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 safety Joshuah Bledsoe.
Name: Joshuah Bledsoe
Jersey number: TBD (Offseason No. 60)
Opening day age: 24
Size: 6-foot-0, 200 pounds
Contract status: Under contract through 2024 (2025 UFA)
What is his experience? Having entered the NFL as a sixth-round draft pick by the Patriots in early May, Bledsoe’s experience at the pro level is naturally limited. The 24-year-old participated in his new club’s voluntary offseason activities and mandatory minicamp, but was unable to go through all sets of drills after having undergone wrist surgery earlier during the offseason. Nevertheless, he does have considerable experience on his football résumé from his time at Missouri.
During his four years with the Tigers, Bledsoe appeared in a combined 42 games — the final 22 of them as one of the team’s starting safeties. Along the way, he posted some solid numbers and put himself in a position to get drafted. Not only did he lead Missouri in passes defended in both 2019 and 2020 (10 and 7, respectively), he also finished his college career with an interception, a sack, a pair of forced fumbles and 131 total tackles. He also scored a touchdown on a fumble recovery back in 2018.
What did his 2020 season look like? Despite coming off the best season of his collegiate career up until that point, Bledsoe decided to stay in school for his senior campaign. Returning in 2020 turned out to be a good call on his part given that his performance in his final year in Columbia set him up to enter the NFL via the draft. It is not hard to see why: Bledsoe again served as a starter and as a durable defender who appeared in all 10 of the Tigers’ games — playing some encouraging football despite their 5-5 record.
Bledsoe ended his season with 41 tackles — 2.5 for loss — as well as an interception and a team-leading six pass breakups. He also played a pivotal role in sealing two of Missouri’s five victories: the senior defensive back forced a pivotal fumble against Kentucky and later broke up a fourth down throw in the end zone against LSU to preserve a 45-41 win. On top of it all, Bledsoe also held his own against future second-round draft pick Terrace Marshall, limiting him to three catches for 57 yards.
Not all was positive for Bledsoe, though. Even though he surrendered a completion percentage of a rather solid 58.3 percent when targeted in coverage, he also gave up four touchdown passes versus the one pick mentioned above. In total, opposing quarterbacks posted a rating of 111.9 when throwing in his direction. Furthermore, his draft preparation was impacted by injury: he hurt his wrist during the Senior Bowl and later had to miss his Pro Day after undergoing surgery.
What is his projected role? While it remains to be seen how New England’s coaches plan to use him in their secondary, the expectation is that Bledsoe could fill a Devin McCourty-like role for the team. The youngster, after all, has the athletic profile to play as a deep safety but has also been moved around the formation quite a bit at Missouri. Just like the long-time Patriots captain, he could therefore be trained as a jack-of-all-trades early in his career.
What is his special teams value? The Patriots like to use their defensive backs in the kicking game, and Bledsoe will likely not be an exception. The sixth-round pick might be used like Kyle Dugger as a rookie for example — seeing action on the kickoff and punt return units, the two coverage squads, and occasionally on the field goal/extra point blocking teams as well. Training camp and preseason will paint a clearer picture, but Bledsoe seeing most of his snaps in the game’s third phase as a rookie would not be a surprise.
Does he have positional versatility? Bledsoe was listed as a safety by the Tigers, but his role was much more flexible than that tag alone would indicate. Since becoming a starter in 2019, for example, he saw the majority of his opportunities as a slot cornerback (59.1%). However, he also aligned as a box safety (22.1%), free safety (8%), as an outside linebacker (8%) and split out wide (2.7%). Long story short, Bledsoe has done it all during his college career.
What is his salary cap situation? Bledsoe signed a standard four-year rookie contract with the Patriots after getting drafted, that currently hits the team’s book with only $50,087 (his fully guaranteed signing bonus proration). If he makes the 53-man roster, however, his $660,000 salary will be added to that number to give him an in-season cap hit of $710,087. If he fails to make the team, his signing bonus will turn into so-called dead money.
What is his roster outlook? Even though he has plenty of work ahead of him before becoming an NFL-caliber defensive back, Bledsoe’s upside and versatility are intriguing. Will they help him make the Patriots’ roster, though? That remains to be seen, but if he can adapt quickly to the team’s scheme and play a flexible role he should fit right in. That said, he could also be a candidate to catch the so-called Foxborough Flu: Bledsoe missed some time this offseason while recovering from his wrist surgery, and could therefore be moved to the non-football injury list ahead of training camp.