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Patriots 2020 roster breakdown: Will Nick Thurman be anything more than a camp body?

Related: Patriots roster breakdown: DE Deatrich Wise Jr.

NFL: New England Patriots-Minicamp Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

With only a few days to go until their entire roster will report to training camp, the New England Patriots currently have 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 did the last three years as well — 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 line.

Hard facts

Name: Nick Thurman

Position: Defensive tackle

Jersey number: 92

Opening day age: 25

Size: 6-foot-4, 305 pounds

Contract status: Under contract through 2020 (2021 ERFA)

Experience

What is his experience? Despite serving as a two-year starter at the University of Houston, Thurman did not hear his name called during the NFL’s 2018 draft. Instead, the interior defensive lineman had to go through free agency to find a home. But find one he did: the Houston Texans signed him to their 90-man roster shortly after the draft, and gave him plenty of opportunities to prove himself during their four preseason games. Nevertheless, he was still let go by the club and failed to find a new home in the league.

Instead, Thurman joined the San Antonio Commanders of the now-defunct Alliance of American Football but did not appear in a game: he was cut again before the AAF’s first (and only) season even began — meaning that he ended his first year as a pro without a single in-game appearance. 2019, meanwhile, saw him spend time with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and eventually the Patriots. Entering his third year in the NFL, however, Thurman still has to wait for his debut outside of preseason.

What did his 2019 season look like? After spending his entire rookie season out of football, Thurman was signed by the Buccaneers in early April to bolster the depth along their defensive line. But even though the team did not draft a defensive tackle until the seventh round, he was let go again later that same month. This time, however, it did not take him seven months to join a new team: just two days after his release, the Patriots picked Thurman up on a one-year contract worth $495,000.

The deal itself was reflective of his status on the roster as a lower-tier player who would have to prove himself over the summer. Thurman helped his case by seeing regular action on defense during the preseason and some playing time on special teams as well — he played 103 of a possible 247 defensive snaps (41.7%) and five of a possible 99 snaps in the kicking game (5.1%) — and by also posting some solid numbers: he registered a half-sack, one quarterback hit and seven additional hurries, and added four tackles versus the run.

Nevertheless, the Patriots decided to let him go on roster cutdown day. After he passed through waivers unclaimed, however, the team brought him back via its practice squad. Thurman spent all of 2020 on the developmental team and was re-signed to a futures contract following the season.

2020 preview

What is his projected role? Thurman’s first training camp and preseason in the Patriots’ system saw the coaching staff use him primarily as an interior pass rusher: he aligned almost exclusively between the tackles — most prominently either at the defensive tackle spot or as a 3-4 end — and was asked to two-gap and push the pocket. Heading into his second year with the club, it seems unlikely that his role will substantially change.

What is his special teams value? Thurman offers limited value as a member of New England’s kicking game units based on his time in the league so far. The Texans gave him only one special teams snap during his lone preseason with the team in 2018, while the Patriots used him on five snaps last summer — all of which coming as a member of their field goal and extra point blocking units. 2020 will likely not bring much of a change.

Does he have positional versatility? While not the most impressive athlete, Thurman has some solid versatility for an interior defensive lineman. After all, he has shown that he can play various alignments between the 0- and 5-technique positions up front. There is still some considerable room for growth, though: the 25-year-old will have to show that he can be equally successful against the run and the pass.

What is his salary cap situation? As noted above, the Patriots agreed to re-sign Thurman via a one-year futures pact following their playoff exit. As part of this deal, he is on the team’s books with a salary cap number of just $610,000 — none of which guaranteed, which means that Thurman is not counting against the cap at all right now under the NFL’s top-51 rule. Only if he makes the 53-man squad will his cap hit become “official.”

What is his roster outlook? Even though he has one year of practice squad experience under his belt, Thurman enters training camp with the same basic outlook as last summer: he will have to prove that he can be anything more than a camp body. The problem is that the Patriots are deep at the position with Lawrence Guy, Adam Butler and Beau Allen all locks to make the team, and second-year man Byron Cowart having shown more upside and versatility. Realistically, Thurman will therefore be fighting for a spot on the practice squad once again.