After going through and analyzing the Patriots roster from the offensive side of the ball, it’s time to take a look at the defense. For this series, there will be four categories: “roster lock”, “good shot”, “on the bubble” and “long-shot”.
“Roster lock” is pretty self-explanatory. “Good shot” means that a player isn’t necessarily a “lock” but is in good standing. “On the bubble” means a player has a fighting shot to make the team but will have to impress in order to make the team. And lastly, “long-shot” means they are more likely to be a “camp body” than have a real shot at making the team, but could have a shot if they blow away expectations in training camp/regular season.
With that, let’s look at the 41 defensive players currently on roster and dissect their odds of making the team come week one.
Roster locks: Kony Ealy, Trey Flowers, Derek Rivers [R], Deatrich Wise Jr. [R], Rob Ninkovich, Alan Branch, Malcom Brown, Vincent Valentine, Lawrence Guy, Shea McClellin, Kyle Van Noy, Dont’a Hightower, Elandon Roberts, Stephon Gilmore, Malcolm Butler, Eric Rowe, Cyrus Jones, Patrick Chung, Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon (20)
Breakdown: five defensive ends, four defensive tackles, four linebackers, four cornerbacks, three safeties
- There are no real surprises on this list. Both rookie draft picks, Rivers and Wise add to the now-solid depth at defensive end, along with new addition Ealy. Guy adds a very valuable piece to the already stout defensive tackle rotation. The linebacker core of Hightower, Van Noy, McClellin and Roberts will stay the same.
- Gilmore and Butler will be the starting outside corners while Rowe is their number three corner. Jones is only a year removed from being a second round pick. While disappointing on defense and special teams, the team is not even close to giving up on him. And the top three safeties, Chung, McCourty and Harmon will be back.
Good shot: Harvey Langi [R], Jonathan Jones, Brandon King, Nate Ebner (four)
Breakdown: one linebacker, one cornerback, two safeties
- After giving $115,000 guaranteed, which is almost unheard of for an undrafted free agent, coupled with the Patriots having their eye on him for some time, it’s hard not to envision Langi having a good shot at making the team as of right now. The team could use him as a rotational linebacker who can play in coverage, against the run and also rush the passer.
- Jones was a 2016 undrafted free agent who made the team with his special team prowess and even earned some snaps on defense towards the end of the season. Not only is he a special teams dynamo, he could get some looks in training camp for the vacant slot cornerback role on the team.
- Both King and Ebner are key special teams players who offer little to nothing on defense. Nevertheless, their roster spots should be pretty much set in stone.
On the bubble: Geneo Grissom, Woodrow Hamilton, Jonathan Freeny, D.J. Killings [R], Justin Coleman, Jordan Richards (six)
Breakdown: one defensive end, one defensive tackle, one linebacker, two cornerbacks, one safety
- Grissom & Hamiton bounced around from the active roster to the practice squad in 2016. The team added depth at both defensive end and defensive tackle, so both will need to have good training camp/preseason performances for any shot at making the final roster. Freeny is coming off major surgery and may be on the outside looking in with Langi in the mix and the team having a core in place at linebacker.
- Killings and Coleman could be competing for one spot on the roster. Killings is an undrafted free agent who comes highly recommended for his work ethic and football IQ. Coleman was a healthy scratch for a good part of the 2016 regular season and all of the postseason. This battle could come down to who shows better ability to play in the slot.
- Richards has been a bust to this point as a former second round draft pick. He has struggled on defense and offers little on special teams. The team didn’t add any serious competition for his role backing up Chung, but he is far from a roster lock at this point.
Long shot: Corey Vereen [R], Josh Augusta [R], Darius Kilgo, Adam Butler [R], Trevor Bates, Brooks Ellis [R], Kenny Moore [R], Dwayne Thomas [R], David Jones [R], Jason Thompson [R], Damarius Travis [R] (11)
Breakdown: one defensive end, three defensive tackles, two linebackers, one cornerback, four safeties
- With rather solid cores in place at defensive end, tackle, linebacker and cornerback, it’ll be hard for many rookies to have a shot at making the team’s final roster. Vereen has 13 sacks and 26 tackles for a loss over his career at Tennessee but is a tad undersized at only 6’1”, 255 lbs. Augusta is far from the same as he stands 6’4”, 350 lbs. He flashes serious talent but has struggled with conditioning and consistency. The defensive tackle depth chart is in great shape, so it’ll be hard for him to crack.
- Both Butler and Kilgo don’t stand much of a shot either as they both project as training camp bodies/depth more than anything. Bates is a practice-squad lifer at this point while Ellis has good chops on special teams. But with Slater, J. Jones, Ebner and King projected to make the roster for mostly if not all special teams related work, it’s hard to see the team use another spot for someone who will likely only contribute on special teams.
- Moore hails from division two Valdosta State, where he finished with 11 interceptions in college. At a loaded position with a lot of competition already, Moore’s size (5’9”) and jump in opponent’s talent level is working against him.
- The Patriots are set at free safety moving forward with both McCourty and Harmon. But their strong safety needs a back-up to Chung. Richards has the upper-hand but Travis could have the best chance of making the roster of the four undrafted free agent safeties in this category. Jones and Thompson are more free safeties while Thomas is more of a slot corner/special teams contributor. Travis played strong safety and showed his ability to play close to the line of scrimmage, in the box and in coverage as well.