One of the benefits of being a Super Bowl contender each and every year is that you don’t have to rely on rookies to make an impact. If they do, that’s terrific, but if they don’t, there’s probably enough veteran depth and leadership to where the rookie class can be eased into things. That figures to be the case for the rookies of the 2014 NFL Draft selected by the New England Patriots. Still, even though the Pats won’t be relying heavily on any rookies this fall, there could still be a few guys who can make an impact in a backup role.
First rounder Dominique Easley (DT, Florida) is coming off three torn knee ligaments that last three years, including an ACL tear last year, but is close to 100% and if he is, will certainly be in the DT rotation with Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly, and could eventually replace the latter as starter before the end of the season. He’s an explosive, up field penetrator who would pair nicely with the two-gap run stuffing capabilities provided by Wilfork at the nose.
Bryan Stork (C, Florida State), the teams third rounder, was one of the better centers in the ’14 draft, and also happens to play at a position of concern for New England. Ryan Wendell was a rock in 2012 but took a major step back last season and QB Tom Brady faced constant pressure from both A-gaps as a result. There’s a chance with a strong camp performance Stork could see some first team reps, but should provide depth at the worst. Stork was praised for his football IQ, toughness and maturity through the draft process, attributes you want for the position.
Seventh rounder Jeremy Gallon (WR, Michigan) could also see some time coming out of the slot. He doesn’t possess elite size at just under 5-foot 8, 185-pounds, but is absolutely electric with the ball in his hands. He’s much faster during the game than his still impressive 4.49 speed indicates and knows how to turn a short gain into a long one. Brady has worked well with shorter pass catchers in the past (Wes Welker, Deion Branch, Kevin Faulk, Troy Brown, etc), so it should be an interesting pairing to watch, especially considering the lack of playmakers in the young receiving corps.
One rookie Pats fans don’t want to see this year (aside from the preseason and blowouts, of course) is second round QB Jimmy Garoppolo (Eastern Illinois). If he’s playing during the regular season and it’s not because the Pats are up by 21 with 2 minutes to go, it’s because Tom ‘Terrific’ is out, and Super Bowl aspirations could be dead. In a couple years, when Brady is gone, then Garoppolo can come out and play, but not yet.