With the offseason workout program in the rear-view mirror, the New England Patriots are already fully “on to 2022.”
The team currently has 87 players under contract, but only 53 of them will be able to survive roster cutdowns in early 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 men fighting for those spots to find out who has the best chances of helping the Patriots build on their 10-7 record.
Today, the series continues with second-year defensive back Joshuah Bledsoe.
Name: Joshuah Bledsoe
Jersey number: 24
Opening day age: 23
Size: 5-foot-11, 200 pounds
Contract status: Under contract through 2024 (2025 UFA)
What is his experience? Bledsoe’s experience at the NFL level is rather limited, with the 2021 sixth-round draft choice not taking the field even once during his rookie campaign with the Patriots. Accordingly, his pro level exposure is limited to behind-the-scenes study and a handful of practices both last year and during the current offseason. Regardless of how his first year in the NFL went, however, he does have considerable experience on his football résumé from his time at the University of 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 Mizzou in passes defended in both 2019 and 2020, 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 during his 2018 sophomore campaign.
What did his 2021 season look like? The story of Bledsoe’s rookie season in the NFL does not start with him getting selected 188th overall by the Patriots in the sixth round of the draft, but three months earlier in Mobile, Alabama. The draft hopeful, after all, was invited to showcase his talents at the Senior Bowl. Bledsoe participated in practice throughout the week and registered a tackle in the actual game, but apparently also hurt his wrist along the way — an injury that would follow him throughout most of 2021.
Bledsoe did not only miss his pro day workouts in mid-April after undergoing surgery on his wrist, he also was a limited participant during offseason practices after arriving in New England. As a result, he was sent to the non-football injury list ahead of training camp and would remain there until mid-December. While the Patriots did activate him ahead of their Week 15 game in Indianapolis, the rookie did not take the field and later suffered a calf injury that kept him out of Week 16’s contest versus the Buffalo Bills as well.
The calf issue eventually led to Bledsoe being sent to yet another reserve list: on December 30, just two weeks after his activation off NFI, he was sent to injured reserve. The young defender spent the remainder of the Patriots’ season there and as a result ended his first year as a pro with no game action whatsoever. Bledsoe did participate in a handful of practices while on the active roster, and also was able to do considerable behind-the-scenes work, but he has yet to compete against another team.
What is his projected role? While it remains to be seen how New England’s coaches plan to use him in their secondary after what was effectively a full year on the sidelines, 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 within New England’s defense.
Does he have positional versatility? There are no NFL games to base this analysis on, but Bledsoe did show some versatility during his time in college. He was listed as a safety at Mizzou, but his role was much more flexible than that tag alone would indicate. After becoming a starter in 2019, for example, he saw the majority of his opportunities as a slot cornerback (59.1%) but also aligned as a box safety (22.1%), free safety (8%), on the defensive edge (8%) and split out wide (2.7%).
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 second-year man is a realistic candidate to see 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 a prominent number of his snaps in the game’s third phase would not be a surprise.
What is his salary cap situation? Entering the second year of his rookie contract, Bledsoe carries a $755,087 cap hit that is currently not qualifying for Top-51 status. That means that only his fully-guaranteed signing bonus proration worth $50,087 is on New England’s books at the moment, with his $705,000 salary only being added in case he survives roster cutdowns and makes the 53-man team.
How safe is his roster spot? The Patriots’ secondary is in a state of personnel turnover after losing Pro Bowl cornerback J.C. Jackson in free agency, and adding the likes of Jabrill Peppers, Marcus Jones and Jack Jones later during the offseason. Bledsoe falls into the Peppers category in terms of his potential versatility, and he will have to take advantage of it if he wants to make the roster as a cornerback/safety hybrid with special teams potential. After all, New England has plenty of bodies competing for a finite number of spots in the defensive backfield.
One-sentence projection: Bledsoe will have a hard time making the 53-man squad with the numbers stacked against him in the secondary, but he is a realistic candidate to end up on the practice squad.