Patriots rookies coming to town, but don't forget Class of '18

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots had six members of their 2018 draft class placed on injured reserve, which was the most of any team's draft class in the past 10 years, according to Elias.

So, as the team prepares to officially welcome its 2019 draftees to town on Thursday, a reintroduction of the Class of 2018 is also timely:

Headlined by top overall pick Isaiah Wynn, the projected starting left tackle from Georgia, the on-the-mend '18ers could potentially make an overall larger impact on the team than this year's rookies.

"Really good group. Really smart. They're very talented and have bright futures," veteran New England linebacker Kyle Van Noy said Tuesday. "They just have to keep on working. We have high expectations for them."

Similarly, Patriots coach Bill Belichick previously acknowledged that "we're excited to see how those guys will do this year," while adding that "hopefully we'll be able to get a much longer look at [them] than we were able to get last year."

Wynn had been gaining momentum last preseason, getting some work in practices with the starting unit, before he tore his Achilles tendon. All indications are that his rehabilitation has stayed on a positive course.

Similarly, fifth-round linebacker Ja'Whaun Bentley was seeing increased playing time before his season abruptly ended in Week 3 with a torn biceps. Like Wynn, he also is expected to be ready to go for the 2019 campaign.

In addition, second-round cornerback Duke Dawson Jr. opened the year on IR with a hamstring injury, and though he was designated to return, he never appeared in a game. Linebacker Christian Sam (sixth round, No. 178), wide receiver Braxton Berrios (sixth round, No. 210) and tight end Ryan Izzo (seventh round, No. 250) were the other picks to land on IR before the start of the regular season.

So by Week 4, running back Sony Michel (first round, No. 31) and cornerback Keion Crossen (seventh round, No. 243) were the only draft picks on the team's 53-man roster.

Having six draft picks on injured reserve was easily a league high last year, followed by the Washington Redskins (four). The Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, Detroit Lions and Jacksonville Jaguars each had three.

The recoveries and potential impact of the Patriots' Class of 2018 is one of the under-the-radar storylines as the team progresses through its voluntary offseason program, which is now in its fourth week. Wynn and Bentley are the most well-known picks, but it goes much deeper than the duo.

For example, the 5-foot-9, 190-pound Berrios could fill a notable need for a slot receiver to pair with 2019 first-round pick N'Keal Harry and Julian Edelman, among others. Berrios was a quick and shifty target at the University of Miami. But given that the Patriots hotly pursued slot receiver Adam Humphries in free agency, it might be an initial hint of their internal expectations.

Then there's the 6-foot-5, 255-pound Izzo, who could potentially fill Dwayne Allen's No. 2 tight end role from last season. That doesn't seem like an unreasonable thought, assuming Izzo continues to develop, as he showed enough promise to make the team's initial 53-man roster last year before being placed on IR the next day.

Sam's ability to play figures to be initially tied to special teams, where he could be given an opportunity to fill the roles held by veterans Ramon Humber and Albert McClellan in the second half of last season.

Dawson projects as a versatile defensive back whose strong tackling at Florida was one of his best assets, and thus, he could be tapped in a variety of packages in the team's ever-evolving defense.

So while much of the spotlight will shine on this year's rookie class, it's almost as if the Patriots have two crops of rookies to integrate.

A second year in a team's system, even if the first year was spent on IR, can be critical for development.

"It's big. Confidence level, knowing what's going on -- on the field and off the field -- just how to be a professional," Van Noy said, speaking from his own experience. "As a rookie, you get over from being a student-athlete to now you're a professional. I think when they understand they're a professional, that's when it just takes off for them."