Later today, the New England Patriots will play their fourth and final preseason game of 2018. As usual during the last week of exhibition games, the majority of the Patriots’ starters and roster locks are not expected to play – clearing the way for players on the roster bubble to showcase their skills and value to the team one final time.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at six players to keep an eye on tonight:
Mike Gillislee: Will he make a final push for a roster spot?
After a mostly disappointing 2017 season, Mike Gillislee failed to show consistent progress in his second offseason in the Patriots’ system. As a result, he is currently fighting for his roster life against free agency addition Jeremy Hill – the better of the two running backs this summer. Could a late push by Gillislee make the battle interesting again? It will be hard, but not impossible depending on the ultimate performance.
Riley McCarron: Will he win the fourth wide receiver spot?
After the release of Kenny Britt and Eric Decker’s retirement, Riley McCarron founds himself on the verge of making New England’s roster as a depth wide receiver and punt returner. However, his spot on the team is not set in stone: the Patriots could still opt to bolster depth elsewhere or bring in outside reinforcements. A good performance tonight could therefore be crucial for the second-year man.
Ulrick John: Will he again be the first offensive tackle off the bench?
First-round rookie Isaiah Wynn tearing his Achilles opened the door for another offensive tackle to make the team. The battle for this appears to still be on, but offseason acquisition Ulrick John might have the best odds of winning it: during last week’s regular season “dress rehearsal”, he was the first offensive tackle off the bench. It will therefore be interesting to see how his role and performance look like tonight, and whether or not the game against the New York Giants could be an indicator for his future.
Vincent Valentine: Will he show his value as a rotational defensive tackle?
Having spent all of 2017 on injured reserve, Vincent Valentine had a rather quiet training camp and preseason and is consequently not guaranteed a spot on the 53-man team. A solid outing against New York – like he showed at times during his 2016 rookie season – could ultimately turn out to be crucial when it comes to him making the team as the fifth option at the defensive tackle position.
Marquis Flowers: Will he build momentum with roster cuts looming?
Like Valentine, Marquis Flowers also was rather quiet over the summer. He received increased playing time last week versus Carolina, but that does not definitely earn him a roster spot as a depth linebacker and special teamer. Flowers will still have to outperform his closest competition – Nicholas Grigsby – in order to make the team. Tonight is his final chance to do that and prove that his solid 2017 season was no fluke.
J.C. Jackson: Will he finally live up to the training camp hype?
Every training camp has its surprising performers, and this year’s is undrafted rookie cornerback J.C. Jackson. The Maryland product saw plenty of snaps with the starting defense and was active and competitive in team and one-on-one drills. His practice success has not yet led to in-game success, however. Tonight is therefore Jackson’s last chance to show the Patriots and other teams around the league that he is worth a roster spot.
Which player or players will you most closely watch during today’s game? Let us know in the comments.