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 wide receiver Devin Ross.
Name: Devin Ross
Position: Wide receiver
Jersey number: 8w
Opening day age: 25
Size: 5-foot-9, 190 pounds
Contract status: Under contract through 2021 (2022 ERFA)
What is his experience? Ross arrived in the NFL when the Tennessee Titans signed him as a rookie free agent in 2018. Despite his draft status or lack thereof, however, the Colorado product saw somewhat regular action during his first ever preseason: playing primarily as an outside receiver, Ross was on the field for 94 of a possible 264 offensive snaps (36.6%) while registering six catches for 80 yards. He also was used on kickoff and punt coverage as well as the Titans’ kick return unit.
While he failed to make the team’s 53-man roster and practice squad initially, he did eventually find a spot on Tennessee’s practice squad and spent the rest of the 2018 season there. The following offseason, however, his time with the club came to an end. After a short stint with the Philadelphia Eagles, Ross joined the Patriots’ practice squad in mid-October. He went on to spend a year with the organization, but was never used in a game. His NFL résumé does therefore not include any regular season or playoff appearances.
What did his 2020 season look like? Coming off a 12-week stint on New England’s practice squad, Ross was signed to a reserve/futures contract in January 2020 — giving him another chance to compete for a roster spot. With the NFL canceling traditional offseason workouts and preseason due to the Coronavirus pandemic, however, he found himself facing an uphill climb to make the team. That said, Ross made sure not to go down without a fight and proved himself a steady playmaker during training camp.
Despite his performance, however, he was released on roster cutdown day before returning to the Patriots via their practice squad. Ross spent four weeks on the developmental roster without seeing any game-day action, and in mid-October was let go in favor of fellow practice squad wide receiver Mason Kinsey. He failed to find a new home for the rest of the 2020 season, but did participate in the HUB Football workout camp organized by Tom Brady’s agent, Don Yee, in November.
What is his projected role? Based on his previous usage in the NFL — including his time with the Patriots — Ross will primarily be used as a perimeter receiver heading in 2021. That said, he does have some experience lining up in the slot or as an H-back as well from his time at Colorado. New England could therefore opt to use him in a Z-receiver role within its scheme, or alternatively as a smaller X in the mold of former Patriots Damiere Byrd and Phillip Dorsett.
What is his special teams value? Despite not yet having played in a non-preseason NFL game, Ross does bring some special teams experience to the table. While the Titans used him primarily as a coverage player on both punts and kickoffs, and also gave him some looks as a blocker on kick return teams, he also saw action as a return man during his time with the Buffaloes. That said, he ran back a mere five kicks over the course of his college career for an average of 21.4 yards per runback.
Does he have positional versatility? Ross was used mostly on the outside at the pro level, but, as noted above, also has seen time as a slot/H-back option in college. New England could therefore employ him in numerous roles all over the offensive formation. While his versatility does realistically not reach much further than that based on his time in the NFL and at Colorado, he does have experience playing cornerback as well from his time in high school. Make no mistake, though: Ross is with the Patriots to play wide receiver.
What is his salary cap situation? When New England re-signed Ross after his minicamp tryout, they gave him a contract reflective of his standing on the roster. The 24-year-old is playing on a one-year contract with a base salary of $660,000 and no guarantees. As a result of this deal, Ross does not qualify for Top-51 status: he is currently not counting against the Patriots’ salary cap and will only do so if he makes the active roster, signs a practice squad contract, or get placed on injured reserve.
What is his roster outlook? Despite his experience in the system and a solid performance during mandatory minicamp earlier this month, Ross finds himself in a difficult spot to make the team. After all, New England is pretty deep at the wide receiver position after adding Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne in free agency. The two are locks to make the roster, as is special teamer Matthew Slater. Fellow wideouts Jakobi Meyers and Gunner Olszewski are also in a good position. Add former first-round draft pick N’Keal Harry as well as depth options Isaiah Zuber, Marvin Hall, Kristian Wilkerson and Devin Smith, and you get a competitive group. Seeing Ross fail to make the cut would not be a major surprise.