ESPN’s Mike Reiss had to conjure up a projected week 1 starting lineup for the New England Patriots and he has a few surprises up his sleeves that I thought were worth sharing.
Reiss predicts the Patriots starting interior line will be rookie Joe Thuney, veteran Bryan Stork, and the recently acquired Jonathan Cooper. Reiss says that the center competition between Stork and David Andrews “could go either way” and that Thuney will be competing with Josh Kline for the starting job. I’m surprised not to see Shaq Mason’s name not in the discussion after his stellar run in the postseason.
I think that the left guard position is a toss-up with Kline and Thuney, but I think that Kline played well enough last season (when he was healthy) that he warrants a starting spot at the other guard role. Cooper will have to have a great preseason to show that he deserves a starting spot and I’m really excited to see Mason in action.
Sophomore Malcom Brown rightfully has one starting position, but Reiss pairs him with free agent signing Terrance Knighton instead of Alan Branch. “When Knighton is healthy and motivated, he’s one of the NFL’s better players at the position,” Reiss says and he’s not wrong. Knighton is a fantastic run defender and should work well in a rotation with Branch.
But Branch was the starter last season for a reason and I wouldn’t be shocked to see him line up as the starter again this year. I wouldn’t go too far into the players that win the starting jobs, though, because this is going to be a rotation and I wouldn’t be shocked if Branch and Knighton have roughly the same amount of snaps.
Oh, and a Branch-Knighton duo would also wreak havoc on opposing interior lines, too, and I’d be excited to watch.
Reiss features a standard 4-3-4 base defense in his projection, which won’t happen since the Patriots played 83.5% of their defensive snaps with five or more defensive backs in 2015. But Reiss notably has Rob Ninkovich at defensive end, instead of at the linebacker position he practiced during OTAs, and has Jonathan Freeny as the third linebacker, instead of veteran acquisition Shea McClellin.
I should also note that Reiss lists sophomore Trey Flowers ahead of teammate Geneo Grissom as someone who could help on the edge, which is a nice vote of support for Flowers.
Personally, I’d list Cyrus Jones or Duron Harmon ahead of Freeny as a defensive starter because of the Patriots reliance of five defensive backs, but I’m sure Reiss had a format he had to fill.