The New England Patriots have set their 90-man roster as they enter the 2017 NFL offseason and now is a perfect time to make a way-too-early prediction about the team’s 53-man active roster for the start of the regular season.
Tom Brady, Jimmy Garoppolo, Jacoby Brissett
These three players are locks to make the roster, barring an injury or a desperation trade by a different franchise that sells the farm for Garoppolo.
Running Backs (4)
Mike Gillislee, Rex Burkhead, James White, Dion Lewis
Brandon Bolden and D.J. Foster are cut, with Foster an ideal practice squad candidate. Burkhead can assume a similar special teams role as Bolden, but with greater offensive upside. Lewis is a surprise cut/trade candidate, but I believe he’ll be back to his old self with another year of recovery under his belt.
The Patriots signed Develin to a two-year deal to remain with the team this offseason. Glenn Gronkowski is a practice squad candidate.
Wide Receivers (5)
Julian Edelman, Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell, Danny Amendola
All five players should be roster locks based upon their contributions and salary hits. Undrafted rookie Austin Carr is a possible practice squad candidate and is my prediction for “preseason star that everyone hopes makes the roster.” Devin Lucien and Devin Street are also good camp bodies.
Tight Ends (3)
Rob Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen, Jacob Hollister
Gronkowski and Allen are locks, and I believe that Hollister’s youth gives him the edge over his competition. Michael Williams is returning from an ACL injury and has limited receiving ability, while Rob Housler and Matt Lengel present less upside. James O’Shaughnnesy is interesting due to his special teams ability and I believe that he and Hollister will battle for the final tight end roster spot.
Offensive Tackles (4)
Nate Solder, Marcus Cannon, Antonio Garcia, Cameron Fleming
These four players are solid choices to make the roster, with Solder a likely extension candidate. Garcia makes the team as a third round draft pick, while sixth round Conor McDermott is an option to stash on the practice squad. LaAdrian Waddle is the odd-man out from last year’s roster.
Offensive Interior Linemen (4)
Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Ted Karras
The Patriots should retain their same four interior linemen from 2016 and they should all be expected to take a step forward in their level of play.
The Patriots offense is generally balanced without too many roster battles. There are some players that deserve to be on an NFL roster- like Bolden and Waddle- that might not be able to crack the Patriots squad due to the quality depth.
The Patriots could also stash Carr or McDermott on the active roster just like they effectively red-shirted RB D.J. Foster in 2016.
Defensive Tackles (4)
Alan Branch, Malcom Brown, Lawrence Guy, Vincent Valentine
There should be no surprises here, although I think Woodrow Hamilton deserves a shot to play in the NFL. Hamilton and undrafted rookies Josh Augusta and Adam Butler are all practice squad candidates.
Edge Defenders (5)
Trey Flowers, Rob Ninkovich, Kony Ealy, Derek Rivers, Deatrich Wise Jr.
The Patriots will hold five edge defenders, unless there’s a surprise trade involving Ninkovich a la Mike Vrabel circa 2009, and that means that Geneo Grissom is on the outside looking in.
Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Elandon Roberts, Shea McClellin, Harvey Langi
Hightower is the most assured lock at the position, but the other four linebackers and Jonathan Freeny are battling for the final roster spots. I have Langi beating out Freeny, who is coming back from serious shoulder surgeries, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Langi was stashed on the practice squad. McClellin could also be the odd-person out due to his low ceiling, but his versatility and special teams ability makes him a valuable asset.
Stephon Gilmore, Malcolm Butler, Eric Rowe, Cyrus Jones, Jonathan Jones
These five players are my choices to make the team, with Justin Coleman an unfortunate roster cut. Coleman is the defensive version of LaAdrian Waddle in the sense that he was a healthy scratch for most of 2016 and the team might need that roster spot for another player. Undrafted rookie CB D.J. Killings is a practice squad candidate.
Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon, Nate Ebner, Jordan Richards
The first four names are easy roster locks, but Richards is my last man to make the roster and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Patriots decided to part ways. I still think Richards can contribute if given the chance, but he has a hard time making the game day roster.
The defense is pretty established at the top of the roster, with only a few roster battles in my mind: Justin Coleman or Jordan Richards? Jonathan Freeny or Harvey Langi? Other than those competitions, the defense is looking like an improved version of its #1 ranked 2016 squad.
Special Teams: 5
Stephen Gostkowski, Ryan Allen, Joe Cardona, Matthew Slater, Brandon King
No surprises here.
Which projections do you think I’ve missed? What are your guesses?