Following a series of releases on Thursday, the New England Patriots currently have 77 players on their active roster. That number will change quickly, however, considering that the team will have to be under the league-mandated 53-man threshold by Saturday, 4 pm ET. This means that 24 more players will have to be released over the next 33 hours — not accounting for any additional space that might need to be made for potential waiver wire claims.
With that being said, let’s dive straight into our 53-man roster projection.
As you will see, the roster is light at some positions simply based to the talent available at the moment. If the Patriots were to make a trade or scan waivers for additional talent, those would be the spots that could be targeted. Also, the undrafted rookie streak that was established back in 2003 stays alive in this projection — even though this is far from a given considering the difficult situation rookie players in general find themselves in during a summer without preseason football.
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, however, because there’s plenty to be discussed either way.
(Note: the order within each position group is based not on a projected depth chart but rather the alphabet)
Out (1): Brian Lewerke
No surprises at the quarterback position. Cam Newton has been named the Patriots’ starter and will lead the offense into the regular season next week. The backups, meanwhile, are offering both experience (Brian Hoyer) and developmental upside (Jarrett Stidham) — two attributes that cut-candidate Brian Lewerke simply does not bring to the table at this point in time.
The only intrigue that could theoretically come to this position group is via Jarrett Stidham’s injury status: the second-year man saw his workload drastically reduced after hurting his hip in mid-August. Could he be a candidate to be moved to injured reserve following cutdown day with the intention of being brought back further down the line?
Out (1): Lamar Miller
Five of the six players projected to make the cut are no surprise: Sony Michel and Damien Harris are the one-two punch on early downs; Rex Burkhead is a solid change-of-pace back and special teams presence; James White is one of the best receiving backs in the game; Jakob Johnson will fill the vacant fullback role.
The sixth and final spot, however, is a question between upside and established talent. The upside wins out, at least for now: undrafted rookie J.J. Taylor is projected in over Lamar Miller. The veteran opened training camp on the physically unable to perform list, and could still be a candidate to contribute at one point this season. That said, he would not have to clear waivers this weekend, giving Taylor the nod over him to be kept on the 53-man team for the time being.
In (6): Damiere Byrd, Julian Edelman, N’Keal Harry, Jakobi Meyers, Gunner Olszewski, Matthew Slater
With Mohamed Sanu no longer part of the equation, the Patriots are a bit light at wide receiver behind roster locks Julian Edelman and N’Keal Harry. If they decide to add outside talent over the weekend via trade or through the waiver wire, therefore, bringing more depth to the position seems like the logical move.
For the time being, however, second-year men Jakobi Meyers and Gunner Olszewski as well as free agency addition Damiere Byrd are projected as the depth pieces alongside Edelman, Harry and core special teamer Matthew Slater. The ice beneath Meyers’ feet is probably thinnest coming off a quiet training camp compared to the other men on their way to make the 53-man squad.
Devin Ross, Jeff Thomas and Isaiah Zuber are prime practice squad candidates, meanwhile. Thomas in particular is intriguing given his athletic profile.
In (2): Devin Asiasi, Dalton Keene
Out (5): Rashod Berry, Jake Burt, Paul Butler, Ryan Izzo, Paul Quessenberry
Cutting Ryan Izzo was among the toughest decisions in this projection. He may not have the upside to become anything more than a rotational depth tight end, but he has something that neither Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene possess: real-game experience within the system. Izzo is in his third year in the league, while Asiasi and Keene are both rookies. The two will make the team based on their draft status as third-round picks, but the lack of depth behind them is not ideal even if Izzo does make the cut.
In (4): Yodny Cajuste, Korey Cunningham, Jermaine Eluemunor, Isaiah Wynn
Out (1): Justin Herron
Isaiah Wynn and Jermaine Eluemunor are locked in as the starting tackles on the left and right end of the line, respectively, so their spots on the team are safe. The same also has to be said about Yodny Cajuste, who may have had a quiet training camp coming off a year-long stint on the non-football injury list but still has upside as a former third-round draft pick. The final spot, meanwhile, came down to Korey Cunningham versus Justin Herron.
Herron is a nice developmental prospect, but his lack of experience within the context of the other tackles on the team is a problem. Cunningham, who is in his second year as a Patriot and third overall in the NFL, appears to be more of a plug-and-play option at this point in his development.
Out (2): Ben Braden, Tyler Gauthier
The interior of the Patriots’ offensive line is pretty much set. Center David Andrews and guards Shaq Mason and Joe Thuney form one of the best starting trios in football, with Hjalte Froholdt proving himself a capable and versatile backup. Michael Onwenu, meanwhile, is a developmental prospect that the team may not want to risk losing by exposing him to waivers. Top-to-bottom, the group is probably the most talented on New England’s offensive roster.
In (5): Beau Allen, Adam Butler, Byron Cowart, Lawrence Guy, Deatrich Wise Jr.
Out (3): Bill Murray, Nick Thurman, Xavier Williams
Based on their roster statuses and training camp performances, Adam Butler, Byron Cowart, Lawrence Guy and Deatrich Wise Jr. are locks to make the team at this point in time. The fifth spot, meanwhile, could be subject to change shortly after cutdown day: Beau Allen has not yet participated in a single training camp practice and could be a prime candidate to be moved to injured reserve with the plan of being reactivated during the regular season. For this scenario to work, however, he would have to make the initial 53 — which is why he has to be listed as “in” in this projection.
In (4): Shilique Calhoun, Derek Rivers, John Simon, Chase Winovich
Out (1): Tashawn Bower
While John Simon and Chase Winovich are safe, the other true outside linebackers listed above are not. Shilique Calhoun and Derek Rivers looked solid in training camp and offer depth on special teams (Calhoun) and in the pass rush (Rivers). Both could make the team, both could not. With no viable replacements on the roster at the time being, however, they are projected to survive cutdown day due to their experience within the system and solid camp outing.
In (2): Anfernee Jennings, Josh Uche
Out (2): Brandon Copeland, Terez Hall
The move linebacker position is one of versatility in New England’s scheme that was filled by offseason departures Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins in 2019: they did not just align on the defensive edge on a regular basis, but also dropped back to play as inside linebackers in select situations. Day Two rookies Anfernee Jennings and Josh Uche were used like that during training camp and project to fill the now-vacant move roles heading ito the 2020 season.
The question is whether the team feels like having a player such as free agency addition Brandon Copeland as depth offers more value than additional pure outside linebackers Shilique Calhoun and Derek Rivers. The answer is “no” in this projection, but the Patriots’ decision makers disagreeing would not be a surprise.
In (2): Ja’Whaun Bentley, Cassh Maluia
Out (1): De’Jon Harris
The true inside linebacker position may seem a bit weak with defensive on-field signal caller Ja’Whaun Bentley and rookie Cassh Maluia as its only players making the cut, but it does not look substantially different from last year’s group: Maluia replaces free agency departee Elandon Roberts, while the aforementioned move linebacker position manned by Anfernee Jennigs and Josh Uche also offers depth.
The only decision here was to keep Maluia or undrafted rookie De’Jon Harris. Maluia’s performance in camp as a downhill run defender and in coverage stood out more, leaving Harris to be exposed to waivers. He could return via the practice squad, but does project to be a popular target for teams trying to bolster their front-seven.
Out (2): Myles Bryant, D’Angelo Ross
While both Myles Bryant and D’Angelo Ross had their moments in training camp, there simply are no spots available for them on the deepest cornerback group in the NFL. Unless the Patriots decide to make a trade higher up on the depth chart — a move that seems unlikely — the two will get the proverbial axe this weekend despite a solid summer. Both should be priority practice squad targets, though, if they make it through waivers.
The cornerbacks to make the team, meanwhile, are an impressive mix of talent, experience and youth. Led by the NFL’s reigning Defensive Player of the Year, Stephon Gilmore, the position is the biggest strength on New England’s roster.
In (5): Terrence Brooks, Cody Davis, Kyle Dugger, Devin McCourty, Adrian Phillips
Devin McCourty is the undisputed leader of the group, with Patrick Chung’s former “star” position open to be filled. Terrence Brooks and Kyle Dugger all had impressive moments in camp, while Adrian Phillips offers plenty of experience and positional versatility. All three will see their fair share of snaps this year alongside McCourty. Cody Davis, meanwhile, projects to serve as a quality depth option behind the quartet and a core special teamer.
In (3): Jake Bailey, Joe Cardona, Nick Folk
Out (1): Justin Rohrwasser
Punter Jake Bailey and long snapper Joe Cardona are going nowhere. The same cannot be said for one of the two place kickers under contract: while Justin Rohrwasser has upside and a stronger leg than Nick Folk, the veteran has simply looked more consistent during the open training camp practices. Consistency is key to making the Patriots’ coaches happy, which is why Folk is projected to survive the cut while Rohrwasser will get waived.
Injured reserve (IR): WR Quincy Adeboyejo, DT Michael Barnett*
Physically unable to perform (PUP): LB Brandon King
Opt-out: RB Brandon Bolden, OT Marcus Cannon, S Patrick Chung, LB Dont’a Hightower, TE Matt LaCosse, WR Marqise Lee, G Najee Toran, FB Danny Vitale
The Patriots’ injured reserve list currently has only one name on it: Quincy Adeboyejo was moved there after clearing waivers in mid-August. Not only will recently released defensive tackle Michael Barnett likely go unclaimed as well, the team could decide to move the aforementioned Beau Allen to IR as well — at least after cutdown day.