Following the NFL draft and subsequent free agency period, the New England Patriots currently have 89 of a possible 90 players under contract. However, only 53 of them will be able to survive roster cutdowns on September 5 and ultimately make the active team. Over the course of spring and summer, just like we have in years past, we will take a look at the players fighting for those spots to find out who has the best chances of helping the Patriots keep their dynasty alive in Year One after Tom Brady.
Today, the series continues with a member of New England’s wide receiver group.
Name: Devin Ross
Position: Wide receiver
Jersey number: 17
Opening day age: 24
Size: 5-foot-9, 190 pounds
Contract status: Under contract through 2020 (2021 ERFA)
What is his experience? Ross arrived in the NFL when the Tennessee Titans signed him as a rookie free agent in 2018. Despite his draft status, however, the Colorado product saw somewhat regular action during his first ever preseason: playing primarily as an outside receiver, Ross was on the field for 94 of a possible 264 offensive snaps (36.6%) while registering six catches for 80 yards. He also was used on kickoff and punt coverage as well as the Titans’ kick return unit.
While he failed to make the team’s 53-man roster and practice squad initially, he did eventually find a spot on Tennessee’s practice squad and spent the rest of the 2018 season there. The following offseason, however, his time with the club came to an end. After a short stint with the Philadelphia Eagles, Ross joined the Patriots’ practice squad in mid-October. So far, therefore, his NFL résumé does not include any regular season or playoff appearances.
What did his 2019 season look like? After finishing his rookie season on the Titans’ practice squad and signing a futures contract with the team, Ross was let go by the team in mid-May. It took two weeks for him to find a new club: later that same month, he agreed to a one-year, $495,000 contract with the Eagles. He did not earn a single cent of the guarantee-free deal, however, as Philadelphia decided to part ways with Ross again shortly before the start of its training camp in July.
The second-year man remained out of football for the next three months, meaning that he did neither participate in training camp nor play any preseason or regular season football over that span. In mid-October, he finally found a new home when the Patriots decided to add him to their practice squad. Ross spent 11 weeks during the regular season in New England and also was on the scout team for the team’s playoff loss against his old team, the Titans. After their postseason departure, he signed a futures contract with the Patriots.
What is his projected role? Based on his previous usage in the NFL, Ross projects as a perimeter receiver heading into the 2020 season. That said, he does have some experience lining up in the slot or as an H-back as well from his time at Colorado. New England could therefore opt to use him in a Z-receiver role within its scheme, or alternatively as a smaller X in the mold of Damiere Byrd or former Patriot Phillip Dorsett.
What is his special teams value? Ross brings some special teams experience to the table. While the Titans used him primarily as a coverage player on both punts and kickoffs, and also gave him some looks as a blocker on kick return teams, he also saw action as a returnman during his time with the Buffaloes. That said, he ran back a mere five kicks over the course of his college career for an average of 21.4 yards per runback.
Does he have positional versatility? Ross played mostly on the outside at the pro level, but, as noted above, also has seen time as a slot/H-back option in college. New England could therefore employ him in numerous roles all over the offensive formation, to find how he best fits into the team’s scheme. While his versatility does realistically not reach much further than that based on his time in the NFL and at Colorado, he does have experience playing cornerback as well from his time in high school.
What is his salary cap situation? The Patriots signed Ross to a one-year futures contract in January, and he hits the team’s books with a salary cap number of $610,000 — among the lowest currently on the roster. His deal also does not qualify for one of the top-51 spots, meaning that the 23-year-old does not count against New England’s cap at the moment and will only do so in case he survives roster cutdowns.
What is his roster outlook? While only three of the 14 wide receivers on the Patriots’ offseason roster — Julian Edelman, N’Keal Harry, Matthew Slater — are locks to also be on the team come the regular season, Ross still faces an uphill climb to join them. After all, he has shown little over the course of his career in the league and appears to have limited upside given his comparatively average athletic profile. Unless he surprises in a major way during training camp and preseason, it seems likely that the practice squad will again be his best chance of staying on New England’s payroll.