With the New England Patriots now fifteen practices and one game into their preseason, and with the first wave of cutdowns already in the rear-view mirror, their roster is starting to take shape.
After releasing five players this week to get below the league’s 85-man limit by Tuesday, now is a good time for my first 53-man roster projection of the summer. The Patriots are loaded with depth and talent at a lot of spots on the field this year so this may be one of the harder ones to pin in some years.
In (3): Mac Jones, Cam Newton, Brian Hoyer
PUP (1): Jarrett Stidham
Not much to think about here as the Patriots should head into 2021 pretty satisfied with Cam Newton, Mac Jones and Brian Hoyer as their top-three at the quarterback position.
Jones is the progressing and developing first-round rookie that may push Newton for the QB1 job over the next few weeks. Newton is the incumbent starter as of right now and like Jones a lock for the 53-man roster regardless of his role this season. Hoyer an important role as well, despite not being able to put it together on the field: he offers a ton of experience in the room and can continue to serve as a resource for both Jones and Newton as the Patriots desperately look for improved quarterback play in 2021.
In (6): Damien Harris, Sony Michel, James White, Brandon Bolden, J.J. Taylor, Rhamondre Stevenson
The running back room is one of the more balanced and talented groups on the team. With Damien Harris expected to take a lot of the work this season and Sony Michel serving as a depth piece playing for a contract next year, the Patriots should have a solid 1-2 punch with each of the two getting regular touches.
As for James White and J.J. Taylor, White will be the team’s third-down back due to his ability to move the chains and pass-protect. With White only on a one year deal and his future up in the air, however, the Patriots elect to keep Taylor on the 53-man roster as his possible successor. Brandon Bolden, who returns from his 2020 opt out, will chip in on special teams and could also serve as the team’s kickoff returner.
As for Stevenson, despite rushing for 127 yards and two touchdowns in the Patriots’ first preseason game, running backs coach Ivan Fears’ comments a few weeks ago didn’t serve well for him being a contributor in 2021. The Patriots gave redshirt years to Shane Vereen, James White, and Damien Harris, and I don’t think that will change with Stevenson in 2021: maybe they will find a way to stash him on injured reserve after he already opened training camp on the non-football injury list to open up a spot elsewhere.
In (5): Nelson Agholor, Kendrick Bourne, Jakobi Meyers, Gunner Olszewski, Kristian Wilkerson
IR (1) Marvin Hall
Out (4): N’Keal Harry, Tre Nixon, Isaiah Zuber, Devin Ross
With the Patriots set to have two tight ends on the field for the majority of the game, they may be okay with just Nelson Agholor, Kendrick Bourne and Jakobi Meyers as their primary wide receivers in 2021. Gunner Olszewski is a lock for the roster coming off an All-Pro season as a punt returner, and continues to try and develop into a receiving option as well.
As for N’Keal Harry, he’s had a strong start to training camp but just like we’ve seen throughout his career, he has struggled to put it all together on game day. Wilkerson versus Harry is one of the most interesting camp battles this year: the Patriots can cut or trade Harry to give him and his agent their wish if they elect to keep the more versatile and cheaper Wilkerson despite his recent inconsistency catching the football.
With the Patriots’ heavy up front with tight ends Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry, I’m not sure Harry has a role on this team besides red zone packages if the Patriots want to go extremely heavy. Is that enough to keep him around? Color me skeptical.
In (4): Jonnu Smith, Hunter Henry, Devin Asiasi, Jakob Johnson
IR (1): Dalton Keene, Troy Fumagalli
Out (1): Matt LaCosse
One of the easiest positions on the field to project. Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry were the two biggest offensive acquisitions of the Patriots’ record-setting offseason and will likely be on the field together for the majority of each game.
Devin Asiasi, who started to come around at the end of last year and followed it up with a strong spring, is back on the practice fields and should serve as a reliable TE2 if one of Henry or Smith were to miss time. Johnson will serve as the team’s fullback as the Patriots get set to bully teams upfront with their strong offensive line and power run game whether Cam Newton is at quarterback or not.
In (7): David Andrews, Michael Onwenu, Isaiah Wynn, Trent Brown, Shaq Mason, Ted Karras, Justin Herron
Out (7): Korey Cunningham, Yodny Cajuste, Marcus Martin, Alex Redmond, R.J. Prince, Will Sherman, James Ferentz
Not much to discuss here given that the offensive line is the strength of this football team. With an interior of Michael Onwenu, David Andrews and Shaq Mason, the Patriots should be able to have tons of success running the football between the tackles. On the outside it is a prove-it year for both Trent Brown and Isaiah Wynn, who are playing for potential contract extensions in 2021 and 2022, respectively.
Ted Karras gives the Patriots versatility along the interior, while Justin Herron looks to build off a solid rookie campaign as the team’s swing tackle.
In (5): Davon Godchaux, Lawrence Guy, Deatrich Wise Jr, Christian Barmore, Henry Anderson
PUP (1): Byron Cowart
Out (5): Carl Davis, Akeem Spence, Montravius Adams, Nick Thurman, Bill Murray
There’s no question the Patriots have much more depth up front than they did in 2020. With the additions of both Davon Godchaux, Henry Anderson and the selection of Christian Barmore in the second round of the draft, the Patriots improved a run defense that ranked just 23rd across the league last season. With captain Lawrence Guy and fellow veteran Deatrich Wise Jr. back into the fold as well, the Patriots have a heavy mix of veteran presence and youth across their front. The question will remain, when and how will the Patriots unleash rookie Christian Barmore?
Carl Davis may be able to squeeze his way onto this roster despite being on the outside looking in all summer. He has had a strong camp and has made his presence felt against the run. However, with too much depth and talent at other spots on the roster, it’s a tough situation for Davis to be in to carve out a role.
In (8): Dont’a Hightower, Matthew Judon, Josh Uche, Kyle Van Noy, Ja’Whaun Bentley, Chase Winovich, Ronnie Perkins, Anfernee Jennings
PUP (1): Terez Hall
NFI (1): Cameron McGrone
IR (1): Raekwon McMillan
Out (3): Harvey Langi, Tashawn Bower, Cassh Maluia
Like their defensive front, the Patriots’ linebacking corps as well as their edge group are among the most improved positional groups on the team. Led by Dont’a Hightower and offseason acquisitions Matthew Judon and Kyle Van Noy, the front seven may be among the deepest across the entire league.
With Hightower, Judon, Van Noy and Josh Uche likely leading the way in terms of snaps, the Patriots have the depth in Chase Winovich, Ja’Whaun Bentley and Ronnie Perkins to be able to withstand an entire season. With the amount of versatility this group brings in terms of stopping the run, getting to the quarterback and contributing in coverage, New England’s second level should be the strength of its defense.
In (5): Stephon Gilmore, J.C. Jackson, Jalen Mills, Jonathan Jones, Joejuan Williams
Out (3): D’Angelo Ross, Michael Jackson Sr, Dee Virgin
What used to be the strength of the Patriots’ defense now becomes one of the biggest question marks heading into the 2021 season. Stephon Gilmore is still on the physically unable to perform list (or holding out depending on who you are asking), the Patriots have a massive hole at their outside corner spot with J.C. Jackson presumably taking over the CB1 role.
We have seen both Jalen Mills and Joejuan Williams taking outside corner snaps in practice, but both have struggled in limited action in camp and the first preseason game. If Gilmore does come back into the fold, the New England secondary would immediately return to its elite status with Jackson and Gilmore manning the outside and Jonathan Jones locking down the slot.
Mills and Williams both bring versatility as well: they can play corner but also have the ability to chip in at safety. However, the success of this group relies on Stephon Gilmore’s outlook.
In (4): Devin McCourty, Kyle Dugger, Adrian Phillips, Myles Bryant
NFI (1): Joshuah Bledsoe
Out (1): Adrian Colbert, Malik Gant
Even with Patrick Chung retired, the Patriots can feel comfortable at the safety position now and in the future. Devin McCourty is still an elite safety, Kyle Dugger’s versatility stands out, and Adrian Phillips can help shut down opposing tight ends.
Myles Bryant flashed towards the end of last season and brings the versatility to play slot corner and safety. He’s been primarily working with the safeties at camp this year and will likely chip in on special teams and serve as a depth defensive back in 2021.
In (6): Quinn Nordin, Jake Bailey, Joe Cardona, Matthew Slater, Cody Davis, Justin Bethel
Out (3): Brian Khoury, Brandon King, Nick Folk
Nick Folk versus Quinn Nordin may be the most intriguing camp battle aside from the quarterbacks right now. If the Patriots decide to cut Nordin, it is likely that he won’t make it through waivers and onto their practice squad due to his impressive camp and preseason performance. Despite missing an extra point Thursday night, he has been automatic throughout training camp. Due to his age and price, Nordin gets the job in 2021 and the Patriots may have finally found their kicker of the future.