Entering the final week of the 2013 NFL season, the New England Patriots have an 11-4 record and a spot in the playoffs locked up despite nearly a quarter (13 players) of their 53-man roster being in their rookie year
The team has had to rely heavily on first-year players because of a rash of devastating injuries that has knocked veteran stars like defensive tackle Vince Wilfork, linebacker Jerod May and tight end Rob Gronkowski out for the season in addition to other hurting players.
Rookie contributions have come from all over the place, regardless of draft position. It is already easy to say the Patriots had a bumper crop of youngsters this season.
Sifting through all of the hard work and accomplishments, here are the top-five New England rookies from this season.
5. Wide Receiver Aaron Dobson: A second-round pick out of Marshall, he has experienced major ups and downs during the course of the season. Plagued by drops and early chemistry problems with quarterback Tom Brady, he looked very much like a rookie at times.
Dobson also had many moments where he showed his potential, with that being on full display in the November 3 victory against the Pittsburgh Steelers where he had five catches for 130 yards and two touchdowns.
His season totals of 36 receptions, 513 yards and four scores would be even higher if not for the five games he has missed.
4. Wide Receiver Kenbrell Thompkins: He has nearly mirrored the production of Dobson by posting totals of 32 catches for 466 yards and four touchdowns. However, since he made the team as an undrafted free agent out of the University of Cincinnati, what he has done can be ranked a little higher because of degree of difficulty.
Thompkins has also missed four games, and his absences have been noticeable because of the down-the-field threat he represents for the Patriots. His 14.6 yards-per-catch average is tops among New England receivers and ranks only behind Gronkowski for the team lead.
3. Defensive Tackle Joe Vellano: Wilfork and Tommy Kelly, the Patriots' two starting interior defensive lineman, are both out for the season and have missed a combined 21 games. That created an enormous hole, but one that Vellano stepped into and done a very commendable job despite being undrafted out of the University of Maryland.
He has racked up 50 tackles and two sacks while being the team's most consistent performer in the trenches.
Although the Patriots rank second-to-last in the league with 138.2 rushing yards allowed per game, the rookie has been more than serviceable and helped put the team in a position to compete in the playoffs. His effort has not gone unnoticed by his head coach, Bill Belichick, who recently told the Baltimore Sun's Aaron Wilson, "He is a tough kid. He really competes well and is in pretty good condition. He has had to play a lot of plays in several games. He has really hung in there and done a good job for us."
2. Cornerback Logan Ryan: Although he has done the bulk of his work coming off the bench, the third-rounder out of Rutgers has been a ball-hawking playmaker. Living up to the nickname of "Instant Offense," he has 30 tackles, 1.5 sacks and a team and NFL rookie-high five interceptions-which includes one returned for a touchdown. He is also third on the Patriots with 10 passes defended.
Ryan's playing time has increased as the season had progressed, and he will likely play a big role in the playoffs.
After his most recent game against the Baltimore Ravens, in which he had two picks, Ryan is knocking on the door of becoming a regular starter-if not this season then definitely sometime in the near future.
1. Punter Ryan Allen: It may be an unsexy pick but no New England rookie has been as consistent as the left-footed punter.
Undrafted out of Louisiana Tech, Allen beat out popular Zoltan Mesko during preseason and has never looked back. He has averaged 45.8 yards-per-punt, put 28 kicks inside the opponents' 20-yard line and nine inside the 10-which all rank in the top-half of NFL punters.
The highlight of his season was a perfectly knuckled punt late in the November 24 game against theDenver Broncos that bounced off returner Wes Welker and was recovered by the Patriots, leading to a game-winning field goal moments later.
Next Three Rookies In: Linebacker Jamie Collins, safety Duron Harmon and defensive tackle Chris Jones.
Conclusion: The Patriots have received big production from this year's impressive rookie class. Not only has that helped them get into position to compete for a Super Bowl, it has also provided a sturdy foundation of young players that makes the long-term future look very bright.