With the offseason workout program and mandatory minicamp in the books, the New England Patriots are already fully “on to 2021.”
The team currently has 90 players under contract, but only 53 of them will be able to survive roster cutdowns in August and September 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 bounce back from what was a disappointing 7-9 season last year.
Today, the series continues with cornerback D’Angelo Ross.
Name: D’Angelo Ross
Jersey number: 39
Opening day age: 24
Size: 5-foot-8, 185 pounds
Contract status: Under contract through 2021 (2022 ERFA)
What is his experience? Ross enters the 2021 season with two years of NFL experience under his belt, even though he spent most of them on either the Patriots’ practice squad or injured reserve list. Despite not yet having appeared in a non-preseason game at the professional level, 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.
The first 25 of his games came at Fullerton, where he registered eight total interceptions — two of which were 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 2020 season look like? After spending his entire rookie campaign on injured reserve, Ross had to wait until the Patriots’ 2020 training camp to finally return to the practice fields: the NFL had canceled offseason workouts due to the Coronavirus pandemic, forcing him to extend his time off the field. When Ross and his teammates did eventually start practicing, he found himself in the same basic situation he was in as a rookie. He was near the bottom of one of the deepest cornerback depth charts in football.
Ross being unable to make the 53-man roster on cutdown day did therefore not come as a surprise, even though he had some positive moments in camp. Still, he did stay in New England after getting cut: the second-year man was not claimed off waivers and reverted to the Patriots’ practice squad. He went on to spend the first 16 weeks of the regular season on the developmental roster before being elevated to the game-day squad for the season finale against the New York Jets in early January.
Despite the elevation, Ross was declared inactive as a healthy scratch. He eventually reverted back to practice squad the following day, and was later officially signed to a futures contract by the Patriots. As for his 2020 season, it again ended with him not having played any games. Given that he was able to finish it fully healthy, though, it can still be seen as a step in the right direction for the young defensive back.
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 in 2019, 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 yet again and will therefore also have to leave his mark on special teams in order to make the team or practice squad again.
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 in the kicking game over the last two years. During his lone in-game appearance during the 2020 preseason, four of his six snaps also came in the game’s third phase: he played on punt and kickoff coverage and also was used on New England’s punt return team. Heading into his third year in the system, it would not be a surprise to see the club give him similar responsibilities.
Does he have positional versatility? The Patriots teach their defensive backs to play more than just one spot, and Ross therefore offers a standard level of versatility for a cornerback in their scheme. 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? As noted above, Ross was signed to a reserve/futures deal after the Patriots’ 2020 season came to an end. As part of this one-year deal, he has a salary of $660,000 and no guarantees. This salary, which simultaneously is his cap hit, is currently not counting against it, though: Ross’ deal is not among the 51 richest on the roster, thus not qualifying for Top-51 status. He would have to make the team, practice squad or be placed on injured reserve to count against New England’s cap.
What is his roster outlook? Ross’ roster outlook is essentially unchanged from the last two years. While he did flash his playmaking ability in spurts, he still is near the bottom of the cornerback depth chart and therefore eventually a long-shot to make the team. In order to make it or carve out a spot on the practice squad again, the 24-year-old would have to prove himself against at least two of the higher-profile players Joejuan Williams, Myles Bryant, Michael Jackson or Dee Virgin. The chances of that happening are not zero, but still relatively small.