We are one step closer to the 2017 NFL season: Later today (7:30 p.m. ET), the New England Patriots will host the Jacksonville Jaguars in the two teams’ preseason opener. And while plenty of stars are not projected to play tonight, the game will still give some indication about where the talent on the roster currently stands.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at five Patriots players who are worth taking a closer look at during the game:
QB Jimmy Garoppolo
Starting quarterback Tom Brady will reportedly sit tonight’s contest out, paving the way for backup Jimmy Garoppolo to start against Jacksonville. And while he did look good in this week’s two open joint practice sessions, Garoppolo’s training camp prior to the Jaguars coming to town was rather inconsistent. Whether or not he will be able to build on this momentum playing with the first-string offense (sans all the players that will not suit up) against Jacksonville’s top defense (sans all the players that will not suit up) will be one of the more interesting storylines to watch tonight.
The third tight end
Admittedly, this is stretching the definition of “player” a bit – but the battle for the third tight end spot is projected to be a close one that will only see (at best) one player emerge victoriously. Early in training camp, offseason acquisition James O’Shaughnessy has looked like the best of the bunch but Matt Lengel and Jacob Hollister will both likely get the chance to prove their value tonight. With Rob Gronkowski not playing, all three should see considerable snaps behind Dwayne Allen.
DE Deatrich Wise Jr.
Through the first two weeks of training camp, Deatrich Wise Jr. has been the Patriots’ best rookie. The fourth round draft pick out of Arkansas has looked good in both one-on-one battles and team drills and displayed strength at the point of attack, a sound technique and a wide range of pass rushing moves. Practice, however, is a relatively save space so it will be interesting to see how Wise Jr. performs in his first NFL game. And even though it is “only” preseason, it might give further indication about where he currently stands in his development.
DE Kony Ealy
While Wise Jr. has been a standout so far during training camp, fellow defensive edge Kony Ealy has failed to live up to expectations. The former Carolina Panther, who the Patriots acquired via trade this offseason, has struggled with inconsistency throughout the first 13 practice sessions; flashing his talents one moment but completely disappearing the next. His usage and performance tonight could therefore reflect his growth within the team’s system and his general standing on the roster – one, which he is no lock to make.
LB David Harris
With defensive captain Dont’a Hightower still on the PUP list, free agency signing David Harris is one of the players – together with Elandon Roberts and Jonathan Freeny – to see an increase in playing time. Harris has looked good during joint practices with the Jaguars and seeing him translate this from the practice fields to the game would be big for a New England linebacker corps that faces uncertainty ranging from Hightower’s injury history to the upside of Roberts, Kyle Van Noy and Shea McClellin and the uncertainty of rookie Harvey Langi.