These players are longshots to make the final cut. And in contrast with the prized free-agent acquisitions and high draft picks, these players are afterthoughts. But with training camp weeks away, New England's under-the-radar candidates still have an opportunity to make an impression with head coach Bill Belichick and staff. And that's all they can ask for.
None of whom can be considered "sleepers" just yet, however. A "sleeper" is a one who achieves unexpected success after a preliminary period of obscurity. So for all intents and purposes, it's still too early to determine who has achieved that unexpected success.
In the meantime, we can take a closer look at some of the men in the fold aiming to do so.
Kamar Aiken, Wide Receiver
A Central Florida product, Kamar Aiken logged action in 49 contests and amassed 121 receptions for 1,924 yards and 17 scores for the Knights before going undrafted in 2011. Over the course of two NFL seasons, Aiken has played in three career games. He cut his teeth on the practice squads of the Buffalo Bills, the Chicago Bears and even the Patriots. At 6'2", 215 pounds, Aiken provides the Patriots offense with a big-bodied wide receiver. And according to ESPNBoston.com's Mike Reiss, the 24-year-old has seen work in OTAs and minicamp as an outside target in three-wideout sets.
Ben Bartholomew, Fullback
With many NFL offenses going to spread formations with more snaps out of shotgun, fullbacks are a dying breed. That said, undrafted Tennessee Volunteer Ben Bartholomew is looking to keep the position alive. A 6'2", 240-pound fifth-year senior, Bartholomew is a strong, athletic run-blocker who managed to bench 30 reps of 225 pounds and run a 4.68 40-yard dash at his pro day, cites UTSports.com. He touched the football a total of 19 times during his college career.
Marcus Benard, Defensive End/Outside Linebacker
Marcus Benard signed with the Cleveland Browns out of Jackson State in 2009. He spent time on the practice squad as a rookie before being called up to the 53-man active roster midway through the season and he didn't look back. Between 2009 and 2011, the 6'2", 260-pounder played in 25 contests, notching 45 tackles and 11 sacks. Yet in October of 2011, Benard was in a serious motorcycle accident where he was ejected 80 yards from his bike, per Tom Reed of The Plain Dealer. The 27-year-old has not played an NFL down since.
Kanorris Davis, Safety
A college linebacker at Troy, the 5'11", 207-pound Kanorris Davis faces the tall task of adjusting to a new position as an undrafted rookie. Nevertheless, his physical attributes could ease him into that process. As NFL.com's Gil Brandt noted in March, the 23-year-old Davis clocked a 4.60 40-time at his pro day, registered a 37-inch vertical jump and benched 21 reps of 225 pounds.
Brandon Ford, Tight End
Brandon Ford has not been in the headlines like fellow undrafted tight end Zach Sudfeld, but don't rule the Clemson alum out of the equation. A converted wide receiver, the 6'3", 237-pound Ford has a unique blend of size and athleticism. He has the proclivity to line up in the seam or as an H-back, which only adds to his versatility as a potential "Joker" tight end for the Patriots. In addition, he made the most of his only year of starting work as a senior, catching 40 passes for 480 yards and eight TDs. He tied current-Indianapolis Colt Dwayne Allen for the most receiving touchdowns by a tight end in Tigers history.
Kevin Haslam, Offensive Tackle
When the Patriots signed offensive tackle Kevin Haslam in May, it created a frenzy of conversation. Not because of Haslam's performance, but because he marked the eighth Rutgers Scarlet Knight on New England's roster. Haslam is a 6'5", 300-pound blocker entering his fourth NFL campaign. He played in five games with the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2010, spent the entire 2011 season in injured reserve, and was cut by the Jaguars and Oakland Raiders that offseason before playing in five games with the San Diego Chargers last year.
R.J. Mattes, Offensive Tackle
Undrafted rookie offensive lineman R.J. Mattes is already on his second stint with the Patriots. He was signed on May 13, cut two weeks later, then brought back to Foxboro in early June. The 23-year-old provides good size for the position at 6'6", 315 pounds. A four-year starter for North Carolina State with experience at both guard and tackle, Mattes was named second-team All-ACC as a senior in 2012.
Jason Vega, Defensive End/Outside Linebacker
A Brockton, Mass., native who played collegiately for the now-defunct Northeastern football program, Jason Vega is a homegrown talent who shipped up to the Canadian Football League after going undrafted in 2011. With the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, the edge defender totaled 66 tackles and 12 sacks in two seasons. As a 26-year-old, Vega is not your typical NFL rookie. Regardless, the 6'4", 255-pounder will try to find a pass-rushing role with the Patriots.
Joe Vellano, Defensive Tackle
Joe Vellano is your classic overachiever. He got the most out of his limited physical ability at the University of Maryland, where he became an All-American defensive tackle. The 24-year-old is 6'2" and 300 pounds on a good day, and he's not overly strong or overly fast. He didn't need to be to excel with the Terrapins. In 2011, Vellano recorded 94 tackles and 2.5 sacks in a 4-3 defensive front. In 2012, Vellano recorded 61 tackles and six sacks in a 3-4 defensive front. In the NFL, Vellano figures to help out versus the run. Although because of his size, he is battling against the grain.
Mike Zupancic, Long Snapper
If you don't know the long snapper's name, it's probably because he's not botching snaps. So for 23-year-old undrafted rookie Mike Zupancic, it will be about fitting in without sticking out at football's most unheralded position. The 6'5", 260-pound Eastern Michigan Eagle was a four-year "starter" at long snapper. He will do his best to give incumbent Patriots snapper Danny Aiken a run for his money.
You can follow Oliver on Twitter @OliverBThomas.
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