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 defensive backfield.
Name: D’Angelo Ross
Jersey number: 39
Opening day age: 23
Size: 5-foot-8, 185 pounds
Contract status: Under contract through 2021 (2022 RFA)
What is his experience? Ross enters the 2020 season with one year of NFL experience under his belt, even though he spent most of it on the Patriots’ injured reserve list. That said, the former undrafted free agent still has plenty of football on his résumé from his time at Fullerton Junior College and later the University of New Mexico. Between his stints at the two schools, he appeared in a combined 49 games and ended his college career with nine interceptions.
The first 25 of his games came at Fullerton, where he registered eight total picks — two returned for touchdowns — and was named first-team All-SCFA National Division during his sophomore campaign. Following his transfer to the Lobos, Ross added 24 more games over the next two seasons and continued to prove himself a capable starting cornerback despite facing better competition. All in all, he ended his time at New Mexico with one interception and a forced fumble as well as 17 pass-breakups.
What did his 2019 season look like? Ross was not invited to the NFL’s scouting combine last spring, and flew under the radar entering the draft. Unsurprisingly, he did not hear his name called during the event and had to wait until New England brought him on board as a free agent. Despite his status and receiving the lowest guarantee of all undrafted rookies on the Patriots’ roster last year ($17,500), Ross left a positive first impression: he was competitive in one-on-ones during practice and also received opportunities with the starting secondary.
During the Patriots’ preseason opener against the Detroit Lions, however, he was on the field for just six combined snaps (two on defense, four on special teams) without registering any statistics. It appears as if a medical issue was the reason for his comparatively low output during his NFL debut: New England opted to waive the rookie with an injury designation just four days after the game in Detroit, and he reverted to the team’s injured reserve list after clearing waivers.
Due to the timing of the transaction, Ross became the first member of the 2019 team to be moved to IR and was also ineligible to be reactivated again. His first year as a pro therefore ended in disappointing fashion after a promising start.
What is his projected role? While the Patriots like to move their defensive backs all over the formation and did use him on the perimeter for his lone two preseason snaps last year, Ross could also compete for a spot in the slot due to his natural athleticism in combination with his size. No matter where he eventually lines up, though, he projects to be near the bottom of the depth chart and will therefore also have to leave his mark on special teams.
What is his special teams value? As they do with most younger players who are fighting for practice reps and roster spots, the Patriots also used Ross extensively in the kicking game during last year’s offseason and training camp practices. In preseason, finally, four of his six snaps came in the kicking game: he played on punt and kickoff coverage and also New England’s punt return team — a usage that is expected to continue in 2020.
Does he have positional versatility? Ross brings a standard level of versatility to the table for a defensive back, in that he should be able to play both in the slot and on the outside while also contributing on special teams. The main question, however, will be how much opportunities he will get at each position this year and whether or not he can do enough to carve out a regular spot within the respective rotations.
What is his salary cap situation? With Ross effectively missing all of his 2019 rookie season, it was not credited for him. As a result, the second-year man currently is on the Patriots’ books with a salary cap number of just $510,833 — the lowest on the team, and therefore naturally not among the top-51 contracts currently being counted versus the cap. This would only change if Ross made New England’s 53-man squad in September.
What is his roster outlook? Just like he did before his season-ending injury last year. Ross again faces an uphill battle to make the Patriots’ roster. Too deep and talented is the depth ahead of him: Stephon Gilmore, Jason McCourty, Jonathan Jones, J.C. Jackson and Joejuan Williams are all locks or near-locks to make the team, leaving the New Mexico product fighting for a potential sixth spot at the position against special teamer Justin Bethel and offseason additions Lenzy Pipkins and Myles Bryant. Realistically and without any injuries suffered by one of the players listed above, the practice squad seems like Ross’ best bet to stick around.