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Sunday NFL Thoughts: Last 4 players to make Patriots roster; RB, WR, TE, LB analysis

The Patriots had to make some tough decisions, but here’s why they made four surprise moves on Saturday.

1. Pulpiteer DNOMN8R314 wrote a fascinating review of the 53-man roster projections from around the league and discovered that the most common projections managed to get 49 of 53 Patriots players correct.

These are the upsets from yesterday’s roster cuts

LB Elandon Roberts over LB Kamu Grugier-Hill. KGH appeared on more roster predictions than any other player that didn’t make the squad. The Patriots love what Roberts brings to the table on defense, due to his instincts and heart, and there are only so many pure special teams players the team can hold.

WR Danny Amendola over WR Keshawn Martin. The Patriots didn’t have to keep just four wide receivers, but the expectation was for Amendola to go on the Physically Unable to Perform list. If Amendola were healthy this offseason, I wonder if this would be considered as much of an upset.

CB Jonathan Jones over CB Cre’Von LeBlanc. LeBlanc injured his hip prior to the final preseason game, and I should also note that Darryl Roberts was waived/injured and could revert to the Patriots injured reserve if he clears waivers. Jones is the superior special teams option, and that might have been the deciding factor.

TE Clay Harbor over ED Geneo Grissom. Hear me out: Harbor and Grissom are both special teams players due to the depth chart. Harbor is better on offense than Grissom is on defense. That is why this decision was made.

No other player was on 50% of the roster projections (Aaron Dobson was a hair below the threshold). Every bubble move has a reason.

2. The Patriots have decided to retain four tight ends and a fullback: Rob Gronkowski, Martellus Bennett, AJ Derby, Clay Harbor, and James Develin. That’s a lot of beef and I wonder if the aim is to help the run game and reduce the pressure on QB Jimmy Garoppolo.

We’ve covered the Patriots 4-tight end goal line package that was featured last season- and one that disappeared once the team sent Michael Hoomanawanui to the Saints for Akiem Hicks. The play was extremely productive and I’m sure that Bill Belichick appreciates the flexibility it guarantees the offense.

3. The Patriots are going without a back-up for LeGarrette Blount. Again. This year’s depth chart at running back is basically the same, with D.J. Foster taking Dion Lewis’ place. This decision bit the Patriots when Blount went down with an injury because there was no one available to run between the tackles.

Can Foster show that he’s a stronger runner than James White is? Brandon Bolden actually looked pretty good in the preseason, prior to an ugly fumble- perhaps he’s an option. I would expect the Patriots to stash a running back on the practice squad this year, just in case.

4. The Patriots currently have just four true wide receivers on the roster in Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Chris Hogan, and Malcolm Mitchell (Matthew Slater doesn’t count) and three of those players are dealing with injuries. While the Patriots can compensate in the short term with the tight ends and their ability to flex out to the sideline, I would expect the Patriots to add another wide receiver to the mix.

Luckily, the team is holding an extra offensive lineman on the roster in Ted Karras. Karras will likely be released to the practice squad once Jonathan Cooper (foot) and Shaq Mason (hand) are ready to go in the next week or two. This makes it easy enough for the Patriots to add a wide receiver without having to cut from a necessary position.

5. I’m a little surprised by Elandon Roberts making the team over Kamu Grugier-Hill, but I totally get the reasoning. Jonathan Freeny just signed an extension to be the Patriots’s special teams linebacker and, well, that’s the whole story. The Patriots have Slater, Freeny, Nate Ebner, Brandon King, and a good percentage of Brandon Bolden as pure special teams players, while fringe players Jonathan Jones, Barkevious Mingo, James Develin, and Clay Harbor will all be core special teams players.

KGH just didn’t have enough of a role on defense to justify keeping him around for his special teams ability, while Roberts showed that he has the capability and a bright future as a linebacker. That said, Roberts could be a fairly easy release in the next couple of weeks if the Patriots want to sign a player off the street.