Here's a look at how the Patriots first-year players are faring through seven games:
CB Devin McCourty (first round): The corner had his best game, asserting himself as the team's top corner. Against the Vikings, McCourty was Johnny-on-the-spot, ripping a bobbled ball from WR Percy Harvin and returning it 37 yards. He had three passes defensed on the game, as well. The physical rookie got high praise from head coach Bill Belichick after the game.
TE Rob Gronkowski (second round): Gronkowski was targeted three times but had just one reception for five yards on the day. It was a little surprising, though, not to see him targeted during a couple of trips inside the five-yard line. Gronk can get credit for his run blocking as the Pats ran for 122 yards.
OLB Jermaine Cunningham (second round): Cunningham seems to be setting the edge the way the Pats' brass expected when he won the starting role. He had three tackles, including one for loss, and a QB hit in the Pats' victory. He got credit for a big stop on RB Adrian Peterson, keeping him out of the endzone on 4th-and-goal.
ILB Brandon Spikes (second round): Along with his fellow Gator, Spikes got credit for coming up to stop Peterson dead in his tracks, giving the Patriots all the momentum heading into halftime. He recorded seven tackles, including one for loss, and is now second on the team in tackles. Spikes is consistently on the field in the Pats' base package and helping their run defense.
TE Aaron Hernandez (fourth round): Someone finally found a way to slow Hernandez down. He had just two catches for 33 yards, the least productive game of his season so far. But both catches produced solid yardage for the Patriots. Along with Gronkowski, Hernandez deserves some credit for the Pats' successful rushing attack in the second half.
P Zoltan Mesko (fifth round): The Michigan grad is third in the league with a net punting average of 40.6 yards. Last year, the Patriots ranked near the bottom of the league in the category, so Mesko is certainly helping win the field-position battle. Against the Vikings he had five punts, dropping one inside the 20 and averaging over 47 yards a punt. Only one punt was returned, for just seven yards.
DE Brandon Deaderick (seventh round): Deaderick got the start again, this time at left end. He finished the day with two tackles and continues to attract double-teams. Deaderick's size is helping the Pats' run defense and allowing for linebackers to make plays.
LB Dane Fletcher (undrafted free agent): Fletcher came on a delayed blitz and knocked QB Brett Favre to the ground, recording a QB hit and forcing an incomplete pass. Fletcher is very fast and now seems to be a consistent player in the Pats' sub package.
Notes: WR Taylor Price (third round) and DL Kyle Love (UFA) were held inactive.