The Patriots figured to be one of the most talented teams in football as they began training camp and nothing that happened during the past three weeks has done anything to change that perception. Bill Belichick has spoken in glowing terms about the quality of competition and depth at a number of spots, and on paper the team appears to have plenty of talent to fall back on.
While most of the big-name players are known commodities, it's also been evident that New England has some additional help waiting for opportunities – players that perhaps weren't as popular with the average fan when camp began.
Trey Flowers has been a pass-rushing machine while tight end AJ Derby has made a number of difficult catches in traffic down the seam. Tyler Gaffney is fighting back from injuries and looks poised to make a run at a roster spot while Aaron Dobson is trying to shake off the inconsistency that has plagued him thus far in his career.
While some if not all of these developments were unexpected, only one can be the biggest surprise. So this week's Samsonite Make Your Case asks: Who has been the Patriots biggest surprise of camp thus far?
PFW's Andy Hart says ...
I had no idea what to expect from AJ Derby after he missed his entire rookie season due to injury. He was on the field throughout the spring and showed some nice athleticism and solid hands despite making a late transition to tight end for his final season at Arkansas. Derby has been as consistent as anyone during camp, catching the ball well in traffic, particularly in the red zone, and showing the ability to work himself free with effective route-running. He will likely need some refinement on his blocking techniques, and with Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett both ahead of him on the depth chart as pass catchers, there may not be room for him on the roster at this time. But Derby has definitely shown that he is worth developing and I'd be shocked if the Patriots didn't try to keep him in some capacity. He's been impressive.
PFW's Paul Perillo says ...
There have been a number of candidates for this honor with guys like Trey Flowers, Cre'von LeBlanc, Kamu Gurgier-Hill and even Aaron Dobson all worthy of being in the mix. But I'm going with my heart on this one and taking Tyler Gaffney. First, Gaffney's ability to stay on the field this summer after two lost years on injured reserve with knee problems has been a great development. But Gaffney's also performed well, both in practice and during the first two preseason games. He's shown power, quickness and decisiveness when running and his 44-yard touchdown in Week 1 was one of the real feel-good stories of the summer for New England. I wasn't expecting Gaffney to put himself in contention to not only win a roster spot but possibly earn some significant carries, and that's exactly what he's done.
Now it's your turn to cast a vote in this week's Samsonite Make Your Case poll question.