom Brady’s blindside protector, but for now he’s been working mostly with the second unit, as four-year veteran Trent Brown has seized the top spot.
With Wynn as a springboard, here is a “rookie report” on the Patriots’ newcomers:
Wynn – He hasn’t missed a practice since the spring, which has given him a chance to begin his development on a positive track. He has mostly been at tackle, where his quick feet and technique show up in one-on-one drills, while occasionally taking some reps at left guard on the backup units when depth becomes an issue. He is already in the top-seven group of offensive linemen, which means he should be active on game day, assuming he hasn't put himself into the starting mix.
Sony Michel (first round, No. 31) – On the sixth practice of training camp, he left the field under his own power after making a cut, and later underwent a procedure to drain fluid from his knee. He has been out of practice since, stunting his early progress. So it hasn't been the start that either side hoped for, but those close to the situation believe Michel should be available for most, if not all, of the regular season.
Duke Dawson (second round, No. 56) – When the Patriots have gone to a three-corner nickel package, the 5-foot-10, 198-pound Dawson has been the third option alongside Stephon Gilmore and Eric Rowe. He also shows up on special-teams units, which is an early indication that he will be a part of the team’s 46-man roster.
Ja’Whaun Bentley (fifth round, No. 143) – A hard-hitting linebacker from Purdue, he hasn’t appeared to close the gap on Elandon Roberts at this point as the team’s third linebacker alongside Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy. He is a contact player, which makes him a player to watch in preseason action, which will be the first time the Patriots engage in live tackling.
Christian Sam (sixth round, No. 178) – While Bentley is more of a traditional middle linebacker, Sam fits the more traditional weakside spot, and because he runs well, he has a chance to be part of Joe Judge’s special-teams units. At one point in practice, the Arizona State alum worked to the side with a special-teams focus, which will initially be his best chance to stick on the roster.
Braxton Berrios (sixth round, No. 210) – The 5-foot-9, 190-pound slot receiver/punt returner from the University of Miami has shown up in recent practices, as he competes with Riley McCarron for a possible fifth/sixth spot on the depth chart. He is making up for lost time after not having practiced much in the spring with an undisclosed injury, but he still projects on the roster bubble.
Danny Etling (seventh round, No. 219) – The quarterback from LSU has impressed with his arm strength, leadership and commitment (he’s usually one of the first players at practice) but has predictably had some inconsistent stretches at practice that make one wonder if he’s going to be on the 53-man roster or practice squad. It remains a work in progress at the game’s most important position.
Keion Crossen (seventh round, No. 243) – After flashing in spring practices, he had his momentum slowed due to injury and is attempting to close the gap since returning to practice. He has standout athletic traits that show up similarly to Julian Edelman as a rookie in 2009, which remain intriguing from a developmental standpoint.
Ryan Izzo (seventh round, No. 250) – The 6-foot-5, 255-pound tight end from Florida State is a grinder who hasn’t missed a practice and has shown up at times with tough catches while covered tightly (in part because he doesn't create consistent separation). He looks like a prime practice squad candidate.
JC Jackson (undrafted, Maryland) – The 5-foot-9, 198-pound Jackson first showed up in the spring when he was working opposite Stephon Gilmore at cornerback and didn’t look out of place. He has carried that into training camp, where he also shows up as a gunner on the punt coverage team, and has a solid chance to make the team.
Corey Bojorquez (undrafted, New Mexico) – The punter/holder has a stronger leg than incumbent Ryan Allen but hasn’t been as consistent. So it makes sense to think the Patriots will take advantage of more time to evaluate him in the preseason.
Extra point: DT John Atkins (Georgia), DE/OLB Trent Harris (Miami), DT Frank Herron (LSU), DB AJ Moore (Mississippi), RB Ralph Webb (Vanderbilt) and FB Henry Poggi (Michigan) round out the undrafted class and are long shots to stick on the 53-man roster.