New England Patriots: 5 No-Name Players Who Could Explode In 2013

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New England Patriots: 5 No-Name Players Who Could Explode In 2013

New England Patriots: 5 No-Name Players Who Could Explode In 2013
Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

The New England Patriots have had one of the most talented rosters in the NFL over the last decade or so. Making the team, let alone getting significant playing time, has been difficult for even the most well-known football players.

But things are different this year. This year, the Patriots start the season without five of their top-six receivers from 2012, and have a young defense still looking for its superstars. This year, the door is wide open for new players to step up and make a name for themselves.

It’s really hard to break through in the NFL. It’s even hard for the players you've heard of -- guys that were first-round draft picks and household names -- to have a big year in the league. It’s even harder for players who come into the season without the same kind of name recognition their teammates might have.

Despite how hard it is, players do it all the time. More and more, we see late-round draft picks or even players who went undrafted all together not only make teams, but make an impact when the games start counting for real.

Offensive skill positions are the most likely opportunities for players to go from the practice squad to the Pro Bowl. All the guys even sniffing an NFL field are extremely good athletes, and usually it just comes down to being the right situation for them to shine.

Defensive players can also have breakthrough seasons. Unheralded defenders have been known to grab a job and not let go if injuries, or just good old fashioned poor play, open a spot on the depth chart for them.

These are five players you probably haven’t heard of who could have a big year for the Patriots in 2013.

Ben Sullivan is an NFL writer for Follow him on Twitter @bensullivan52, “Like” him on Facebook and add him to your network on Google.

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5. Dane Fletcher

Dane Fletcher
Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Fourth-year linebacker Dane Fletcher has been a preseason all-star for the Patriots the last few years.

Set for a breakout year last season, Fletcher was derailed by a knee injury in the first quarter of the first preseason game. Despite that setback, he’s ready for his big break this year.

Fletcher won’t supplant Brandon Spikes as the starting middle linebacker, but could see action on passing downs as Spikes can struggle to match offensive players in space.

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4. Jamie Collins

Jamie Collins
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The Patriots took linebacker Jamie Collins in the second round of this year’s draft because of his versatility. Collins was a quarterback in high school, then switched to safety and subsequently defensive end while at the University of Southern Mississippi.

That versatility, and the ability to both rush the passer on one down, then drop back against the pass on the next, will get him opportunities to play.

Collins may be a bit undersized, but his skill set will give him a chance to make a splash with the team this fall.

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3. Tommy Kelly

Tommy Kelly
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Tommy Kelly, originally an undrafted free agent who broke into the league with the Oakland Raiders, has looked great in camp and could have a big year for the Patriots.

A pocket-pushing, pass-rushing defensive tackle, Kelly is just what the team has needed for a while now.

The Patriots have been in the process of switching to a 4-3 defense for a couple of years. Kelly is exactly the kind of defensive tackle they’ve been looking for to line up next to team leader Vince Wilfork.

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2. Kenbrell Thompkins

Kenbrell Thompkins
Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

It’s not news to anyone that the Patriots lost basically all of their receiving production from last year. That means there will be opportunities for young players to find a rhythm with Tom Brady and make a splash this season.

Kenbrell Thompkins came into Patriots training camp as an undrafted free agent from the University of Cincinnati. He’s been impressive so far in practices and preseason games, which really should be no surprise when you consider how productive he was in college.

The team is going to need one (if not more) of their rookie receivers to step up and be a real contributor this year. Thompkins has looked like that guy this summer.

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1. Zach Sudfeld

Zach Sudfeld
Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

The loss of All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski, for at least some period of time this year, is a big one for the Patriots. But, as it often happens in the NFL, the loss of one guy opens the door for another.

In this case, in comes undrafted free agent Zach Sudfeld. A receiving tight end out of the University of Nevada, Sudfeld steped up in a big way when the Patriots played the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the second preseason game.

He wasn't quite as impressive in the Patriots' third preseason game. Despite a costly fumble in the first quarter, Sudfeld still showed that he was on the same page as Brady on that play. He'll have to learn to be more careful with the ball in the open field.

Sudfeld has the size and skill that the Patriots covet in their tight ends, so look for him to get plenty of opportunities to establish himself early in the season when Gronkowski is out, especially in the red zone.

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