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Patriots 2021 roster breakdown: Nick Thurman faces plenty of competition along the interior defensive line

Related: Patriots roster breakdown: DE Henry Anderson

NFL: New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

With training camp and preseason underway, the New England Patriots are fully “on to 2021.”

The team currently has 86 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 are taking 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 defensive tackle Nick Thurman.

Hard facts

Name: Nick Thurman

Position: Defensive tackle

Jersey number: 95

Opening day age: 26

Size: 6-foot-4, 305 pounds

Contract status: Under contract through 2021 (2022 ERFA)

Experience

What is his experience? Despite serving as a two-year starter at the University of Houston, Thurman did not hear his name called during the NFL’s 2018 draft. Instead, the interior defensive lineman had to go through free agency to find a home. But find one he did: the Houston Texans signed him to their 90-man roster shortly after the draft, and gave him plenty of opportunities to prove himself during their four preseason games. Nevertheless, he was still let go by the club and failed to find a new home in the league.

Instead, Thurman joined the San Antonio Commanders of the now-defunct Alliance of American Football but did not appear in a game: he was cut again before the AAF’s first (and only) season even began — meaning that he ended his first year as a pro without a single in-game appearance. 2019, meanwhile, saw him spend time with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers before eventually joining the Patriots. Over his two years in New England, Thurman appeared in a combined seven games.

What did his 2020 season look like? After having ended the 2019 season on the Patriots’ practice squad (and without any in-game appearances), the team re-signed him to a one-year reserve/futures pact in January. The deal would give him another chance to participate in the team’s offseason workout program and to commend himself for a spot on the roster. However, the Coronavirus pandemic changed his outlook: with no offseason workouts or preseason football, Thurman failed to make the 53-man roster.

The Patriots did keep him around, however, and signed him to their practice squad after waiving him on cutdown day. Thurman spent the majority of the season on New England’s developmental roster, but he was elevated to the game day squad on multiple occasions: in total, he appeared in seven games for New England during the 2020 season — his first in-game action at the NFL level — and was on the field for a combined 120 defensive snaps (of 1,017; 11.8%) and 13 more on special teams (of 399; 3.3%).

Thurman, who also spent two weeks on the Patriots’ active roster between late October and early November, was used primarily as rotational depth along an interior defensive line that failed to produce the desired results all year long. The third-year defender was unable to help turn the unit’s fortunes around, but he still can feel good about the 2020 season from an individual perspective: Thurman saw an increased number of opportunities, and finished with 10 tackles (all versus the run) as well as a quarterback disruption.

After ending the season where it began — on New England’s practice squad — Thurman was again re-signed to a futures pact.

2021 preview

What is his projected role? While Thurman’s first season in the Patriots’ system saw the coaching staff use him primarily as an interior pass rusher, he was used as more of a run defender during his 2020 campaign. Aligning almost exclusively between the tackles — most prominently at a defensive tackle spot or even as a 3-4 nose — and was asked to control his lanes in the two-gap scheme. Heading into his third year with the club, it seems unlikely that his role will substantially change.

What is his special teams value? Based on his position and the size requirements it has for its players, Thurman’s kicking game value is limited. Look no further than last season to see how the Patriots might decide to use him in 2021 as well: he will exclusively be used on field goal and extra point blocking units, a role that saw him take the field 13 times last year. Seeing him play any other role on special teams would be a major surprise.

Does he have positional versatility? While not the most impressive athlete, Thurman has some solid versatility for an interior defensive lineman. After all, he has shown that he can play various alignments between the 0- and 5-technique positions up front. There is still some considerable room for growth, though, and the 26-year-old will have to show that he can be a successful run defender after struggling to control his gaps at times last year.

What is his salary cap situation? As noted above, the Patriots retained Thurman on a one-year futures contract earlier this offseason. As part of this deal, he is on the team’s books with a salary cap number of just $780,000. Given that the pact does not include any guarantees such as a signing bonus, Thurman is currently not counting against the cap at under the NFL’s Top-51 rule. Only if he makes the 53-man squad will his cap hit become “official.”

What is his roster outlook? Thurman, who changed jersey numbers from 92 to 95 this offseason, is facing some considerable competition along the interior defensive line this season. Not only did the Patriots retain Lawrence Guy, Deatrich Wise Jr. and Carl Davis, they also added Davon Godchaux, Henry Anderson and Montravius Adams in free agency before selecting Christian Barmore in the second round of the draft. With five of them falling in the roster lock category (Guy, Wise Jr, Godchaux, Anderson, Barmore), Thurman appears to be a long shot to make the team at this point in time. Strong performance in practice and preseason might allow him to make the practice squad again, but even that is not a guarantee.