FOXBOROUGH — After spending much of the last two weeks at Patriots training camp, here are five players who should be household names by the end of 2016.
Patriots fans are used to great play along the defensive line. The likes of Richard Seymour, Ty Warren, Ted Washington and Vince Wilfork all had successful runs in New England and Brown is going to be the next in that line. Throughout the second half of last season, he was one of the Patriots’ best defenders and has continued to impress during training camp. His 6’2”, 320 pound frame will clog the middle of opposing offense and his strength and power will open things up for the other defenders around him.
Developing young wide receivers has proven to be very difficult for the Patriots over the last decade-plus, but Mitchell looks like the real deal. At the University of Georgia, Mitchell made big plays all over the field and has continued to produce with both the first and second team offenses when he has been available during training camp. He did miss some time with injury, but he returned earlier this week and looked fine. Given the weapons around him and his natural ability, Mitchell should find success as a Patriot.
Sheard was quietly very productive, with 8 sacks and one of the highest Pro Football Focus grades (for the analytics crowd) on the team. With Chandler Jones gone, Sheard should play more than he did last season and will have a chance to turn in a monster season. In camp, he has rushed the passer, played the run and dropped into coverage. Basically, Sheard has done it all in camp and will continue to this season.
A newcomer to the Patriots, McClellin is a former first round pick who played several different with Chicago and should benefit from a more defined role in New England. He has played inside and outside linebacker as well as defensive end and projects as more of an outside linebacker/ defensive end in New England with some inside linebacker potentially sprinkled in. If he gets the chance to spend more time off the edge, he will be very productive for the Patriots.
Flowers was impressive in his first camp as a Patriot in 2015, but missed most of the season on injured reserve. Coming into 2016, he looks primed to be able play a significant role in the Patriots front seven. He won’t be a starter, but he can provide valuable depth and make plays for the Patriots defense. As a defensive end, Flowers can fly off the edge to get after the quarterback but also can play inside along the defensive line and standing off the edge. Flowers can also contribute on special teams, which is an attribute Bill Belichick loves in players. With an increased role in 2016, Flowers should become a household name for the Patriots.