The New England Patriots’ 2019 preseason is in full swing and two games in, we can now assess how the main position battles have been unfolding so far. While a lot can and will still change — the team still has two weeks worth of practices and preseason games ahead before roster cutdowns on August 31 — we now have a better feel for which players have put themselves in a favorable position when it comes to beating out their competitors.
Based on our offseason list of the ten most intriguing battles, let’s go through the positions/roles one-by-one.
TE Matt LaCosse, TE Benjamin Watson, TE Ryan Izzo, TE Stephen Anderson, TE Lance Kendricks, TE Eric Saubert, TE/FB Andrew Beck, FB/TE Jakob Johnson
One week into training camp, we called the Patriots’ tight end position a ‘two-class society’ and this designation still rings true these days: Matt LaCosse and Benjamin Watson still sit firmly atop the depth chart, despite LaCosse hurting his ankle during the preseason opener against the Detroit Lions. Nevertheless, it would still be a surprise to see any other tight end on the roster leapfrog them on the depth chart as things currently are constructed.
The battle for the next spot down the line does remain intriguing, though, especially considering that Watson will miss the first four weeks of the regular season due to a suspension. Ryan Izzo has seen more action with the ones than his competitors for the spot alongside LaCosse and is also leading the position when it comes to preseason playing time, but there is still a long way to go and everything is wide open.
That being said, Beck and Johnson currently appear to be on the outside looking in — and Stephen Anderson is currently nursing an injury that might hurt his chances of making the team despite looking good earlier in training camp.
WR N’Keal Harry, WR Phillip Dorsett, WR Maurice Harris, WR Demaryius Thomas (PUP), WR Damoun Patterson
Josh Gordon’s reinstatement changes the entire complexity of the Patriots’s wide receiver group: if everything goes according to plan and he returns off the non-football injury list (NFI) quickly, he should take the top spot at X-receiver. In turn, roster lock N’Keal Harry and near-roster lock Phillip Dorsett would probably serve primarily as rotational and package-specific weapons in New England’s arsenal.
Demaryius Thomas and Damoun Patterson, on the other hand, appear to have only limited to no chances of making the opening day 53-man roster: while Thomas remains on the physically unable to perform list (PUP) and is on his way to opening the regular season there as well, Patterson has had a quiet summer so far despite catching a touchdown pass during last week’s preseason game against the Tennessee Titans. Him making the team would be a major surprise at this point in time.
What about Maurice Harris, though? Judged by his usage during training camp and the preseason, the Patriots will likely opt to use him in more of a Z-receiver role than in the X-spot due to his versatility — if he makes the roster, that is. So far, he has looked good but he also cooled off a bit after a hot start to his summer. At this point, however, he still appears to be in rather than out.
Swing offensive tackle
OT Yodny Cajuste (NFI), OT Cole Croston, OT Dan Skipper, OT Cedrick Lang, OT Tyree St. Louis, OT Martez Ivey
Early on in training camp, starting left guard Joe Thuney still appeared to be the frontrunner to serve as the top backup option at left tackle behind Isaiah Wynn. However, the emergence of Dan Skipper has changed the outlook at the position: with Yodny Cajuste still on NFI and there being no signs of him returning off the list anytime soon, the swing tackle spot appears to be Skipper’s to lose two weeks into preseason.
The other depth tackles, meanwhile, are therefore likely fighting for spots on the practice squad at best. Could they make a surge and challenge Skipper’s standing on the team over the next two weeks? Certainly, but based on the last three weeks it would be a rather surprising development to see anybody from that group but the first-year Patriot be the swing tackle come the start of the regular season.
DE John Simon, DE Derek Rivers, DE Keionta Davis, DE Trent Harris, DE Shilique Calhoun
John Simon has seen considerable practice reps with the first-team defense, and he seems poised to earn a top rotational spot alongside roster locks Michael Bennett, Deatrich Wise Jr. and Chase Winovich. Derek Rivers and Shilique Calhoun, meanwhile, received snaps with the ones on a regular basis as well and generally performed well during practice and in their two preseason games so far. However, both had to leave Saturday’s game against the Titans due to injury.
While the severity of those injuries is not yet known, Rivers and Calhoun missing significant time could hurt the momentum they have built over the last few weeks and as a result open the door for Keionta Davis or Trent Harris to crack the lineup. Based on recent performances, however, the potential final spot at the position comes down to either Rivers or Calhoun — with the latter possibly being the frontrunner considering that his injury is not believed to be serious.
P Jake Bailey
The only camp competition that has a winner at this point in time: after six seasons and three Super Bowl victories, the Patriots decided to part ways with Ryan Allen on Monday. This, in turn, paves the way for Jake Bailey to take over. Judging by his performances so far this summer, the fifth-round rookie should be ready to fill Allen’s shoes accordingly — not just as a punter but as a holder on field goal and extra point attempts as well.
CB Jason McCourty, CB J.C. Jackson, CB Jonathan Jones, CB Duke Dawson Jr, CB Keion Crossen, CB Ken Webster
With Jason McCourty and J.C. Jackson playing primarily on the perimeter this summer — based on preseason playing time McCourty is still ahead on the depth chart — Jonathan Jones has seen more action than any other player in the slot. He’s been terrific and has a case as the second best cornerback on the team alongside the always reliable Stephon Gilmore. Behind Jones, though, the slot defenders had their ups and downs.
Duke Dawson is clearly behind the veteran on the depth chart, and has been mostly disappointing during his second training camp in the NFL. Keion Crossen, on the other hand, has had some solid moments both in practice and during the two preseason games. Rookie Ken Webster, meanwhile, has not had much of an impact at this point after opening training camp on the physically unable to perform list.
Rotational defensive tackle
DT Danny Shelton, DT Byron Cowart, DT/DE Ufomba Kamalu, DT David Parry, DT/DE Nick Thurman
The top three spots at the position are in the hands of Lawrence Guy, Mike Pennel and Adam Butler, but offseason re-signee Danny Shelton has also seen considerable playing time with the top defense. He has generally looked good and appears to be on the inside track to earning the fourth spot at defensive tackle — especially considering that the Patriots have used more 3-4 looks this summer, and Shelton is tailor-made to serve as the nose in this alignment.
Behind the former first-round draft pick, Byron Cowart has looked the best of the depth defensive tackles. After missing time with a quad injury, the rookie has strung together some solid practice and preseason performances. His usage this week against the Carolina Panthers should give us an indication where he actually stands on the depth chart right now, and whether or not he has realistic chances of making the team. Based on the last few weeks, after all, it seems like he does.
Slot wide receiver
WR N’Keal Harry, WR Braxton Berrios, WR Ryan Davis, WR Jakobi Meyers, WR Gunner Olszewski
With Julian Edelman returning off the non-football injury list on Monday, the Patriots’ best slot receiver is back in the mix — which could be bad news for the practice reps the other slot guys will get these next two weeks. That being said, not all of the men listed above necessarily have to worry about making the team. Take N’Keal Harry, for example, who is a lock based on his enormous upside in combination with his status as a first-round draft pick.
The Patriots did use him primarily on the perimeter so far this summer, so he is not projected to factor much into the slot positions just yet. The same goes for Jakobi Meyers, who appears to have very good chances to make the team: the undrafted rookie is the biggest surprise of the summer and has been New England’s most reliable wide receiver since training camp opened in late July — both in practice and preseason.
Like Harry, however, Meyers might spend most of his time outside the slot this year. Two weeks into preseason, he has seen more action split out wide and is therefore projected to be more of a Z-receiver in New England’s offense than a traditional slot option. In turn, only three of the five men above are seriously factoring into the composition of the slot role — with Braxton Berrios the clear front-runner at this point in time.
Whether or not the second-year man actually makes the team, however, depends on his performances those next two weeks: with the return of Edelman and the reinstatement of Josh Gordon, the Patriots are suddenly rather deep at wide receiver and may not have room on the roster for Berrios. The 23-year-old will therefore need to continue showing his value not just as a rotational slot receiver but also a returnman.
LB Ja’Whaun Bentley, LB Jamie Collins Sr, LB Elandon Roberts, LB Christian Sam, LB Calvin Munson, LB Terez Hall
The Patriots’ linebacker group might be one of the best in the NFL due to its blend of versatility, experience and developmental upside. Accordingly, the team mixes and matches its players based on situations. And judged by this usage over the the course of training camp so far, it appears that Collins will play a considerable role on the defense this year: the 29-year-old has looked outstanding, and comfortable wherever he lined up.
Alongside him, Ja’Whaun Bentley and Elandon Roberts have both seen plenty of reps as well. Bentley’s movements have looked a bit slow at times as he’s working his way back from a season-ending bicep injury, but that is no cause for concern. While the second-year man spent large portions of his time with the second unit, Roberts lined up with the ones on a regular basis. Both players can currently be projected to be on the team.
The same cannot be said for Christian Sam, Calvin Munson and rookie Terez Hall. While Sam and Munson — the latter calling defensive signals during the second preseason game — in particular caught the eye from time to time, the talent atop them on the depth chart makes it near-impossible for them to earn starter-level reps.
RB Sony Michel, RB Damien Harris, WR N’Keal Harry, WR Maurice Harris, WR Braxton Berrios, WR Ryan Davis, WR Gunner Olszewski
The Patriots did not use all of their potential kickoff return options so far in training camp. In fact, based on the team’s open practices and two preseason games, four players seem to have established themselves as the frontrunners to earn the gig: wide receivers Phillip Dorsett, Braxton Berrios and Gunner Olszewski were used in that role during practice, as was running back Brandon Bolden. The latter is a lock to make the roster due to his contract and special teams abilities, and him seeing time as a returnman could spell bad news for a bubble player such as Berrios.