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Sunday NFL Thoughts: Who is currently winning all the Patriots roster battles?

The Patriots have a few roster spots up for competition. Who has the inside edge?

1. The New England Patriots have an opening for the third tight end spot and it looks like it’s between James O’Shaughnessy, Jacob Hollister, and Sam Cotton since Matt Lengel has been unable to play.

O’Shaughnessy didn’t play in the first preseason game, but showed strong hands during the game and offers the best special teams ability. He lacks the yards after the catch ability of the others and isn’t the most dominant blocker, but he could be the most well-rounded.

Hollister followed up his excellent first preseason game with a quiet 4-yard outing. He was behind O’Shaughnessy in the depth chart, but that could have been related to a desire to see O’Shaughnessy’s first outing with the second-stringers. Hollister offers little value as a blocker and is raw on special teams, but is the best receiver of the group.

Cotton is the best blocker and offers quiet value as a receiver (he had a 7-yard catch against the Texans). He is also raw on special teams.

None of these players are perfect and the third tight end spot is far from settled, but I wouldn’t be surprised if O’Shaughnessy had the edge because of his special teams value and because he still offers some level of ability as a receiver and blocker. Hollister will have to show up in a major way in week three of the preseason to win a spot.

TE Rob Gronkowski played 14 snaps. He wasn’t targeted, but it was great to see him out there.

2. The Patriots running back competition is even more fun and it’s probably not even a competition. Mike Gillislee hasn’t played due to injury and James White was used on four snaps; both are roster locks.

Rex Burkhead was outstanding, picking up 70 yards and a touchdown on 10 touches. Dion Lewis had 43 yards on 8 touches. Brandon Bolden had 33 yards on 8 touches. D.J. Foster had 75 yards and a touchdown on 10 touches. All four players contribute on special teams and all four players can run, catch, and block.

Burkhead is a lock. Lewis should be a lock. But Bolden and Foster both deserve to be on the roster- or at least a roster- and have been playing lights out this preseason. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Patriots traded Lewis to help with the weak pass rush. Teams like the Philadelphia Eagles could use a player like Lewis and they have some extra edge players available.

3. WR Austin Carr deserves a lot of credit for what he’s done, but he hasn’t accomplished enough to be a threat for a roster spot. He had 31 yards against the Texans after picking up 44 yards and a touchdown against the Jaguars. He’s been solid, but players need to be transcendent against the preseason back-ups in order to win a roster spot.

I’m talking about D.J. Foster level transcendent, where it looks like a professional lining up against college players. Carr has incredible body control and strong hands, but he lacks the quickness of Patriots slot players like Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola. He needs to work on his suddenness if he’s going to make the roster.

4. CB Malcolm Butler had a terrible day at the office, allowing all five targets in his area to be completed for 71 yards and a touchdown. The touchdown wasn’t necessarily his entire fault; FS Duron Harmon was supposed to take the inside leverage in the end zone while Butler covered the outside, but Harmon trailed his receiver a little too far across the formation before passing him off to FS Devin McCourty and was unable to get back into position.

So while Butler is still responsible for covering the receiver, Harmon was supposed to be in the passing lane, but fell down and was unable to help.

In zone, defensive backs are supposed to make sure they carry their receiver to the next defender in the neighboring zone, though, so it’s not like Harmon did anything egregiously. This was just a well-designed play by the Texans that took advantage of the Patriots coverage.

I think that Justin Coleman is the most boom-bust of the Patriots cornerbacks, where he’s probably the best coverage guy of the players on the bubble (Cyrus Jones, Jonathan Jones, D.J. Killings, Kenny Moore) and he gets his hands on a lot of footballs, but he’s good for one bad coverage a game.

I think Cyrus Jones and Jonathan Jones still have the lead at cornerback, but Coleman shouldn’t be ignored.

5. EDGE Harvey Langi is my choice for “undrafted player to make the Patriots.” He played every defensive snap of the first half with the first and second string defense and he was asked to play the Dont’a Hightower role as the strongside linebacker in the 5-man front.

Langi wasn’t perfect and he was inconsistent, but he didn’t look like he was outmatched. He has the necessary physical abilities to play in the NFL; he just needs to continue developing his mental game. He will likely join Hightower, David Harris, Kyle Van Noy, and Shea McClellin as the linebackers on the roster.

It’s unknown if Elandon Roberts or Jonathan Freeny will make the team. They might if the team asks McClellin or Van Noy or Hightower to have a bigger role on the edge to supplement the pass rush.

6. QB Jacoby Brissett was 5/10 for 36 yards and a fumble. Last week he was 8/13 for 88 yards. He was unable to engineer a game-winning drive in either week with a total passer rating of 71.6. He has led one scoring drive in seven attempts. The opposing defenses deserve plenty of credit, but Brissett has left a lot to be desired on the field.

He doesn’t seem to be feeling pressure while in the pocket. He’s sailing what should be easy passes. He’s not showing great touch, completing just 1 of 6 passes thrown more than 15 yards down the field.

Brissett has a long way to go as an NFL quarterback and he needs to start showing progress. Quickly.