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Can the Patriots make room for RB D.J. Foster a second season in a row?

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The Patriots gave Foster a red-shirt season in 2016. Can the team do that again in 2017?

The New England Patriots have done an incredible job assembling talent across the 90-man roster where it wouldn’t be a shock if 10 or more players wound up released by the Patriots and contributing to some other franchise in 2017.

There’s no position more stacked with talent than at running back, where all four of the players projected to make the roster could be considered a viable starter in the NFL. James White is a Super Bowl hero, Dion Lewis is one of the most electric players in the league, Mike Gillislee led the league in yards per carry over the past two seasons, and Rex Burkhead is a well-rounded backs with special teams upside.

And then there’s sophomore RB D.J. Foster, who the Patriots effectively gave a red shirt season in 2016. Foster was an undrafted player out of Arizona State and was active for just three games as a rookie as the fifth running back on the roster.

Foster is an extremely versatile player that played both running back and slot receiver in college and he flashed that ability as a rookie. Foster “briefly spent time practicing with the Pats receivers toward the end of the 2016 season,” per MassLive’s Kevin Duffy.

"I haven't stopped learning both," Foster said about playing receiver and running back. "Whatever the coach wants me to learn, whatever it is that day, whether I'm at receiver or running back, I try to learn as much as I can. I'll be better off for it."

Foster is a great player to have in practice for the scout team, but through multiple accounts, he has been a dominant figure during minicamp.

D.J. Foster “is one of the few players who seems unaffected by the weather in terms of catching the ball, and on Tuesday he made several catches on a variety of routes,” according to PFW’s Paul Perillo.

It would be difficult for the Patriots to stash Foster on the practice squad, but the Patriots are a deeper roster now than in 2016 and could struggle to find a roster spot for Foster. If Foster is good enough to be a potential piece of the future- both Burkhead and Lewis are free agents after the season- then he will have to emerge as a special teams contributor and a depth receiver.

Last year was the first time the Patriots finished the season with five running backs since the 2011 offense. If we group FB James Develin in with the tight ends, the Patriots usually hold four tight ends and five non-Matthew Slater wide receivers.

The addition of Jacoby Brissett marked the first time the Patriots held three quarterbacks since 2011, too, and the team responded by reducing the number of offensive linemen they held on the roster.

Foster appeared to take the roster spot of one of the tight ends, as Rob Gronkowski was on the injured reserve and the Patriots held just Martellus Bennett, Matt Lengel, and Develin.

If we look at the roster, we can assume the three quarterbacks are locks, as are the four running backs. The five non-Slater wide receivers are Julian Edelman, Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell, and Danny Amendola.

The Patriots will likely have four tackles (Nate Solder, Marcus Cannon, Cameron Fleming, Antonio Garcia) and four interior linemen (Joe Thuney, Shaq Mason, David Andrews, Ted Karras?) just like last season, and the tight ends project to be Gronkowski, Develin, and Dwayne Allen.

The Patriots offense could be very similar to the 2016 version as Burkhead and Gillislee will replace Brandon Bolden and LeGarrette Blount, Cooks will take Michael Floyd’s roster spot, Gronkowski will supplant Lengel, and Tony Garcia will take LaAdrian Waddle’s spot on the offensive line.

The only way for Foster to have a roster spot would be to beat out the other tight ends and offensive linemen for a job- and that’s assuming the Patriots don’t need to steal an offensive roster spot for the sake of bolstering the defense.

Jacob Hollister, Matt Lengel, James O’Shaughnessy, and Glenn Gronkowski are still in play to be the standard fourth tight end on the roster, while there are a host of offensive linemen that could be the ninth man- but don’t count out the Patriots stashing these tight ends and linemen on the practice squad like they did last season.

Foster could still have a place on this roster, just like he did last season, and he’ll have another preseason to show off his talent.