New England Patriots training camp officially kicks off Wednesday morning. And for the first time since 2019, fans will be allowed to watch practice in person.
After the mass influx of talent New England engineered this offseason, there will be no shortage of prominent names in attendance — Cam Newton and Mac Jones, Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith, Matt Judon and Dont’a Hightower, etc. But training camp also is a time for less heralded members of the roster to prove their worth.
Each year, a few such players emerge from relative obscurity to become key contributors — or, at the very least, earn the attention of pundits and adoration of fans for a few short weeks. So, as the Patriots hit the practice field for the first time this summer, here are nine under-the-radar players you should be watching:
RB J.J. Taylor
Nicknamed “The Torpedo” by Rex Burkhead and “Little Dion” (as in Lewis) by running backs coach Ivan Fears, the diminutive Taylor impressed in his limited opportunities last season. With Burkhead now in Houston, the Patriots have a need for a versatile back who can contribute as a rusher and pass-catcher. Could Taylor, who made the roster as an undrafted rookie in 2020, fill that void?
WR Isaiah Zuber
The Patriots took a liking to the speedy Zuber last season, elevating him from the practice squad for four games and manufacturing touches for him in each (screens, jet sweeps, etc.). Granted, he touched the ball just four times total, but three of those went for first downs. With tight ends expected to spearhead their passing game, the Patriots could choose to roster fewer receivers than usual this season. But if they don’t, Zuber has a shot to stick over a player like N’Keal Harry.
WR Kristian Wilkerson
Don’t feel bad if you haven’t heard of Wilkerson. He was with the team for nearly all of last season but appeared in just one game, logging a mere two offensive snaps. Wilkerson’s athletic profile, though, makes him an intriguing contestant in the Patriots’ wideout competition. He also tore up FCS defenses in college, racking up 71 catches for 1,350 yards with 10 touchdowns as a senior at Southeast Missouri State.
WR Tre Nixon
Bill Belichick isn’t one to make sentimental roster decisions, but would he give additional consideration to the player personally selected by Ernie Adams in his final Patriots draft? That connection aside, Nixon likely would have gone much higher than 242nd overall had he not missed most of his final college season with a dislocated collarbone. He’s a former four-star recruit with enticing speed and agility who routinely beat defenders deep during his time at UCF.
DT Montravius Adams
Unlike most of the players on this list, Adams has enjoyed a reasonably successful NFL career, appearing in 45 games for the Green Bay Packers over the last four seasons. Still, he was a relative afterthought in the Patriots’ offseason spending binge, generating less buzz than fellow D-line additions Davon Godchaux, Henry Anderson and Christian Barmore. Adams saw a surprisingly large workload during spring practices, however, and advanced stats suggest he was a solid run defender in his final year with Green Bay (74.2 Pro Football Focus grade). Also keep an eye on Carl Davis, who’s back after a promising but concussion-plagued 2020 campaign.
S Adrian Colbert
Another vet, the 27-year-old Colbert has bounced around the league since breaking in with the San Francisco 49ers in 2017. But he has a fair bit of starting experience (19 starts over four seasons) and has played the majority of his snaps as a deep safety. The Patriots are a bit shallow at that spot behind starter Devin McCourty.
DB Myles Bryant
Bryant played all over the Patriots’ secondary during the second half of last season — slot corner, free safety, strong safety, dime linebacker — and was highly regarded within Gillette Stadium, earning praise from the likes of Belichick, McCourty, Stephon Gilmore and Matthew Slater. Don’t be surprised if the 2020 UDFA takes on a larger role in Year 2.
CB Michael Jackson
Jackson’s length (6-foot-1, 210 pounds) and man coverage ability allowed him to flash in training camp last summer. He’s played just six regular-season snaps in his NFL career but should see ample opportunities for camp reps while Gilmore’s contract dispute and injury rehab sideline the star corner.
K Quinn Nordin
Slater and special teams coordinator Cam Achord both have raved about Nordin’s leg strength. The kid can kick the cover off the ball. Can he be accurate, as well? That remains to be seen. Having already outlasted roster hopeful Roberto Aguayo (who was cut after minicamp), the Michigan product will look to beat out steady veteran Nick Folk for the top job in camp. Of note: An undrafted rookie has made the Patriots’ Week 1 roster for 17 consecutive seasons, and Nordin is the only UDFA in camp.