The New England Patriots, who will be off until training camp starts later this month, currently have 89 players on their active roster. However, only 53 of them will be able to survive the cutdowns on August 31 and ultimately make the team. Over the course of the summer, we will take a look at the players fighting for those spots to find out who has the best chances of helping the Patriots defend their Super Bowl title.
Today, the series continues with a participant in the NFL’s Pathway Program.
Name: Jakob Johnson
Position: Fullback/Tight end
Jersey number: 47
Opening day age: 24
Size: 6’3, 255 lbs.
2018 review: After neither hearing his name called during the 2018 NFL draft nor the subsequent free agency period, Jakob Johnson returned to his native Germany to spend the season with the GFL’s Stuttgart Scorpions. Filling the fullback/tight end hybrid role he also played in his four seasons at Tennessee — when he caught a grand total of 3 passes for 23 yards — Johnson established himself as a reliable piece of his new team’s offensive attack.
Over the course of his twelve in-game appearances during the 2018 season, he touched the football 53 times: Johnson registered 10 carries for 46 yards and a team-leading 4 rushing touchdowns, while also catching 43 passes for 474 yards and another score — all while seeing regular action in the kicking game as well. In fact, Johnson even ran back a pair of kickoffs for a combined 26 yards on top of his 12 special teams tackles.
All in all, he was one of the most consistent performers on one of the GFL’s worst teams. After the season, which ended in October, Johnson again tried to pursue his goal of playing in the NFL by applying for the league’s so-called International Pathway Program. He received one of the seven spots in January, and entered the pre-draft process again.
2019 preview: Just like last year, Johnson did not get drafted and remained unsigned as a free agent as well. But while he failed to earn a deal through the Pathway Program and the opportunities it provides, he did still end up on an NFL roster: he was randomly assigned to a club in this year’s division of choice to participate in the international program, the AFC East. That team turned out to be none other than the best in football.
In early April, Johnson joined the Patriots as a roster-exempt 91st player. As such, he will be able to practice with the team over the course of the offseason and compete for one of the 53 spots on the active roster. But even if he fails to earn it — which is the expected outcome given his career so far and the fact that one of the NFL’s best fullbacks, James Develin, is ahead of him on the depth chart — the 24-year-old will stay in New England.
After all, the Pathway Program allows teams to keep its assigned players on the practice squad with an extra eleventh spot. Once there, Johnson will continue working with the Patriots’ coaches and training staff but he will not be eligible to get promoted to the active team during the season. Nevertheless, the experience can be a valuable one for his career beyond the 2019 season — and maybe even result in a Super Bowl ring.