Summer is over and the new NFL season dawns upon us. Before the 2016 regular season is kicked off on Thursday, the league’s 32 clubs had to trim their rosters down to 53 players today. The New England Patriots released 20 players to get to the limit, while two more players’ suspensions – quarterback Tom Brady and edge defender Rob Ninkovich – officially started at 4:00 p.m. ET.
This means that the first 53-man roster – which is still not set in stone – looks as follows.
Jimmy Garoppolo, Jacoby Brissett
No surprises at the most important position on the roster. Garoppolo will start the first four games in place of Brady, while Brissett will be his primary backup. If all goes well, the rookie’s season should be a red-shirt campaign.
LeGarrette Blount, James White, James Develin (FB), Brandon Bolden, D.J. Foster
The team released Tyler Gaffney, which opened the door for D.J. Foster to make the team. He will likely work as the team’s number two option at receiving back behind James White, while potentially also being used as a returner on special teams.
Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell, Matthew Slater
After letting both Aaron Dobson and Keshawn Martin walk, the Patriots keep only four true receivers (plus special teamer Matthew Slater) on the roster. The good news? They did not need to keep more given that Danny Amendola will not start the year on PUP. The bad news? The position is still thin given the injury situations of Amendola and rookie Mitchell. Don’t be surprised if another receiver is added in the upcoming days.
Rob Gronkowski, Martellus Bennett, Clay Harbor, A.J. Derby
Harbor or Derby? Why not both? New England kept both and thus will likely start the season with four tight ends on the roster. This makes up a little for the lack of depth at wide receiver, while also giving the team a lot of able bodies to support the running game.
Nate Solder, Marcus Cannon, LaAdrian Waddle, Cameron Fleming
With starting right tackle Sebastian Vollmer on PUP, the team elected to keep both Waddle and Fleming as depth options behind the starting duo. While they were serviceable during preseason, New England could still upgrade the position’s depth and replace one or both.
Interior offensive line
Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Jonathan Cooper, Shaq Mason, Josh Kline, Ted Karras
Both 2015 interior offensive line draft picks made the initial roster. Thuney, who is penciled in as the starting left guard, is no surprise while Karras offers depth behind Cooper and Mason, who have both dealt with injuries this offseason. Once they are both fully healthy again, they will fight for the starting right guard spot – and might consequently make the rookie expandable.
Interior defensive line
Malcolm Brown, Alan Branch, Vincent Valentine, Anthony Johnson
Johnson earned his spot on the roster with a very good preseason performance. After the team let free agency acquisition Terrance Knighton walk during last week’s roster cutdowns, the question was whether he or Markus Kuhn could earn a depth role behind the three roster locks Brown, Branch and Valentine. Turns out, the higher-upside player Johnson won the battle.
Jabaal Sheard, Chris Long, Trey Flowers, Shea McClellin
Despite Ninkovich forced to start the season on the sidelines, second-year player Geneo Grissom was unable to earn a roster spot. His training camp and preseason performances were uneven and he therefore fell victim to the numbers game at the position. During Ninkovich’s absence, the talented rotation of Sheard, Long and Flowers – with versatile players like Shea McClellin and Barkevious Mingo thrown into the mix – will work on the edge.
Dont’a Hightower, Jamie Collins, Barkevious Mingo, Jonathan Freeny, Elandon Roberts
The top four were locks to make the team, so this left only one depth/special teams spot open. Roberts was able to earn it over fellow rookie Kamu Grugier-Hill. He will likely see the majority of his snaps in the kicking game.
Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan, Justin Coleman, Cyrus Jones, Jonathan Jones
While Cre’Von LeBlanc had a solid preseason, he was released with an injury designation today. This means that a) he could return to the Patriots on injured reserve and b) undrafted rookie Jonathan Jones is now the team’s fifth cornerback behind the four whose roles already appeared cast in stone prior to cutdowns.
Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon, Nate Ebner, Brandon King, Jordan Richards
No surprises here as both the defensive and special teams cornerstones survived roster cuts. So did Richards, who despite having an up-and-down preseason, returns as the Patriots’ fourth safety.
Stephen Gostkowski, Ryan Allen, Joe Cardona
With no competition in sight, the three were locks to return as New England’s kicking operation team as soon as the Naval Forces allowed Cardona to play this season.