By: Ian Logue
When training camp started for the Patriots last year, not many expected very much from wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins.
At the time, most people didn’t know much about him and the expectations weren’t that high. But the rookie free agent came into camp and made a lot of noise, grabbing the attention of everyone during an unbelievable showing in the team’s exhibition games. In preseason he and quarterback Tom Brady were electric, with the two having plenty of success while connecting on 10-of-12 passes for 116 yards. They made it look easy and the chemistry seemed to be there, and it was hard not to believe the two might be able to build on that success and have quite a year together.
However, during the season opener out in Buffalo, the trouble having it translate into the regular season was apparent as Brady overall went Thompkins’ way 14 times, while connecting on just four of them for 42 yards. Their problems getting on the same page hurt the offense, which caused them to struggle to get in sync before eventually pulling off the win. In that game they were already somewhat shorthanded, with Aaron Dobson ending up inactive due to injury, and Danny Amendola was hampered with a groin injury as he gutted out a 10 reception, 104 yard performance, which was a major factor in the win and covered up for Thompkins’ disappointing rookie debut.
The growing pains continued in week two, with Thompkins finding himself targeted seven times with just two receptions. He then had a similar performance the following week after being targeted seven times with just three catches during the team’s win over Tampa Bay.
One of his better games came in week four down in Atlanta when Thompkins caught six passes (he was targeted 11 times) including a touchdown and it seemed as though he was starting to turn a corner. He then caught three passes the following week down in Cincinnati on four attempts, although it seemed like he struggled to get open at times against a very physical Bengals defense.
His biggest moment of the season came the next week in the waning seconds against the Saints, with Thompkins hauling in a 17-yard touchdown pass from Brady with :10 to go in the game, giving them a dramatic 30-27 come-from-behind win. The bad news is from there what should have been a massive springboard ended up starting a decline for the rookie, with Thompkins catching just two passes the following week in a frustrating loss down in New York against the Jets.
Taking a look at his playing time, the downward trend was pretty obvious.
Week 1 at BUF: 87/91 (96%)
Week 2 vs NYJ: 54/65 (83%)
Week 3 vs TBB: 67/74 (91%)
Week 4 at ATL: 57/66 (86%)
Week 5 at CIN: 61/63 (97%)
Week 6 vs NO: 59/87 (68%)
Week 7 at NYJ: 70/75 (93%)
Week 8 vs MIA: 13/66 (20%)
Week 9 vs PIT: Not Active
Week 11 at CAR: 14/72 (19%)
Week 12 vs DEN: 44/87 (51%)
Week 13 at HOU: 15/70 (21%)
Week 14 vs CLE: Not Active
Week 15 at MIA: Not Active
Week 16 at BAL: Not Active
Week 17 vs BUF: 34/75 (45%)
As a result, the trend from weeks 1-8 is obviously different from 9-17 as well in terms of his production:
Weeks 1-8: 23 receptions, 334 yards, 4 TD’s
Weeks 9-17: 9 receptions, 132 yards
The good news is that it sounds like he’s been working hard this offseason, as most reports so far say he’s bulked up his frame over the 200-pound mark. He talked in May about the fact that with a full season under his belt, his confidence is better than where it was last year at this time.
“Every year we put new things in,” Thompkins told NESN last month. “Every year is a learning curve, but I feel a little bit better knowing the guys and some of the plays we did last year. Now we’re trying to build on the execution of them and build on what we did wrong last year.”
The second year receiver finds himself in a crowded group heading into training camp (they have 12 receivers total currently on the roster), and there isn’t exactly a guarantee that Thompkins will make the team if he doesn’t play well. For now Edelman and Amendola are the two likely starters, while other top names including Dobson, Brandon LaFell and Josh Boyce are among players fighting with Thompkins for a roster spot. The situation could even become more complicated if someone else emerges in the months ahead.
Thompkins certainly made his fair share of mistakes in 2013, but there were plenty of moments last season where he showed he has the potential to be effective in this offense. This play against the Lions during the preseason was likely one that showed the coaching staff what the future could hold and likely played a part in why he made the roster last year.
But with an entire NFL season now under his belt and a full offseason to build on, it’s now up to him to show if he can now turn those moments into a complete season.