With the exception of your Tom Bradys, Julian Edelmans and Stephon Gilmores, most players on the New England Patriots’ roster fall under the oft-used ‘make-or-break’ category: they need to show their value to the team in order to have a realistic long-term future with the club. Some players, such as 2018 second-round pick Duke Dawson Jr, appear to have a little more leeway given their upside and the team’s investment in them.
Others, however, do not enjoy this luxury and will need to show that they can contribute on a regular basis to be kept around in 2019 and beyond. Let’s take a look at six such candidates today.
DE Derek Rivers
A third-round draft pick in 2017, Rivers showed plenty of promise before a torn ACL ended his rookie season in training camp. The Youngstown State product returned in 2018 but was unable to carve out a consistent role on the team alongside top options Trey Flowers, Deatrich Wise Jr. and Adrian Clayborn. With Flowers and Clayborn gone and two years removed from his devastating knee injury, now would be the perfect time for Rivers to step up and show that he belongs on the team. If not, his tenure in New England could come to an end before it ever really began.
WR Braxton Berrios
Berrios is in an unfortunate situation: he missed virtually all of 2018, does not have the same draft pedigree as Rivers, for example, and finds himself in one of the most competitive position groups on New England’s current roster. That being said, he will be given plenty of opportunities to show that he can adequately fill a depth spot on the wide receiver chart. If he fails to take advantage, however, the team will likely not be afraid of cutting ties.
SS Obi Melifonwu
Entering the NFL as a second-round draft pick by the Oakland Raiders in 2017, the Patriots’ in-season pickup needs to finally play up to his potential or else his tenure in New England and maybe even his NFL career might come to an end. The benefit of the doubt — which in this case should rather be called ‘benefit of the upside’ — can only keep you on a roster for so long, after all. And if Melifonwu fails to show that he can earn a role as a special teamer and depth safety, his spot will go to somebody else either this year or next.
WR Josh Gordon
Gordon may be one of the most talented wide receivers in the NFL, but he is also one of the biggest question marks given his history of substance abuse. The Patriots, who acquired him via trade last season, are confident in his abilities to work through his issues and still holding on to the indefinitely suspended 28-year-old. That being said, if he fails to return and stay out of trouble, New England might just opt to move on — a move that could very well end Gordon’s once promising career for good.
LB Elandon Roberts
Despite coming off the best season of his career, Roberts is headed towards a crossroads: he needs to prove to the Patriots and the NFL that he can be more than just an early-down run-stopping linebacker and effectively perform in the passing game as well. 2018 showed some positive signs, but if he fails to build on them it would not be surprising to see the 25-year-old get lost on New England’s depth chart this year even if he makes the team.
WR Phillip Dorsett
The 29th overall selection of the 2015 NFL draft is entering his third season in New England. With the wide receiver group in turnover — gone are Chris Hogan, Cordarrelle Patterson and for now Josh Gordon; welcome N’Keal Harry and a bunch of free agency pickups! — the second most experienced widedout on the Patriots’ roster is in a prime position to finally live up to his potential. If he can do that, quarterback Tom Brady would get another reliable weapon. If not, however, Dorsett’s future with the Patriots will very much be in doubt.