Kenbrell Thompkins is looking for a solid follow-up performance in 2014. (USA TODAY Images)
(This continues a series of individual player spotlights over the next few weeks leading up to training camp. So check back frequently as we go down the roster. This edition focuses on Patriots receiver Kenbrell Thompkins:)
2013 Summary: Undrafted free agent receiver Kenbrell Thompkins caught everyone's attention during training camp and the exhibition season in 2013, with the former University of Cincinnati standout looking like quite a find after an impressive preseason. Tom Brady missed him just twice during the exhibition season, with the two connecting on 10-of-12 passes over that span.
However, that success didn't carry over into the season opener out in Buffalo. Overall Brady went Thompkins’ way 14 times, while connecting on just four of them for 42 yards. Those troubles carried over into week two against the Jets, after Thompkins was targeted seven times with just two receptions. The following week during the team's win over Tampa Bay they also had trouble connecting after Brady hit him just three times on seven targets. However, the good news is two of those receptions were touchdowns, so there at least appeared to be some progress.
He had some good moments in 2013, including his exciting game-winning touchdown grab against the Saints in week six in what was certainly his best moment of the season. However, that would be the first of just three fourth quarter catches for him for the rest of the year, proving that it takes more than one play to define a season.
Looking back at the first half of the season, Thompkins finished with 23 receptions on 55 targets (42% completion rate) over the first eight games. Over the second half of the season, Thompkins caught 9 passes on 14 targets, but appeared to wear down as the year went on and didn't appear to be anywhere near as quick or explosive as he had looked early on in the season.
He was inactive in three of the final four games and despite playing 34-of-75 snaps, Thompkins finished without a reception in the season finale against the Bills.
It was quite a slide for a player who started off with so much promise. Hopefully with a year of experience under his belt and a better understanding of what it takes to keep his body conditioned for a 16-game regular season, he'll be able to play at a high level for an entire season.
Best game of 2013:
One of his better overall performances came in week four down in Atlanta when Thompkins caught six passes on 11 targets for 127 yards along with a touchdown. He also caught a 49-yard pass in the second quarter that helped set up a field goal, which at the time put the Patriots up 10-3 in what ended up being an exciting 30-23 victory in a nationally televised outing. Three of Thompkins' receptions also came in the fourth quarter and included his touchdown. That was his highest reception total in that quarter in all of 2013.
Notable Stat of 2013:
Thompkins clearly fell out of favor late in the game as the season went on, finishing with just one target and one reception (an 11-yard reception in week 12 against the Broncos) in the fourth quarter over the final eight games. That stat alone was a bad sign, and should he fight his way back onto the roster in 2014, it will be interesting to see if he earns back Brady's trust enough to look his way in critical situations.
What to Watch For in 2014:
Thompkins is up against an incredibly crowded group, with eleven receivers set to participate in training camp. So far this offseason all indications are that he's once again shined and has impressed during spring camps, and appears stronger than he was last season. One area that he struggled with was battling against physical corners, and that's something he'll need to be better at in 2014. Battling cornerbacks like Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner in practice should help with that, and should also force him to be more precise with his routes and use his body to create better separation. As a result, that should make him a more effective target for Brady this time around.
He started off strong last year, but it's probably going to take a little more to ensure he's still standing when the final cuts are made before the regular season. Considering the leading incumbents are Danny Amendola, Aaron Dobson, and Julian Edelman, that sets up an interesting battle between Thompkins, Brandon LaFell, and Josh Boyce. That is, of course, unless someone out of the remaining group of Jeremy Gallon, Jeremy Johnson, Wilson Van Hooser, or Reese Wiggins outshines one of them during the preseason.
Those are players who are all trying to do exactly what Thompkins did last year. One advantage Thompkins has is the luxury of a full season under his belt and a better understanding of what's expected of him. However, should he come out of training camp playing well, hopefully this time around he'll carry that over for an entire season. He finished 2013 with two of the 10 longest pass plays the Patriots had last year, and they could certainly use more of those in his second season.