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Bill Belichick: Will be exciting to see second-year players

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- One point that Bill Belichick highlighted in his pre-draft news conference on Friday morning was the Patriots' history with players who had little playing time as rookies but became key contributors in their second year.

The candidates in 2018 are plentiful.

"This year, we have quite a few players who for one reason or another, various circumstances, didn't have a lot of production last year," Belichick said. "That may change this year. I don't know, but it will be interesting and it's exciting to see how they're doing, as well."

Belichick cited examples such as defensive end Trey Flowers, who played four snaps as a rookie in 2015 before emerging in 2016. Similarly, he noted running back James White (30 snaps as a rookie in 2014) in that category, along with quarterback Tom Brady (from fourth-string as a rookie in 2000 to starter in 2001).

As for this year, here are some of the top players to watch:

DE Derek Rivers -- The team's top draft pick last year, No. 83 overall, he seemed to be coming on during training camp when he tore his ACL. His 41 sacks at Youngstown State set a school record.

LT Antonio Garcia -- The Patriots traded up in the third round last year, giving up a fourth-round pick to do so, and grabbed Garcia 85th overall. He missed last season on the non-football illness list, but as a senior at Troy he was credited with more than 70 knockdown blocks and didn't allow a sack in more than 900 snaps.

DE Deatrich Wise -- The team's most productive rookie from last year's class, the fourth-round pick from Arkansas played 51.3 percent of the defensive snaps and had five sacks in the regular season. Perhaps that increases in 2018.

DT Adam Butler -- An undrafted free agent from Vanderbilt, he was one of the surprise stories of training camp, making the roster and then playing 43.7 percent of the defensive snaps. He had some of his best success as an interior pass rusher in passing situations, finishing the season with 18 tackles and two sacks.

OT Cole Croston -- An undrafted free agent from Iowa, he also surprised in training camp to earn a roster spot, with the Patriots keeping him on the 53-man roster all season. Croston played right guard and left tackle in the preseason, and as a backup was on the field for eight offensive snaps in the regular season (usually late in games).

TE Jacob Hollister -- Having shown toughness and concentration as a pass-catcher in the preseason, the undrafted free agent from Wyoming made the roster out of training camp, and played in 15 regular-season games as the No. 3 option behind Rob Gronkowski and Dwayne Allen. He totaled just 87 regular-season snaps on offense, but also factored into the special-teams mix.

OLB Harvey Langi -- Joining Butler, Croston and Hollister as undrafted players to make the team out of training camp, the 6-foot-2, 252-pound Langi played in one regular season game (six snaps) and then was involved in a car accident that landed him on the reserve/non-football illness list. He flashed at times in training camp as a pass-rusher and "contact" player.

PRACTICE SQUAD: The Patriots also have the following practice squad players returning in 2018, who also fall into the second-year player category: CB Jomal Wiltz, S David Jones, CB Ryan Lewis, S Damarius Travis, G Jason King, WR Cody Hollister and WR Riley McCarron.