The Patriots are relying on rookies more this year than they have in recent years, handing starting roles to Jones and Dont'a Hightower and considerable backup snaps to Tavon Wilson and Brandon Bolden. While major snaps might be expected out of highly drafted players like Jones and Hightower, Bolden has been an unexpected surprise as an undrafted player.
Jones is ranked among the top rookies on Pro Football Focus, which rates players according to advanced NFL statistics. The site watches every play and grades a player on a scale of +2.0 to -2.0 depending on whether the player was effective positively or negatively. It also features stats not found on other sites such as QB hurries, missed tackles and dropped passes.
Jones is fifth among 4-3 defensive ends, and has a 8.7 overall rating. He's the second highest rated rookie at any position and only Bears fullback Evan Rodriguez (first) and Vikings safety Harrison Smith (fourth) are ranked higher at their respective positions. Robert Griffin III, who's the fifth-rated quarterback, is the highest rated rookie with a 11.5.
Jones' three sacks rank seventh among 4-3 defensive ends, while his three QB hits rank him 15th and his 10 QB hurries rank him 12th. His 16 total pressures rank fourth. Not bad for a rookie. Jones isn't only strong in getting after the passer, he's also rated third among 4-3 defensive ends against the run. Jones has been asked to play right defensive end for the team this year, which makes him the team's chief pass rusher in the 4-3 defense, going up against teams' best pass blocker at left tackle.
Bolden has only played 37 total snaps this season, but he's already ranked 14th among all running backs. Bolden ranks seventh in PFF's "Elusive Rating" among backs with at least 20 carries which "boils down a runner's success beyond the point of being helped by his blockers" according to the site. Bolden has four missed tackles on 23 carries. Only the Browns' third-overall-pick Trent Richardson is ranked higher than Bolden. Bolden hasn't played a lot this year, but his 100-yard performance against the Bills in Week 4 may get him more snaps.
Hightower is the 16th ranked 4-3 outside linebacker and second ranked rookie outside linebacker behind Mychal Kendricks of Philadelphia. Hightower has been the second best overall 4-3 OLB in pass rush behind Denver superstar Von Miller. Hightower has rushed the passer just twelve times on the season and has five total pressures. In coverage, Hightower has been targeted thirteen times with ten receptions for 75 yards. Hightower is nursing a hamstring injury, but he told the media he's day-to-day for Sunday's game against Denver.
Wilson has played just 105 snaps on the season, but ranks 27th among NFL safeties. He's been targeted 15 times with nine receptions for 63 yards. That gives him a QB rating-against of just 30. That puts him fifth in the league, right behind Ed Reed. Wilson will have to play an increased role in Week 5 against Denver with veteran Steve Gregory ruled out. Wilson has been playing mostly a linebacker/safety hybrid role for the Patriots, but will be asked to play back deep with Patrick Chung.
The Patriots' rookies have been highly effective this season for the team. Among New England players, Jones is the highest rated defensive player on the team and the third highest rated overall behind Tom Brady and Sebastian Vollmer.
Jones was named NFL Defensive Rookie of the Month for September, while Brady and Bolden were voted by fans as the NFL FedEx Air and Ground Players of the Week for their performance against the Bills.