After spending the week in Las Vegas, the New England Patriots will take on the Raiders Friday night in their preseason finale. If New England follows a similar script to last season, the starters will not see the field — something that seems likely.
With final roster cuts on the horizon, Friday’s game will therefore provide a chance for players on the bubble to make one last final impression.
Here’s one player to watch per position for the Patriots.
Quarterback: Bailey Zappe
There isn't much drama in the Patriots quarterback room. Mac Jones will obviously start while Brian Hoyer will serve backup duties. However, watching how the rookie, Bailey Zappe, has grown as a player throughout the past month has been an intriguing sign. He’s shown promise and will look to cap off what could be his final live game action of the season in a promising way.
Running back: Pierre Strong Jr.
The Patriots took Strong in the fourth round of this year’s draft. The question is whether or not that warrants a 53-man roster spot over someone like J.J. Taylor, who has had a better camp.
Strong came on slow to start the summer as he was limited with an undisclosed injury. He’s an exceptional athlete but we just haven't seen much from him on the field. A strong (no pun intended) preseason finale from the rookie could be the last thing New England coaches need to see to convince them to keep him on the roster.
Wide receiver: Tre Nixon
Lil’Jordan Humphrey has stolen the show this preseason and got some run with the first-team offense in practice this past week. Humphrey’s rise has buried Nixon down the depth chart further.
With Tyquan Thornton and Kristian Wilkerson both sidelined with injuries, though, Nixon should get plenty of run on Friday night. His work out of the slot has been intriguing all summer and the team likely would want him to stick around in some capacity.
Tight end: Devin Asiasi
With Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry atop the depth chart, New England has a decision to make at tight end. Keep a third tight end, likely Asiasi, or keep a player like Lil’Jordan Humphrey who Belichick described as “big receiver, tight end-ish type of guy”?
To me, a guy like Humphrey, who can also play special teams, is more valuable than a third tight end who likely will be inactive on game days. If the coaching staff is thinking the same, Asiasi will need a big Friday night to try and change their minds.
Offensive line: Kody Russey
Russey has been one of the most-improved players since the beginning of training camp. The undrafted free agent and former captain at Houston has continued to trend upwards over the past few weeks. Russey had a strong performance against Carolina and can provide position versatility across the interior of the offensive line.
Another strong showing against Las Vegas could end with him on the 53-man roster.
Defensive line: Sam Roberts
The Patriots have a battle of youth versus experience along the defensive line. Roster spots are at a premium between rookies such as LaBryan Ray and Sam Roberts and veterans like Henry Anderson and Carl Davis.
While Anderson and Davis have proven to be reliable veterans in the run game, Roberts has flashed his ability to get after opposing quarterbacks. throughout the preseason. Another performance like last week’s could force the Patriots’ hand in keeping his potential around.
Linebacker: DaMarcus Mitchell
Dark-horse DaMarcus, as I call him.
Mitchell is yet another undrafted free agent making a push for the Patriots 53-man roster. Besides being a wrecking ball on the top kickoff coverage unit, he’s shown raw potential as a pass rusher at the outside linebacker position. The path to a roster spot is definitely still there.
Cornerback: Terrance Mitchell
Jalen Mills, Jonathan Jones, and Marcus Jones are locks at the position. Rookie Jack Jones also won't be going anywhere while Myles Bryant’s versatility should keep him around as well. If the Patriots don't keep seven cornerbacks, that leaves the final spot to either Shaun Wade or Terrance Mitchell.
Wade has made a surge the past few weeks, but has been limited in practice this week. Mitchell will likely get his fair share of run Friday night with a potential roster spot on the line.
Safety: Jabrill Peppers
We’re going with Peppers here just because we’re dying to see him on the field. He continues to see an increase in practice snaps after rupturing his ACL last season. If New England wants to get him some live action before the season, this is obviously the last chance to do so.
Specialist: Tristan Vizcaino
The Patriots released their backup punter, Jake Julien, earlier this offseason, but they've hung onto Tristan Vizcaino behind Nick Folk. Whether they are limiting Folk’s usage or if there is an actual competition is tough to tell. Both Folk and Vizcaino have been consistent this preseason, but we will see how they fare in-game if given the opportunity.