The New England Patriots 2016 rookie class already is off to a hot start five days into training camp.
Among our six early camp standouts, three are rookies. And quarterback Jacoby Brissett, running back D.J. Foster, guard Ted Karras, defensive tackle Vincent Valentine, linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill and cornerback Cyrus Jones, all of whom have flashed, didn’t quite make the list.
Let’s get into the early training camp standouts.
WR MALCOLM MITCHELL
The wideout is mostly seeing reps with fellow rookie Brissett on the third unit, but he’s already proven to be dependable.
The 2016 fourth-round draft pick out of Georgia has been mostly sure-handed with two drops in four practices, and he’s 4-0 in 1-on-1 drills. He made a highlight play Monday night in front of fans at Gillette Stadium, catching a deep ball from Brissett over cornerback Darryl Roberts.
TE BRYCE WILLIAMS
Williams had an uphill battle to make the 53-man roster when he signed with the Patriots as an undrafted free agent, but after Michael Williams was placed on injured reserve with a torn ACL, and with Clay Harbor still on the physically unable to perform list, it’s becoming more of a possibility.
Williams is 6-1 in 1-on-1 drills, and he has yet to drop a pass through five practices. He has ideal size for the position at 6-foot-6, 260 pounds, and he caught 58 passes for 583 yards with four touchdowns at East Carolina in 2015.
OL JOE THUNEY
There’s a case to be made Thuney, a 2016 third-round draft pick, has been the best offensive lineman in Patriots camp. He’s the healthy favorite to start at left guard this season, and he’s 4-0 in 1-on-1 drills tracked by NESN.com.
Thuney was a surprise pick, but it’s easy to see why the Patriots valued him so highly five days into camp.
DE ROB NINKOVICH
If you thought Ninkovich might slow down at 32 years old, you were wrong. Ninkovich seems extra motivated this summer as he receives snaps at both defensive end and linebacker. He’s 4 and 0 in 1-on-1s drills and looks comfortable dropping back from outside linebacker.
CB JONATHAN JONES
Jones is the current favorite to make the initial 53-man roster as the Patriots’ No. 5 cornerback. He’s the only defensive back undefeated in 1-on-1 drills, and he has one pass breakup and one interception in competitive drills.
Justin Coleman also has looked solid as the No. 3 corner.
DB BROCK VEREEN
Vereen is showing why he was a fourth-round draft pick by the Chicago Bears in 2014. He has positional versatility to play cornerback or safety, and he managed to break up a pass intended for Rob Gronkowski during 1-on-1 drills, which might be the most impressive feat of Patriots camp. Overall, he has two pass breakups and two interceptions as he makes a strong case to make the roster.
Vereen’s college teammate, Minnesota’s Cedric Thompson, also has flashed.
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