There is only one game left on the New England Patriots’ preseason schedule – tonight’s meeting with the New York Giants –, and it will likely not impact the subsequent roster cutdowns all too much. We can therefore give predicting the team’s opening day roster one last shot. If the past two projections are any indication, though, expect New England to make some kind of move soon to destroy it.
Let’s take a look:
Quarterback (2): Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer
The quarterback position remains unchanged: Tom Brady and Brian Hoyer are the top two at the position, with Brady the undisputed starter and Hoyer an experienced backup. Rookie Danny Etling has still not shown enough consistency and long-term potential to be kept around on the 53-man roster. He could find a home on New England’s practice squad, but even that 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 returned to the practice fields earlier this week but might still be limited early on during the season. As a result, the Patriots would be smart to keep an additional running back on their active roster – and as has been the case over the last two projections, Jeremy Hill is the favorite to be that guy and serve as a rotational early-down and goal line back alongside Rex Burkhead. James White and James Develin are locks, 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, Riley McCarron, Matthew Slater
Last week’s projection had Kenny Britt make the team, and Eric Decker fighting for his roster life. Both are no longer with the Patriots due to release and (Britt) retirement (Decker). While New England could enter the season with just three pure wideouts plus special teams ace Matthew Slater on the 53-man squad, a fifth player should be expected on the team. Of the men currently on the roster, Riley McCarron seems to be that player due to his solid training camp and versatility as a punt returner. However, seeing the team use a trade or free agency acquisition to fill that fifth spot would not be a surprise at all.
Tight end (3): Rob Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen, Jacob Hollister
There are no surprises at tight end and no changes when compared to the last two roster projections: Dwayne Allen still seems to be safe as an experienced blocking tight end, while training camp standout Jacob Hollister continues to offer intriguing potential as a pass catcher – especially considering the state of the wide receiver position. Together with Rob Gronkowski, the duo forms a solid tight end group. Rookie Ryan Izzo is a candidate for the practice squad.
Offensive line (8): Trent Brown, Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Marcus Cannon, Ted Karras, LaAdrian Waddle, Ulrick John
This week’s projection sees a minor change along the offensive line. The spot previously occupied by first-round rookie Isaiah Wynn no longer gets filled by Cole Croston but by Ulrick John. The offseason signing had a mostly solid preseason and saw snaps with the starting offensive line during last week’s game against the Carolina Panthers: he was the first man off the bench at right tackle. Croston, meanwhile, hardly saw the field at all and appears to be one of the odd men out.
Defensive tackle (4): Malcom Brown, Danny Shelton, Lawrence Guy, Adam Butler
One of the toughest cuts is Vincent Valentine. The former third-round draft pick, who spent all of 2017 on injured reserve, was brought back slowly but still seems to be considerably behind the top four at the defensive tackle position. While he could make the cut based on talent and an encouraging rookie season in 2016, the Patriots might opt to bolster their depth elsewhere in hopes of stashing Valentine on the practice squad.
Defensive edge (5): Trey Flowers, Adrian Clayborn, Deatrich Wise Jr., Derek Rivers, Keionta Davis
While the top four on the defensive edge are set in stone, the fifth man behind them is still fighting for a roster spot: Keionta Davis’ odds of making the team, however, look good after he again played considerable snaps with the starters last week. The second-year man, who registered 1.5 sacks and three quarterback hits through preseason so far, has been a pleasant surprise after missing all of last year due to a bulging disk in his neck. Davis appears to be a serious contender for a roster spot let alone one on the practice squad.
Linebacker (5): Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Ja’Whaun Bentley, Elandon Roberts, Marquis Flowers
The Patriots have three roster locks at the position with Elandon Roberts a rather safe bet to join them. Behind those four players, Nicholas Grigsby and Marquis Flowers are fighting for the final roster spot. Grigsby made the cut during last week’s projection, but he is left off this week after Flowers saw considerable playing time against the Panthers. The reasoning behind it, other than Flowers having more experience as a defender and equal potential on special teams: Grigsby is still eligible to make the practice squad, Flowers is not.
Cornerback (6): Stephon Gilmore, Eric Rowe, Jonathan Jones, Jason McCourty, Duke Dawson, Cyrus Jones
Cyrus Jones was left off the team last week, but a solid third preseason game pushes him up and onto the squad as a sixth cornerback and option as a punt returner – especially if Riley McCarron still gets replaced. Undrafted rookie cornerback J.C. Jackson, who did not quite live up to his training camp hype during the preseason, is a tough cut but one that could easily find its way onto New England’s 10-man practice squad.
Safety (6): Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon, Jordan Richards, Brandon King, Nate Ebner
The safety group remains unchanged, with Jordan Richards solidifying his standing on the team after the release of offseason acquisition Eddie Pleasant. As a result, the safety group is expected to look like it did last year: McCourty, Chung and Harmon are the clear-cut top three, with Richards as the fourth option and King and Ebner as pure special teamers. Like wide receiver, however, safety also is a spot that could see an outside addition around cutdown day to potentially challenge Richards after all.
Specialists (3): Stephen Gostkowski, Ryan Allen, Joe Cardona
The three specialists remain unchanged when compared to the last two roster projections. Both Stephen Gostkowski and Joe Cardona are safe, while Ryan Allen appears to have won the battle against and challenger Corey Bojorquez: the rookie punter did not play a single snap during the preseason so far and could be headed to 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.