Between trades, free agency and the draft, the New England Patriots have brought in an interesting collection of reinforcements as they go after championship No. 7 next season.

Between viewing one optional training session and the three-day minicamp, we had a chance to see these players and get a better idea how they might contribute.
Training camp will provide the best source for evaluating players, especially with full pads going on. But based on what we’ve seen and what we know, which members of the new cast will have the most impact?

At this stage here are the top five players we believe will provide the biggest bang, starting with the honorable mentions and proceeding in descending order.

Honorable Mention:

Sitting outside the top five are defensive tackle Mike Pennel, rookie defensive end Chase Winovich, rookie cornerback JoeJuan Williams and tight end Matt LaCosse. Of the group, Pennel was the toughest call. He should crack the top five down the road. The former Jet is a beast and will help up front stuffing the run. As for Williams, he got beat in coverage a few times but it was hard to totally assess him without contact allowed. Given what he brings with his physicality and height (6-foot-3), he figures to be an interesting matchup defender in Coach Bill Belichick’s defense. What stood out for Winovich beyond his long hair was effort. He practices hard. But in a non-contact setting, it was tough to gauge his pass-rush ability. Need to see more. With Ben Watson serving a four-game suspension, LaCosse likely will start at tight end. He can catch and run a seam route. He could surprise and be a factor. Not convinced just yet.

5. N’Keal Harry

His talent is obvious. Some plays he made during OTAs and minicamp were spectacular. He could be a hugely impactful player for the offense. And the Patriots surely see that potential and want to tap into it. But he’s very much a work in progress. He still needs to learn about being a wide receiver in the New England offense, about precise route running and hitting the exact depth. Harry was given a lot of coaching help, not to mention pointers from teammates, namely Julian Edelman, on some of the nuances. He was involved in side sessions with quarterback Tom Brady and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels every day, and for good measure had to deal with Stephon Gilmore in his grill in coverage. We’ll see how quickly he can adapt and put it all together. Once he does and gains Brady’s trust, he could be a real difference-maker in the offense.

4. Maurice Harris

He got people’s attention given he was with the first group consistently, played in the slot and made plays all over the field. He caught everything Brady threw his way, long or short. Most impressive was how well he high-points the ball and tracks it in the air. He made a number of contested catches.

At 6-foot-3, 200 pounds, with an early chemistry with Brady and making it all look easy, the former Washington receiver could have an instant impact. Harris said he was enjoying the process of getting to know Brady and getting better with him every day. But he didn’t want to make too much of their quick connection. He knows there’s still a lot of work ahead.

“I’m just trying to perform the best I can and learn,” he said after the first minicamp practice. “The speed of the game is pretty fast so I’ve just got to continue to pick up on the plays and the defenses, and stuff like that.”

3. Damien Harris

Sony Michel’s absence from minicamp allowed Harris to gain some important reps and get comfortable with the offense. It was also a reminder that it’s probably not realistic to ask Michel to carry a huge workload. The second-year running back recently underwent a scope on one of his two balky knees, a source confirmed last week. Someone else is going to have to carry the rock and Harris looks to be a worthy fill-in. The third-round pick should get his share of valuable carries this fall and catch a few passes. He did have a few drops during the glorified passing camp, but seemed like a good enough pass catcher who would provide a semblance of run-pass unpredictability when he’s in the backfield.

2. Michael Bennett

While he didn’t attend any of the voluntary workouts, Bennett left his training perch in Hawaii for mandatory minicamp. He seemed to enjoy his first chance to get to know his teammates and be a part of a team with so many championships, as well as a history of star players on defense.

Bennett, who is 33 and an 11-year veteran of the NFL, is determined to show he can still be an effective player as he gets older. Last season he had nine sacks for the Eagles. He can play defensive end and tackle and is a good fit in the Patriots’ defense.

“Everything’s good,” Bennett said. “Great coaches, great players around. Definitely high standards out here, and that’s what I’m used to. When I was a young kid, I always used to like watching the Patriots play on defense, and now I got a chance to be here. It just feels really good.”

1. Jamie Collins

It was hard not to notice Collins at minicamp. He was one of the better defensive players. He was active and often disruptive whether it was batting down passes or making quarterbacks alter their throws with his long arms. He was especially a royal pain to Brady, getting in passing lanes. Collins also was used on special teams with the punting units. He seemed highly motivated during the three-day mandatory camp and given his ability, that again should translate very well in Belichick’s defense. If Collins stays the course, he’ll have a significant impact, particularly covering backs and tight ends, and blitzing. He only signed a one-year deal that could be worth up to $5 million. There wasn’t much guaranteed money so it’s a prove-it kind of deal. Based on his efforts in minicamp, bringing him back will prove extremely beneficial. You never can have enough difference-makers in the defense.

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