The New England Patriots currently have 90 players on their active roster. However, only 53 of them will be able to survive the cutdowns on September 1 and ultimately make the team. Over the course of the offseason, we take a look at the players fighting for those spots to find out who has the best chances of helping the Patriots recapture the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
Today, the series continues with an undrafted rookie.
Name: John Atkins
Position: Defensive tackle
Jersey number: TBD (offseason #62)
Opening day age: 25
Size: 6’4, 320 lbs.
2017 review: Entering his fifth year at Georgia, John Atkins was locked in as a starter along the team’s defensive line. In that role, he appeared in all 15 of the Bulldogs’ games in 2017 and saw considerable playing time as an early down run stopper. While he never stood out, Atkins was a serviceable player on one of college football’s best defenses and finished the year by setting a new career-highs in tackles (38) and fumble recoveries (1).
Despite bringing plenty of experience in the SEC to the table and having an adequate frame to serve as a nose tackle at the next level, Atkins was not considered anything more than a late-round draft prospect. After all, his upside and versatility appear to be rather limited: he was rarely was used against the pass – Atkins finished his college career with zero sacks – and brings athletic skills to the table that can be defined as average at best.
2018 preview: New England signed Atkins as a rookie free agent shortly after the draft. His limited upside combined with his status as an undrafted rookie, however, suggests that the Georgia product faces steep odds to survive September’s cutdowns – especially when keeping in mind that New England is three-deep at the defensive tackle position when it comes to roster locks with Malcom Brown, Lawrence Guy, and Danny Shelton.
As a result, it looks as if a maximum of two spots are open behind the top trio. Seeing Atkins earn one of them would be a surprise, considering that both Vincent Valentine and Adam Butler appear to be ahead of him at the moment. For the 25-year old to change this, he will need to show the coaching staff over the next month that he is more than a big-bodied run stuffer – a less talent version of Brown and Shelton – and also holds value versus the pass.
Even if Atkins does that and proofs that his upside in the passing game is not as limited as it appears to be coming out of college, he is far from guaranteed a spot on the team. In fact, he is likely “only” fighting for the Patriots’ practice squad. This would not necessarily be a bad thing for Atkins, though, as it would allow him to work on his craft behind the scenes to possibly make a run for the 53 next season – when free agent to be Brown might be gone.