While the Patriots did their usual “wheeling and dealing” on draft weekend, it was rather uneventful compared to years past. The team only made four draft picks, which is not only the lowest amount during Bill Belichick’s reign, but a franchise low as well. With that comes a good amount of undrafted free agent signings as there are a reported 18 of them. Combined between the draft selections and signings, it’s time to take a look at a few veterans who could lose their roster spot to a rookie.
1. Linebacker Jonathan Freeny (biggest threat: Harvey Langi): Freeny is coming off major shoulder surgery after playing five rather ineffective games (four starts). In 2016, he finished with 10 tackles and one forced fumble before being placed on injured reserve. The Patriots didn’t make many additions to their linebacker corps during the offseason but already have decent depth at the position (Dont’a Hightower, Elandon Roberts, Kyle Van Noy and Shea McClellin). Freeny was not guaranteed a roster spot come week one even before the addition of Harvey Langi.
Langi was a priority free agent for New England, who have been linked to him for quite some time. Among defensive lineman (Langi played both outside linebacker and defensive end), Langi was a top performer in the 20 yard shuttle (4.32, fifth), 60 yard shuttle (11.82, fourth), three-cone drill (7.00, sixth) and broad jump (33 inches, tied for 10th). A former running back, Langi is still very raw at the position but has a lot of upside after having 123 tackles, 11.5 for loss, 6.5 sacks, 2 interceptions, 3 passes defended, and 1 forced fumble over the past two seasons.
Don’t be surprised if the Patriots opt for the long-coveted Langi over Freeny, who is coming off of an injury and in the last season of his deal.
2. Offensive tackle LaAdrian Waddle (biggest threat: Antonio Garcia): This is a rather easy one. Waddle, who functions as the Patriots number four offensive tackle, was only active for two games over the past season. And in those two games, Waddle did nothing to showcase he was anything more than end-of-the-roster depth. In the last year of his contract, the Patriots aren’t nearly in as dire of a situation as they were last season with the additions of Garcia and Conor McDermott.
Garcia is expected to come in and function as the team’s number four tackle if not take the role of swing tackle from Cameron Fleming. As it stands, there would be six offensive tackles on the roster, which there is no way the team will keep that many. They may keep five (Nate Solder, Marcus Cannon, McDermott, Garcia, Fleming) but there is no way they keep six. Waddle is on the outside looking in at this point.
3. Tight end Matt Lengel (biggest threat: Jacob Hollister): After being claimed off of waivers halfway through the 2016 season, Lengel was forced to function as the team’s number two tight after injuries to Rob Gronkowski and Michael Williams. With Gronkowski seemingly healthy again and acquiring Dwayne Allen along with James O’Shaughnessy, the Patriots are more set at depth heading into the season. For Lengel, he is at best fighting for the number four tight end job if everyone else stays healthy.
Enter undrafted free agent Jacob Hollister, who tested very well at 6’4”, 240 pounds with a 4.64s 40 yard dash, 10’1 broad jump, and 7.12 three cone. He was heavily sought after by the Patriots. So much so that he was given a $10,000 signing bonus and had $80,000 of his salary guaranteed, an unheard of amount for an undrafted free agent. Hollister is highly-athletic who has a real chance at making the team if he performs well in training camp. That would be bad news for someone like Lengel, who doesn’t possess nearly the upside that someone like Hollister does.
4. Wide receiver Danny Amendola (biggest threat: Austin Carr): While it may seem unlikely to believe that Amendola would still be on the roster bubble after agreeing to yet another contract restructuring, I still believe Amendola is not “safe”. Amendola is certainly a reliable set of hands, but he has had issues with staying on the field and providing consistent contributions. In 2016, Amendola only had 23 receptions over 12 regular season games and returned 18 punts for a 6.7 yards per return average. With the Patriots particularly “loaded” at wide receiver with Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell and Brandin Cooks, the team can afford to take a chance on a developmental receiver if they choose to.
Enter Austin Carr, who Pro Football Focus made an argument for being the “top slot wide receiver in college football.” Carr exploded onto the scene with 90 receptions, 1,247 yards and 12 touchdowns in the 2016 season. He produced almost exclusively out of slot and showed great ability in that role. A role in which Amendola plays nearly exclusive at. Carr had been speculated as a “Patriots-type of player” for quite some time, even by our own Rich Hill. It only makes sense the Patriots would pursue Carr and eventually get him to sign.
His upside seems to be (in theory) greater than what Amendola brings to the table, considering his minimal role and lack of upgrade at special teams. Amendola’s inability to stay healthy works against him here as well, who seems to be dealing with some sort of injury or ailment most of the time. This may be more of a long-shot than the others on this list, but don’t be surprised if this happens.
5. Cornerback Justin Coleman (biggest threat: D.J. Killings): Coleman was simply a non-factor in 2016. He was a healthy scratch in six out of the 16 games during the regular season and every game in the postseason. And when he did play, he only accumulated three pass deflections with zero interceptions to boot. And with the addition of Stephon Gilmore, the retention of Malcolm Butler (for 2017, at least) and the emergence of Jonathan Jones, there simply isn’t enough room for a player who can’t contribute when on the field.
D.J. Killings is a player the Patriots had their eye on, as they brought him in for a visit during the pre-draft process. And they also provided him with $31,000 guaranteed when they signed him to a contract, more than what an undrafted free agent would get by a good amount. His speed at his Pro Day (4.38s 40-yard-dash) and strength (22 bench presses) caught the eye of teams, especially the Patriots.
One of Killings strengths is his work ethic and football I.Q., which fellow UCF cornerback Shaq Griffin talked about at their Pro Day. “D.J. is a genius in the room,” Griffin said. “To me, that’s who led our room. That’s the person I went to. When I didn’t know something I’m going to D.J. first. And that’s what he brings to a team. Killings’ attributes as a developmental player may be worth the Patriots keeping over a rarely-used player like Coleman.
6. Defensive end Geneo Grissom (biggest threat: Deatrich Wise Jr): After selecting Rivers in the third round, the Patriots chose to double dip and select another edge rusher in Arkansas’ Deatrich Wise. Wise, who accumulated 23 tackles for a loss, 16.5 sacks, six pass deflections and four forced fumbles over his five year career with the Razorbacks, was a fourth round selection by the Patriots. Wise’s length (6’5”, 35 inch arm length) and power has helped him develop him game into an edge-setting, power-rush defensive end.
Grissom, a 2015 third round pick, has not panned out the way the Patriots had hoped. He was actually released by the team just before the season started in 2016, only to find his way back onto the 53-man roster after serving on the practice squad for awhile. In his two-year career so far, Grissom has only accumulated one sack and five tackles.
The Patriots have some depth at EDGE with Trey Flowers, Kony Ealy, Rivers, Ninkovich (occasionally) and now Wise. Grissom has stalled in his development and may have already hit his ceiling (which appears to be very low) while Wise has the upside to turn into a serviceable rotational pass-rusher, if not more. Grissom could very well be ticketed for the practice squad yet again in 2017 (assuming he passes through waivers) while Wise has the chance to produce in his rookie season.