Five Patriots undrafted rookies to watch in camp

Five Patriots undrafted rookies to watch in camp
June 27, 2014, 6:00 pm

From where we sit -- just a little less than a month away from training camp -- trying to guess the Patriots' 53-man roster would be like handing 50 Cent a dart and asking him to hit a bullseye.

Futile

There's just too much unknown. And of all the players, those whose futures may be the toughest to predict are the undrafted free agents. Even with college careers under their belts and highlight tapes aplenty, it's next to impossible to say how they'll fit in.

Yet every year there are a few who make the team. Some have become regular contributors, others have become stars. Guys like Kenbrell Thompkins, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Adam Vinatieri and more have showed up to New England with little-to-no hype and emerged as key cogs.

With that in mind -- and while understanding that it's still too early to say who will make the team and who won't -- let's take a look at five of the team's 17 undrafted rookies who could make a splash during training camp this summer. 

The Patriots' first training camp practice will take place on July 24.

Roy Finch, RB
At 5-foot-6 and 177 pounds, Finch was one of the easiest players to pick out during OTAs and minicamp when the Patriots opted not to wear numbers on their practice jerseys. It wasn't only because of his size -- or lack thereof -- but his speed and quickness clearly stood out. Finch worked at running back and took reps returning kicks during the spring practices. Though the team appears to be set in its third-down back role with both Shane Vereen and rookie fourth-round pick James White, there is no clear-cut No. 1 kick returner on the roster so perhaps Finch could find a job on special teams. We'll see how he performs with pads on. If you're skeptical he'll be able to take a hit once contact is introduced, check out his highlight reel from Oklahoma. He packs a punch for a player with his build.  

Cameron Gordon, LB
The real die-hards will want to keep an eye on the 6-3, 237-pounder from Michigan during training camp. It doesn't appear as though Gordon will compete for a spot in the team's rotation at linebacker, but he should get plenty of opportunities to prove himself in the kicking game. A talented athlete -- he played receiver in high school and started at safety for the Wolverines as a red-shirt freshman -- he focused on special teams at the end of his college career. Though he wasn't drafted, there were likely several teams interested in his services since he landed the most guaranteed money ($35,000) of any Patriots undrafted rookie.

Stephen Houston, RB
With LeGarrette Blount no longer in the mix the 6-foot, 225-pounder out of Indiana represents the biggest body in New England's group of running backs, but don't expect him to be relegated to goal-line duty in camp. Houston (pictured) would have been one of the most athletic backs at the NFL Combine had he been invited. He recorded a 4.5 40-yard dash, an 11-foot broad jump, a 40-inch vertical and 24 reps of 225 pounds on the bench at his pro day. If he proves himself valuable on special teams -- we caught him working on the punt return unit as a rusher during one practice, and he got experience returning kicks in college -- he could challenge for a roster spot.
 
Justin Jones, TE
The 6-8, 275-pound tight end out of East Carolina hasn't played a football game in over a year, and there were times during OTAs and minicamp when he showed some rust. He had a handful of bad drops and he looked a little slow-footed getting in and out of some of his breaks. We'll keep tabs on Jones once contact comes into play. Will his size set him apart with the pads on? Or will the extra weight slow him down further? The Patriots could certainly use some depth at the tight end spot as they await Rob Gronkowski's return.

Deontae Skinner, LB
A three-year starter at Mississippi State, Skinner had the advantage of spending his college years in the SEC -- which Bill Belichick has often touted as among the one or two best college football conferences in the country. Skinner spent most of OTAs and minicamp working out with a rehab group as he dealt with an injury so it will be vitally important for him to get caught up to speed as quickly as possible come training camp. A willing special teamer who played both inside and outside linebacker in college, Skinner could find himself working his way up the depth chart at a position group that doesn't have many accomplished NFL players outside of its three projected starters: Jerod Mayo, Dont'a Hightower and Jamie Collins.