Earlier this summer, Aaron Hernandez’s career began to unravel in astonishing fashion, while news of Rob Gronkowski’s multiple surgeries continued to accelerate. Each development represented the latest depletions to what had been Tom Brady's sizable collection of productive receiving weapons. In addition to the uncertainty that permeated the TE position, the well-chronicled departure of Wes Welker further threatened to diminish what has been a potent aerial attack. Those factors blended with the collective exodus of Danny Woodhead and Brandon Lloyd to spawn the realization that New England could enter the season without their five most productive targets from 2012.
At that time, the name Kenbrell Thompkins was not being submitted as a potential solution for the team’s escalating issues. Nor was Thompkins a player who delivered even the slimmest measure of appeal to potential owners. But with a profusion of fantasy drafts now taking place as the month of August hastily retreats, Thompkins has emerged as a viable option. That is a commendable accomplishment, considering that he was an unknown, undrafted free agent, who signed with the Patriots after more celebrated rookies were seized during April’s annual draft process. There was nothing that occurred during his collegiate career to suggest that Thompkins should have garnered more interest, nor that he would have ascended into prominence to the considerable degree that he has. He averaged a mere 39 receptions in two seasons as a Cincinnati Bearcat, while barely exceeding 1,000 yards (1,077), and scoring just four TDs.
Thompkins Has Seized The Opportunity
However, he was impressive upon his arrival, while fellow rookie WRs Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce were sidelined during the Patriots’ mini-camp. The chances of Thompkins even making the roster were not favorable. Not only because the team had invested draft selections on both Dobson and Boyce, but also due to the presence of newly acquired Danny Amendola and incumbent Julian Edelman. But as the summer progressed, Thompkins’ stock soared in corresponding fashion. He has been highly involved within the team’s strategic approach during the initial three preseason contests, while collecting 13 receptions for 142 yards. While the relevance of preseason performances is often debated, it is both indisputable and meaningful that his efforts have enabled him to secure a starting slot as the Patriots’ X receiver. Lloyd was the Patriots’ second leading pass catcher while operating in the same coveted role that Thompkins has captured, and the rookie will have a chance to carve out similar numbers. All while operating within a passing attack that ranked fourth last season, while averaging 291 YPG.
Of course, you are acutely aware that Brady will be utilizing other potential targets throughout the season, including Gronkowski, whenever the prolific fourth-year TE reemerges. Amendola is also a candidate to stockpile catches, although he does not offer a track record of dependability as he begins his tenure with the team. He was unavailable to the Rams in five different contests last season due to ankle and shoulder concerns, and was sidelined for a whopping 15 games after dislocating his elbow in 2011. It has also been widely speculated that third-year back Shane Vereen will be allotted a sizable number of opportunities, thorough deployment as a frequently utilized backfield target for Brady. And he has the potential to fulfill the role that Danny Woodhead executed successfully from 2010-2012. And as the season progresses, Dobson, Boyce, and first-year TE Zach Sudfeld could also help Brady perpetuate his customary torture of opposing defenses.
Yet, that can also be stated regarding Thompkins, who currently supplies owners with multiple reasons to be enticed. First, he is lining up with Brady, and the future Hall Of Famer will locate Thompkins whenever he is open. Also, numerous opportunities to excel will present themselves given Thompkins’ role as the highly desirable X receiver. To this point, he has exhibited sufficient strength and speed to seize a prominent role within the Patriots’ aerial attack. Plus, he has combined that genuine ability with sizable confidence while adhering to his responsibilities on the field.
Where Should You Draft Him?
But can that continue when the regular season commences? The belief from here is that Thompkins is well worth the investment of an eighth round selection. But even though opportunity and performance have elevated Thompkins into a position with which he could amass high quality numbers, it is essential that owners maintain their perspective during the draft process. If he can perpetuate his preseason performance over the course of a 16-game regular season, his eventual output should closely resemble that of Lloyd, who collected 74 receptions for 911 yards last season, while scoring four times. It is wise to consider those results as the ceiling for Thompkins. However, the more likely scenario is for him to garner 60-65 catches, amass 800-850 yards, and generate four-five TDs. His ascending ADP has resulted in him being selected over several proven veterans in a growing number of drafts. But it is highly recommended that owners avoid replicating such an extensive degree of reach, in order to secure the promising, yet unproven rookie.