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Patriots 2018 roster projection: mid-preseason edition

Let’s try to project New England’s 53-man squad two weeks into preseason.

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at New England Patriots Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

The start of the 2018 regular season is only a little more than two weeks away and by that time, the New England Patriots will have reduced their roster from currently 89 to 53 players. This process, of course, includes some tough decisions – but the picture already is a clearer one than it had been two weeks ago, when we tried our first roster projection. With all that we have learned since then, let’s give it another shot:

Quarterback (2): Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer

No changes at the quarterback position when compared to the last projection: Tom Brady and Brian Hoyer are the top two at the position, with Brady the undisputed starter and Hoyer his trusted backup. Rookie Danny Etling has still not shown enough consistency and long-term potential to be kept around on the 53-man roster. And while he could find a home on New England’s practice squad, it is not a given at this point in time.

Running back (6): James White, Rex Burkhead, Sony Michel, Jeremy Hill, James Develin, Brandon Bolden

Sony Michel has still not returned to practice and will likely be limited early on during the season. As a result, the Patriots might keep an additional running back on their active roster – and just like two weeks ago, Jeremy Hill is the favorite to win that spot and serve as a rotational early-down and goal line back alongside Rex Burkhead. Brandon Bolden makes the team as an emergency option on offense and a core special teamer.

Wide receiver (5): Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett, Cordarrelle Patterson, Kenny Britt, Matthew Slater

Two weeks ago, Braxton Berrios was given the sixth wide receiver spot. Since then, however, the rookie did little to justify a role on the team while neither Eric Decker nor Riley McCarron were able to take advantage. It would therefore not be a surprise if New England opted to start the year with only four true wide receivers (plus core special teamer Matthew Slater) on the 53-man team until Julian Edelman re-joins the group after week four.

Tight end (3): Rob Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen, Jacob Hollister

There are no surprises at tight end – and no changes when compared to the last roster projection: Dwayne Allen currently seems to be safe as the number two option at the position, while training camp standout Jacob Hollister continues to offer intriguing potential as a pass catcher. Together with Rob Gronkowski, the duo forms a solid tight end group. Rookie Ryan Izzo, meanwhile, is a candidate for the practice squad.

Offensive line (8): Trent Brown, Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Marcus Cannon, Ted Karras, LaAdrian Waddle, Cole Croston

With first-round rookie Isaiah Wynn tearing his Achilles and headed for injured reserve, the Patriots could opt to fill his spot with another depth player that is able to play multiple spots. Enter Cole Croston, who spent last year on the team’s 53-man squad as well. While the second-year man is a clear downgrade from Wynn and needs to get back onto the field after sitting out last week’s game, he offers experience and versatility and could therefore make the cut once more.

Defensive tackle (5): Malcom Brown, Danny Shelton, Lawrence Guy, Adam Butler, Vincent Valentine

After spending all of 2017 on injured reserve, Vincent Valentine is seemingly being brought along slowly. But even though he currently appears to be the number five defensive tackle on the depth chart, his past success and potential upside as an interior defender should be enough for him to make the team as a rotational option – and over the undrafted rookies the team brought aboard this offseason.

Defensive edge (5): Trey Flowers, Adrian Clayborn, Deatrich Wise Jr., Derek Rivers, Keionta Davis

After missing all of 2017 due to a bulging disk in his neck, Keionta Davis is making positive strides in year two. The former undrafted rookie has seen considerable playing time over New England’s first two preseason contests and registered 1.5 sacks and 3 quarterback hits as a rotational pass rusher. While he is just the number five edge defender on the roster right now, Davis could very well find himself on the 53-man squad when it is all said and done.

Linebacker (5): Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Elandon Roberts, Ja’Whaun Bentley, Nicholas Grigsby

There is some turnover at the linebacker position when compared to the last projection thanks to the emerging Ja’Whaun Bentley and the kidney laceration suffered by Harvey Langi. The two developments change the composition of the group: Langi is now a candidate to get placed on injured reserve, while Bentley’s solid first two preseason contests against the run and the pass make Marquis Flowers expendable: Nicholas Grigsby saw more playing time during preseason and pushes him off the roster.

Cornerback (5): Stephon Gilmore, Eric Rowe, Jonathan Jones, Jason McCourty, Duke Dawson

One of the deepest positions on the roster got a lot deeper two weeks ago when New England activated Jonathan Jones and Cyrus Jones off the PUP list. Both are realistic candidates to make the team, with Jonathan getting the edge now because of him seeing more practice reps with the starting secondary upon his return. This comes at the expense of not only Cyrus Jones – who has a big week ahead of him – but also J.C. Jackson: the undrafted rookie did not quite live up to his training camp hype during the preseason games and could therefore be headed for the practice squad.

Safety (6): Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon, Jordan Richards, Brandon King, Nate Ebner

The safety group received an additional layer of depth two weeks ago, when Nate Ebner was activated off PUP. The kicking game ace is a lock to make the team, but has yet to play in a preseason game. And while he could theoretically challenge Jordan Richards’ spot on the roster as a rotational strong safety and core special teamer once he is fully back, it appears more likely that both Ebner and Richards make the 53-man team.

Specialists (3): Stephen Gostkowski, Ryan Allen, Joe Cardona

The three specialists remain unchanged when compared to the last roster projection. Both Stephen Gostkowski and Joe Cardona are safe, while Ryan Allen appears to be putting some distance between himself and challenger Corey Bojorquez: the rookie punter has yet to see the field during the preseason and could be headed for the practice squad to possibly take over for impending free agent Allen next year.

Reserve list (1): Julian Edelman (suspended)

Julian Edelman will miss the first quarter of the season due to suspension. He will be back on the field in week five, though, to add much-needed depth to the Patriots’ wide receiver group.