Now that the draft is over and the New England Patriots have added eight new players to the equation, I thought it would be the perfect time to do a WAY too early 53-man roster projection.
So, here it is, with some context behind my decisions and rookies in italics.
Cam Newton, Jarrett Stidham, Mac Jones
The position that will garner the most attention this offseason is obviously quarterback. The Patriots spent a first-round pick on Mac Jones, so the question is whether or not he will be the starter to start the season. This isn’t the time or place to debate that, but I believe the Patriots keep all three current QBs no matter what.
Damien Harris, James White, J.J. Taylor, Dalton Keene, Rhamondre Stevenson, Jakob Johnson*
There are a few surprises here, I’m sure. No Sony Michel because I expect him to be traded before the season, and Dalton Keene as an H-back/fullback hybrid alongside Jakob Johnson. He should be doing a lot of work from this spot this year, so I’m not even putting him in the tight end grouping. I have to believe the Patriots want him to be like Kyle Juszczyk; otherwise, that was a massive waste of a draft pick.
Nelson Agholor, Kendrick Bourne, N’Keal Harry, Jakobi Meyers, Gunner Olszewski, Tre Nixon
If you thought I was going to release this initial list without the final pick of the Ernie Adams era, you were very wrong. Tre Nixon was hand-picked in five seconds by Adams, which means he’s a future All-Pro.
Speaking of All-Pro, look for Gunner to get more snaps at receiver this season. I know, I know, he’s not Julian Edelman. Then again, we all said Edelman would never be Wes Welker, and look what happened. I’m just saying, guys who didn’t play receiver in college, are electric with the ball in their hands, and are hard workers, seem to do well here, even if it takes them a few years to figure it out.
As for N’Keal Harry, he’s going to be here, and I expect him to actually produce this season with a better overall group of pass catchers around him.
Hunter Henry, Jonnu Smith, Devin Asiasi
No surprises here. This unit goes from one of the worst in the league the last two seasons, to one of the best. Now we just have to hope that both Henry and Smith can stay healthy.
Trent Brown, Isaiah Wynn, Shaq Mason, David Andrews, Michael Onwenu, Justin Herron, Ted Karras, Yodny Cajuste
I’m still not sold that Cajuste is actually a real person, but I have him in here anyway, because I am still holding out hope he can form a competent backup tandem with Herron. If he is not able to do that, or is still not over the health issues that plagued him the last two years, insert rookie William Sherman in his place.
All in all, the backups, and the starters, all provide a good amount of position flexibility in case of injury. I decided to list the group as one unit instead of by position specifically for that reason. I expect this to be one of the best units in the league this season.
Devon Godchaux, Henry Anderson, Lawrence Guy, Deatrich Wise Jr, Chase Winovich, Christian Barmore, Ronnie Perkins
Another spot with a ton of position flexibility. I think it’s possible that Carl Davis makes the team as the nose, but something tells me that the Patriots are going to be OK giving those reps to a combination of a few different players they feel can handle it. A unit that struggled mightily against the run last year added Godchaux, Anderson, Barmore, and Perkins. I expect a marked improvement, and we might even see some pass rush from more than one person on the D-line. That would be cool.
Dont’a Hightower, Ja’Whaun Bentley, Kyle Van Noy, Josh Uche, Matthew Judon, Anfernee “Penny” Jennings
The Patriots struggled at linebacker last season. Just absolutely no depth, and, by the end of the season, they were throwing out literally any warm body they could find. Now, Hightower is back, Van Noy is back, they added Judon, and Uche and Jennings have a year under their belts. I expect Bentley to be better this year, primarily in the Elandon Roberts role. Expect this to be a solid group.
Oh, and the nickname is happening. I don’t care if I have to do it myself, everyone is going to be calling Anfernee Jennings “Penny” by the end of the season.
Stephon Gilmore, J.C. Jackson, Jonathan Jones, Myles Bryant, Joejuan Williams
Only five cornerbacks on here, but that is partly because Jalen Mills has the flexibility to play corner at points as well. Also, I have a feeling that Jason McCourty might be replacing Williams on the actual roster, but, since he’s still a free agent, I don’t have that here.
Devin McCourty, Kyle Dugger, Adrian Phillips, Jalen Mills
Yet another position with a bunch of versatility. Phillips and Dugger are both physical safeties who will be big in not only the passing game, but the run game as well. Mills is a guy who can play safety and also corner. He’s going to be an interesting chess piece for Belichick this season, while McCourty is the QB of the defense and one of the most important players on the team.
Nick Folk, Jake Bailey, Joe Cardona, Matthew Slater, Justin Bethel
This is the part where I remind you that Jake Bailey, when combined with Slater and Bethel, is a weapon. Folk was very reliable last season as well, and together with long snapper Joe Cardona rounds out the squad to, once again, make this one of the best units in football.
So, there you have it. My first, stupidly early, 53-man roster projection. I’m sure there will be a good amount of change before the start of the season, but, no matter what happens, it’s going to be a lot of fun. On paper, after all, this roster looks significantly better than it did last year, and I’m excited to see what this team can do in 2021.