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What are realistic expectations for Patriots rookies this postseason?

01.04.14 at 4:18 pm ET
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Aaron Dobson and the rest of the Patriots rookies will head into their first NFL postseason later this month. (AP)

Aaron Dobson and the rest of the Patriots rookies will head into their first NFL postseason later this month. (AP)

With the regular season now in the rearview mirror, it’s time to take a look at how this year’s rookie class fared. We already noted the fact that this New England team will rely more on its first-year players than any other AFC squad — here’s a realistic look at what might be expected of them when it comes to the postseason.

Jamie Collins: The second-round pick out of Southern Miss started very slow, but injuries and the overall evolution in his game allowed him to see more time as the season went on, eventually becoming a regular part of the linebacker rotation by the end of the season — from Week 14 on, he played at least half the snaps, and appeared to adjust to the pace of the game very well. Part of his problem at this stage of his career is that his hyperathleticism sometimes works against him, and he ends up overrunning plays and then has to hustle back to get to where he needs to be. However, there’s no reason to think that the 6-foot-3, 250-pounder won’t be a part of the rotation going into the postseason — his work in pass coverage continues to improve, and he shows up as surprisingly stout against the run.

Totals (per coaches film review): 38 tackles (23 solo), 3 quarterback hits, 3 passes defensed, 1 fumble recovered (special teams).

Aaron Dobson: The big, rangy receiver out of Marshall — a second-round pick of the Patriots in the spring — had a rough start, but had more than his share of positive moments over the course of the regular season. Those highlights included a 5-catch, 130-yard effort against the Steelers, a game that produced two of his four touchdowns on the season. The 6-foot-3, 204-pounder was dogged by injuries over the course of his rookie year and struggled at times, but like Collins, there’s no reason to think he won’t be a part of the rotation at receiver going into the postseason.

Totals: 37 catches, 519 yards, 4 TDs, 7 dropped passes.

Logan Ryan: The cornerback might have done enough to be considered New England’s own rookie of the year. The third-round pick out of Rutgers led all NFL rookies with five picks on the season, with two of his takeaways coming in a big December win over the Ravens. He has nice versatility (he’s played both left and right corner, as well as the slot this year, and there’s been little dropoff) good ball skills and a willingness to put in the work needed in order to succeed in the NFL. It will be interesting to watch his overall progression — there have been plenty of young corners who have done well as rookies in New England, only to fall clear off the radar screen in their second and third year in the league. But for now, expect Ryan to serve as the fourth corner on the roster heading into the postseason, behind starters Aqib Talib, Alfonzo Dennard and Kyle Arrington.

Totals (per coaches film review): 41 tackles (33 solo), 1.5 sacks (14 yards), 2 quarterback hits, 5 INTs, 1 TD, 10 passes defensed.

Josh Boyce: The fourth-round pick out of TCU looked to be headed for a red-shirt season as a rookie, but a run of injuries, as well as his own emergence, saw him get on the field toward the end of the season and do a nice job with the opportunities he was given. A nightmare of a matchup, his physical tools make him a handful to cover, especially in the open field. (Just ask Cleveland’s Buster Skrine, who looked completely helpless when faced with the challenge of trying to take down Boyce in the open field on this play.) The season came to an end for the 5-foot-11, 205-pounder when he suffered an ankle injury in a December loss to the Dolphins — he was just placed on injured reserve — but should be ready to go for OTAs and minicamps in the spring.

Totals: 9 catches, 121 yards; 9 kick returns, 214 yards.

Duron Harmon: Like many of the defensive rookies on this list, Harmon (a third-round pick out of Rutgers) started slow. But a run of injury — in Harmon’s case, to starting strong safety Steve Gregory — meant he was pressed into service. That meant going wire-to-wire and playing all 90 defensive snaps in the epic win over the Broncos, as well as 69 of a possible 70 defensive snaps in the regular-season finale against the Bills. (Although in the case of the latter contest, that was probably more of a case of the team trying to get him as many snaps as possible going into the playoffs.) The 6-foot-1, 200-pounder played well when called upon, and while he won’t likely be a defensive starter when the postseason begins next Saturday, he will almost certainly be a regular part of the rotation in the secondary in nickel and dime packages.

Totals (per coaches film review): 30 tackles (23 solo), 2 INTs, 44 yards, 4 passes defensed.

Steve Beauharnais: The linebacker out of Rutgers — a seventh-round pick this past spring — flashed elements of old special teasers linebacker Tracy White in his game. However, because of numbers, he was a healthy scratch for most of the season. A sturdy, no-nonsense individual, look for him to have a limited role down the stretch, but he should figure in New England’s plans for 2014.

Totals (per coaches film review): 1 tackle.

Michael Buchanan: A seventh-rounder out of Illinois, Buchanan started strong as a backup defensive end to Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich — over the first four weeks, he was a primary backup, and played a sizable portion of snaps. But after the Patriots re-acquired veteran Andre Carter, Buchanan’s playing time dropped dramatically. (Over the second half of the season, he reached double digits in snaps just twice, and took a healthy scratch along the way.) For what it’s worth, he did play well on special teams down the stretch. Going into the playoffs, he’s likely a third option at defensive end behind the starters and Carter, but will figure into the mix in a more prominent role in 2014.

Totals (per coaches film review): 3 tackles (3 solo), 2 sacks, 15 yards, 5 quarterback hits; 7 special teams tackles.

Ryan Allen: The punter legitimately had one of the best rookie seasons on the roster. An undrafted free agent out of Louisiana Tech who unseated incumbent Zoltan Mesko at the start of the season, he’s done very well, both as a holder and punter for kicker Stephen Gostkowski. He averaged 45.9 yards per punt (14th in the league), with a net of 39.9 (16th in the league). In addition, he dropped 29 of his punts inside the 20 (10th in the NFL). A good year for the 6-foot-2, 215-pounder, who will be tested by the postseason conditions.

Chris Jones: A defensive lineman who was swiped off the Tampa Bay roster, the 6-foot-1, 309-pounder out of Bowling Green carved out a nice niche for himself over the course of the 2013 season. Pressed into service as a starter after Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly went down early in the year, he didn’t re-invent the position, but paired with youngsters like Joe Vellano and Sealver Siliga, gave the Patriots a solid group of young defensive linemen, a collection that should provide excellent depth at the position in 2014 when Wilfork and Kelly return. (For what it’s worth, he finished with more sacks than Ndamukong Suh, LaMarr Woodley, Barkevious Mingo and Paul Kruger. Not bad.)

Totals (per coaches film review): 56 tackles (39 solo), 6 sacks 42 yards, 8 quarterback hits,

Joe Vellano: Like Jones, Vellano suddenly saw his playing time spike following Wilfork and Kelly’s season-ending injuries, and while he struggled at times, certainly showed enough to be considered part of the defensive package as a depth addition going into 2014. (One thing about Vellano — as was the case with Buchanan’s drop in playing time following Carter’s arrival, the defensive tackle saw his playing time dip after New England promoted Sealver Siliga from the practice squad. While the two will continue to duel for playing time in the postseason, it could create an interesting positional battle when it comes to working as a backup in 2014.)

Totals (per coaches film review): 48 tackles (32 solo), 2 sacks, 18 yards, 4 quarterback hits, 1 pass defensed, 1 fumble recovered.

Kenbrell Thompkins: Like Dobson and Boyce, Thompkins had his struggles early on, but seemed to grow into the job as the season progressed. (It says something that quarterback Tom Brady thought enough of him to make him the target with the game on the line in the comeback win over the Saints in October.) His game-winning catch to beat the Saints aside, his best game of the season from start to finish likely came in the September win over the Falcons where he had six catches for a season-high 127 yards and a touchdown. With Boyce on the sidelines the rest of the way, he should get some chances in the postseason.

Totals: 32 catches, 466 yards, 4 TDs, 7 dropped passes.

Chris Barker: An offensive lineman who was claimed off waivers from the Dolphins, he could be classified as a developmental prospect. The 6-foot-2, 310-pounder out of Nevada played in four games this season, and provided the offensive line stays healthy, he will likely be considered a prospect when 2014 rolls around.

Kanorris Davis: The defensive back out of Troy was promoted to the 53-man roster late in the season, and has impressed enough to the point where he’s now a regular part of the rotation on special teams. The 5-foot-10, 207-pounder will likely be part of that group going into the postseason.

Justin Green: A 5-foot-11, 195-pound cornerback out of Illinois who was promoted off the practice squad with Davis, he’s played in two games this season.

Josh Kline: An undrafted offensive lineman out of Kent State, the 6-foot-3, 295-pounder made a splash when he stepped in at the left guard spot when left tackle Nate Solder went down with a concussion and Logan Mankins was kicked outside. He played well against the Ravens — well enough, in fact, to be considered the top backup at guard going into the playoffs.

Read More: Aaron Dobson, Chris Barker, Chris Jones, Duron Harmon Print  |  Bark It Up!  |  Digg It
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