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Patriots 2018 roster projection: early training camp edition

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Let’s try to project New England’s 53-man squad.

NFL: New England Patriots-Minicamp Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

Later today, the New England Patriots will return to the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium for their tenth training camp session. The previous nine have given us a first impression of how the 2018 Patriots will look like and who is and is not on his way to make the team. With all that in mind, let’s try to project New England’s 53-man roster.

Quarterback (2): Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer

While the Patriots drafted a quarterback this year, they will likely enter 2018 with last year’s duo: Tom Brady returns as the undisputed starter and best quarterback in the NFL, Brian Hoyer as his seasoned backup. Rookie Danny Etling has not shown enough consistency and long-term potential to be kept around on the 53-man roster at this point. He could, however, find a home on New England’s practice squad.

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

Sony Michel is dealing with knee issues, so the Patriots might opt to keep an additional running back on their active roster – at least early during the season. Right now, Jeremy Hill is the favorite to win that spot and serve as a rotational early-down and goal line back alongside Rex Burkhead. Meanwhile, Brandon Bolden gets in due to his special teams abilities.

Wide receiver (6): Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett, Cordarrelle Patterson, Kenny Britt, Matthew Slater, Braxton Berrios

Wide receiver is of the least settled positions on the roster, especially with Julian Edelman suspended for the first four games. This could open up a spot for one of the team’s depth options and as things stand right now, Braxton Berrios and his upside in the slot and as a punt returner get the nod over Eric Decker and Riley McCarron. The rest of the group – with the exception of previously injured Kenny Britt – has had a good training camp so far and could see notable playing time come the regular season.

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

There are no surprises at the tight end position: Dwayne Allen is a superb blocker and has seemingly improved his chemistry with Tom Brady this offseason, while training camp standout Jacob Hollister offers intriguing potential as a pass catcher and is on his way to make a significant jump this season. Together with Rob Gronkowski, the duo forms a solid tight end group.

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

The starting five appear to be settled – Trent Brown, Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Marcus Cannon –, so the main question concerns the backup spots. First-round rookie Isaiah Wynn is guaranteed one of them as a substitute at both tackle and guard, while veterans Ted Karras and LaAdrian Waddle are projected to earn the other two. A solid overall group, especially if Brown is able to transfer his practice performances to the field.

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

Unless the Patriots make a surprising move and trade Malcom Brown, the former first-round draft pick forms the core of the team’s defensive tackle rotation together with Danny Shelton and Lawrence Guy. Developmental depth options Vincent Valentine and Adam Butler will come onto the field in specific situations and to give the top trio a breather every now and then.

Defensive edge (4): Trey Flowers, Adrian Clayborn, Deatrich Wise Jr., Derek Rivers

While the Patriots appear to be a bit light on the defensive edge, they do have plenty of talent at their disposal: Trey Flowers and Adrian Clayborn are experienced players against both the pass and the run, while second-year men Deatrich Wise Jr. and Derek Rivers have had solid training camps so far. The team could still add another body – maybe a trade, waiver wire addition, or depth player Keionta Davis –, but for now the group still looks solid.

Linebacker (6): Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Elandon Roberts, Ja’Whaun Bentley, Marquis Flowers, Harvey Langi

With only two locks – Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy –, the linebacker position is wide open. Elandon Roberts still appears to be favored to win a backup spot, while Ja’Whaun Bentley has been more active during training camp than fellow rookie Christian Sam. Marquis Flowers primarily makes the cut for now due to his special teams contributions, but just like Harvey Langi could very well be left off the team in favor of Nicholas Grigsby.

Cornerback (5): Stephon Gilmore, Eric Rowe, Jason McCourty, Duke Dawson, J.C. Jackson

Stephon Gilmore, Eric Rowe, and Duke Dawson are locks at the position, with Jason McCourty not too far behind: the offseason acquisition has recently seen more snaps with the starters and could serve as the third cornerback alongside Gilmore and Rowe when it is all said and done. Behind the top quartet, undrafted rookie J.C. Jackson has shown enough to warrant keeping around over potential practice squad option Ryan Lewis. That being said, Lewis is an intriguing player and has looked good as of late.

Safety (5): Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon, Jordan Richards, Brandon King

No surprises here: Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, and Duron Harmon are locked in as the top three safeties. Jordan Richards, meanwhile, sticks around for another year due to the lack of competition – at least for now: if offseason signing Eddie Pleasant is able to build on his 2017 season with the Houston Texans, he should challenge Richards’ standing on the team. Brandon King, as usual, will not see any defensive snaps but makes the squad as a core special teamer.

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

Stephen Gostkowski and Joe Cardona are guaranteed spots on the team, while Ryan Allen gets the nod for now due to his consistency: challenger Corey Bojorquez has shown tremendous punting abilities, but Allen is the safer bet. This could very well change over the next few weeks, however, and the incumbent needs to perform at his highest levels to fend off the undrafted rookie.

Reserve lists (4): Cyrus Jones (PUP), Jonathan Jones (PUP), Nate Ebner (PUP), Julian Edelman (suspended)

Cyrus Jones, Jonathan Jones, and Nate Ebner have yet to practice and are still on the physically unable to perform list. Any one of them could be activated as soon as today, but right now all three are projected to start the year on the sidelines. The same has to be said about Julian Edelman, who will miss the first quarter of the season due to suspension. He will be back on the squad by week five.