Deatrich Wise Jr. stood out among Patriots' smaller rookie class

The New England Patriots had four picks in the 2017 NFL draft, although they received some significant contributions from undrafted players during the regular season. One reason for the limited number of draft selections was the trading of the last pick of the first round to the New Orleans Saints in the deal for receiver Brandin Cooks. So, in a sense, Cooks' presence needs to be accounted for when assessing the rookie class.

Grade: Average

Best rookie: Deatrich Wise Jr. The fourth-round pick out of Arkansas played in all 16 games, helping the team's thin situation at defensive end by playing 51.3 percent of the snaps and finishing with 26 tackles and five sacks. At 6-foot-5 and 271 pounds, Wise arrived with an NFL-type physical makeup. He has been most effective while using his above-average arm length to get into opposing blockers as a pass-rusher; the team is mostly using him in sub packages in that type of pass-rushing role. His upbeat demeanor is helping to lead the rookie class.

Most improved rookie: Adam Butler. The undrafted defensive tackle out of Vanderbilt is one of the surprise stories of the season, first making the initial 53-man roster and then playing in all 16 games -- on 43.7 percent of the defensive snaps -- to finish with 19 tackles and two sacks. The 6-foot-4, 300-pound Butler has good length and athleticism and is still growing into the position after switching from offensive line to defensive line as a freshman in college.

Most disappointing rookie: With such a limited pool from which to choose, there truly isn't one. But if forced to pick, the most disappointing aspects of the Patriots' rookie class were injuries and illness. Third-round defensive end Derek Rivers tore his ACL in preseason, and an undisclosed ailment led third-round offensive tackle Tony Garcia to be placed on the non-football illness list before the season.

Jury is still out on ...: Rivers and Garcia. Rivers, who set the Youngstown State record for career sacks, had been flashing some promise before his ACL injury. Garcia was projected to need a year of development; while he has been able to work in the weight room, this has otherwise been a lost year for him in terms of on-field progress because he hasn't been able to practice. Those two players could be a big part of the Patriots' future, but how they respond to having significant setbacks will be critical.

Undrafted rookie evaluation: Tight end Jacob Hollister (Wyoming) made solid strides on special teams and played 7.6 percent of the offensive snaps as a No. 3 option. He finished with four catches for 42 yards and demonstrated a commendable level of toughness. Offensive lineman Cole Croston (Iowa) is being groomed for the future, as this is essentially a redshirt year for him. Outside linebacker Harvey Langi (Brigham Young) showed promise in training camp but was involved in a car accident that landed him on the non-football injury list after he had appeared in just one game.