In a piece now posted on ESPN.com, Football Outsiders founder and NFL analyst Aaron Schatz overviews his top 25 breakout prospects for the 2013 season, using the following criteria:
1. Drafted in the third round or later, or signed as an undrafted free agent.
2. Entered the NFL between 2010 and 2012.
3. Started fewer than five career games.
4. Still on their initial contract with their current team (players who were cut and picked up elsewhere still qualify for the list).
5. Age 26 or younger in 2013.
The Patriots are well represented on the list, with quarterback Ryan Mallett (8th), defensive lineman Armond Armstead (10th), and guard Marcus Cannon (19th).
Highlights of Schatz's take on each are as follows:
Mallett: "Mallett is a tall, classic pocket passer with elite arm strength who can drop the deep ball in with a beautiful touch pass. He's going to take too many sacks and he's not the guy for a front office that thinks the read-option is the greatest thing since sliced bread. But by the end of this season, he will have spent three years learning the NFL game from Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, and there's a good chance that some team will want to send a draft choice or two to New England and take a chance on him as their starting quarterback."
Armstead: "Armstead started 17 games for USC over his first three seasons, then sat out his senior season because of heart problems. All 32 teams were scared away by Armstead's medical issues, so he went up to the CFL to prove himself, and ended up a CFL All-Star with 6.0 sacks and 43 tackles for the Toronto Argonauts. He's raw but powerful, with long arms and a high motor."
Cannon: "Originally expected to be a second- or third-round pick, Cannon fell to the Patriots in the fifth round of the 2011 draft because he had been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma. But his recovery from chemotherapy didn't last too long into the 2011 season, and he ended up active for the final seven games of the year. In his second season, he played all 16 games, and got his first start against the Jets in Week 12. Subbing at right tackle for Sebastian Vollmer, Cannon did a fine job of holding off Calvin Pace and Mike DeVito."
Given that Mallett will only see significant time in the event of an injury to Tom Brady and Armstead is in his first year with the team, Cannon is perhaps the most intriguing of the three players named. He'll be among the players examined in a later post about potential position battles entering training camp.
To see Schatz's full list (Insider content), CLICK HERE.