The Patriots added 30 new players to the roster this offseason between trades, draft picks, undrafted free agents and veteran free agent signings which should create one of the most competitive training camps we’ve seen in awhile at Gillette Stadium.
Bill Belichick went to work after the Patriots’ loss in the Super Bowl, and although he might not be done adding to the 2018 roster, we now have a better idea of the 90 men that will be competing for 53 roster spots when training camp opens in July.
There are still many questions to be answered, but here’s my attempt at a way-too-early 53-man roster projection:
Offense (25 players)
QUARTERBACK (2): Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer, Danny Etling (Practice Squad)
The quarterback room stays the same for now. Brian Hoyer is still the team’s best option to backup Tom Brady. Danny Etling should clear waivers and return on the practice squad.
BACKFIELD (6): Sony Michel, James White, Rex Burkhead, Mike Gillislee, Brandon Bolden, James Develin, Ralph Webb (PS)
The odd man out is former Bengals running back Jeremy Hill. The Patriots signed Hill to a one-year deal back in March, but the cost would be minimal to cut the veteran running back. Hill has a chance to make the roster if he can beat out Mike Gillislee, but Gillislee showed more on tape over the last few seasons than Hill, which is what we’ll go off of until training camp starts. Brandon Bolden will make the roster until he can no longer contribute on special teams.
WIDE RECEIVER (7): Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett, Cordarrelle Patterson, Jordan Matthews, Braxton Berrios, Matthew Slater (ST), Malcolm Mitchell (PUP)
The wide receiver position will be one of the best camp battles to monitor this summer. The Patriots have 11 wide receivers that have a chance at a roster spot if you include Kenny Britt, Riley McCarron and rookie Chris Lacy with the names listed above. Edelman, Hogan, and Mitchell (in some capacity) are roster locks while Dorsett and Patterson are safe barring something unexpected. Matthews adds another big-bodied receiver that has produced in the past, and Berrios can help now as a punt returner/reserve slot receiver and in the future as a potential long-term replacement for Julian Edelman. An injury or trade might clear some things up at the position, but they could carry six wide receivers on the roster (plus Slater), and it wouldn’t be much of a surprise if Malcolm Mitchell starts the season on the PUP list. Open competition in training camp will decide the back end of the depth chart.
TIGHT END (2): Rob Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen, Jacob Hollister (PS), Ryan Izzo (PS)
To carry some depth at other positions only two tight ends make the roster out of camp. The Patriots don’t need a third tight end on the active roster. They have James Develin or six-man offensive line packages for blocking situations, and a slew of weapons in the passing game. Gronk will be a significant part of the offense now that he’s locked in for 2018, and veteran Dwayne Allen proved his worth as a steady reserve and strong run blocker last season. Plus, both Izzo and Hollister could return on the practice squad as depth in case of injury.
OFFENSIVE LINE (8): Isaiah Wynn, Marcus Cannon, Shaq Mason, David Andrews, Joe Thuney, LaAdrian Waddle, Trent Brown, Tony Garcia, Cole Croston (PS), Ted Karras (PS)
Here’s where rookie Isaiah Wynn’s versatility could help the Patriots when building the 53-man roster. Wynn’s ability to play either guard or tackle at a high-level will allow him to serve as an insurance policy on the interior while the Patriots hang onto their impressive tackle depth. The Patriots have a deep and talented group of offensive lineman, which means that a trade to bolster another position on the roster is in play. Barring any moves or injuries, Waddle, Brown, and Garcia each present enough upside as players to warrant roster spots. Garcia is also a candidate to start the season on the NFI list, but he’ll be ineligible for that designation as soon as he starts practicing with the team again. That could free up a spot for either Cole Croston or Ted Karras, but both will have to return on the practice squad for now.
Defense (25 players)
DEFENSIVE LINE (8): Trey Flowers, Malcom Brown, Danny Shelton, Lawrence Guy, Adrian Clayborn, Deatrich Wise, Derrick Rivers, Adam Butler
The depth chart along the defensive line looks significantly better with the additions of Danny Shelton, Adrian Clayborn, and Derrick Rivers. There are no major surprises here. The players in this group either have proven track records or high expectations coming off injury in the case of Rivers. Vince Valentine and Geneo Grissom are two veterans on the outside looking in and could make the roster if there’s an injury. Eric Lee also finds himself on the bubble this summer. Lee had a few impressive games last season but failed to have much of an impact down the stretch. He’s a long shot to make the roster if everyone is healthy.
LINEBACKER (5): Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Elandon Roberts, Christian Sam, Ja’Whaun Bentley
Rookies Ja’Whaun Bentley and Christian Sam may not be highly-touted draft picks, but they’ll breathe some new life into a weak position. The wild cards are Marquis Flowers and BYU linebacker Harvey Langi, who missed all of last season due to a tragic car accident. Langi is another candidate to start the season on the NFI list, and expectations should remain low given the circumstances. Flowers had his moments last season, and if the team wants to move on from Elandon Roberts, or one of the rookies is a disaster, he could make the roster.
CORNERBACK (6): Stephon Gilmore, Eric Rowe, Jason McCourty, Duke Dawson, Jonathan Jones, Keion Crossen
The clock finally strikes midnight on 2016 second round pick Cyrus Jones. Jones hasn’t been able to find his footing in the NFL, and a combination of injury and poor play have rendered his first two seasons useless. Electrifying rookie Keion Crossen has the makings of a hidden gem both at corner and on special teams, and his relentless motor will make Jones’ hesitant nature look even worse. Internally, the team may be pulling for Jones to make the roster, but I believe in Crossen’s talent, and think he’ll beat out Jones in training camp.
SAFETY (6): Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon, Jordan Richards, Nate Ebner (ST), Brandon King (ST)
Jordan Richards makes the team as a core special teamer and reserve safety. The Patriots’ depth at cornerback should push Richards off the field on defense, but he has a chance to stick around on special teams. New England didn’t add any impact players at the safety position this offseason, which means Richards hangs on for one more year.
SPECIALISTS (3): Stephen Gostkowski (K), Ryan Allen (P), Joe Cardona (LS)
The Patriots signed two punters as undrafted free agents following the draft, but it’s Allen’s job to lose. Gostkowski and Cardona are safe.