COMMENTARY | The New England Patriots open the 2013 season this Sunday against the Buffalo Bills in Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, NY and the club will be looking to a cast of new faces to help bring a "W" back home to Foxborough with them.
Here's a look at Patriots newcomers who look poised for a big season.
Zach Sudfeld, TE
Sudfeld starting turning heads as early as rookie minicamp back in May, as he showcased his athleticism and great hands. He carried that success into training camp and many wondered if the undrafted rookie tight end out of the University of Nevada could continue the buzz into the preseason.
Aside from an unfortunate fumble in a preseason beat-down from the Lions, the 6'7'' tight end did just that.
The big guy finished the preseason with 8 catches, 101 yards, a dazzling bobbled touchdown catch and even a 2-point conversion grab.
With Gronkowski likely sidelined for at least another week or so, Sudfeld is currently the team's top pass-catching tight end and should see his fair share of targets, particularly in the red zone.
Even when Gronk returns, there's no reason to think he won't still be a top target.
With Sudfeld in the mix, we could be on the brink of a new era of the Boston TE party.
Tommy Kelly, DT
Kelly has quickly proved that he is a huge upgrade over the likes of Kyle Love and Brandon Deaderick.
Kelly has been good against the run, but more importantly, he's been a terror against the pass--something you could never say about the aforementioned DTs.
The 6'6'', 325 pounder consistently provided an interior push when he was on the field this preseason and even got in on a few sacks.
With offenses forced to double team Vince Wilfork on the regular, Kelly--a handful for most guards--should find himself in a lot of one-on-one battles.
There hasn't been a Patriots defender more impressive than Kelly this preseason. Look for him to have a big year in 2013.
Logan Ryan, CB
Ryan quietly put together an impressive preseason.
The rookie corner noticeably got better each and every week, highlighted by a pick six against the Bucs in Week 2.
Cornerback is one of the hardest positions to play in all of professional sports. Refined technique will come with time, but if there's one thing you want to see from a rookie CB, it's good instincts and Ryan seems to have just that.
The former Rutgers standout already looks comfortable playing in the slot as well as on the outside.
With starting right cornerback Alfonzo Dennard due in court for a probation violation hearing two days before the opener (per Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk) and possibly facing jail time, the Patriots needed another CB to step up.
Given the uncertainty regarding Dennard's availability and with oft-injured cornerback Ras-I Dowling being released, Belichick and company probably couldn't be happier with Ryan's quick development.
A "big" season probably isn't in the cards for the rookie, but he may be depended on more than initially thought.
Danny Amendola, WR
Only a select group of free agent wide receivers have joined the Patriots offense and "got it" right away--namely Wes Welker and Randy Moss.
If Amendola's training camp and preseason success--particularly his 6 catches for 71 yards and a touchdown against the Buccaneers--is any indication, his name will soon be added to that short list.
Amendola appears to have a firm grip on the offense, and more importantly, he seems to be on the same page as No. 12.
His crafty footwork and short area quickness make him an ideal replacement for Wes Welker. However, given his superior speed and athleticism, Amendola brings a down-field element that Welker lacked.
Brady should have fun with his new explosive and versatile weapon.
All signs point to DA having a monster year in New England.
Thompkins surprised us all and had himself a fantastic preseason, putting his polished route-running and dependable hands on full display.
The 6'1'', 195 lb undrafted rookie out Cincinnati picked up the offense quickly and seems to have gained the trust of Brady, getting a number of targets from him throughout the preseason.Thompkins has leap-frogged fellow rookies Aaron Dobson (second round) and Josh Boyce (fourth round) and projects as the starting outside wide receiver alongside Amendola in the slot.
Not only did KT outplay his teammates, he also played as good as any young receiver who saw considerable snaps in the preseason, as he led the league with 15 receptions--good for 166 yards.
While it's nowhere near the accolade of leading the league in the regular season, it's still impressive considering the other youngsters seeing the field a lot in the preseason included guys like highly-touted rookie first rounders Tavon Austin (8 catches, 66 yards) and Cordarrelle Patterson (8 catches, 84 yards).
Given his length and speed, Thompkins looks like he's exactly what the Patriots have lacked since Moss left town--an actual outside receiver who can get deep.
While Thompkins has certainly flexed his ability to get down field , he's also shown the ability to play inside, so Brady should be able to create match-up problems with him all day.
In others words, as long as No. 12 is out there, this kid isn't coming off the field.
All preseason stats Courtesy of CBSSports.com.
James DiMaio is a Yahoo! contributor who also covers the NFL and the New England Patriots for Bleacher Report.
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