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Sunday Patriots Notes: Which undrafted rookies have the best shot at making New England’s roster?

Related: Patriots 53-man roster projection: Who will survive cutdown day?

Carolina Panthers v New England Patriots Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

With the NFL preseason over and roster cutdown day only a few days away, there is a lot going on around the New England Patriots and the rest of the league. Let’s use this forum right here to go through some of the stories that have emerged over the last few days that we did not have time to cover elsewhere: welcome to this week’s Sunday Patriots Notes.

Which undrafted rookies have the best chance of making New England’s roster. By Tuesday 4 p.m. ET, the Patriots need to have their roster below the NFL’s 53-man limit, meaning that they will have to part ways with 27 players over the coming days. One of the storylines to watch is whether or not the team’s undrafted rookie streak will stay alive.

New England, after all, has had at least one UDFA make the opening day roster each of the last 18 years — among them future cornerstones such as David Andrews or Jonathan Jones. At the moment, there are eight undrafted rookies under contract.

S Brad Hawkins: Hawkins joined the Patriots in early August after originally entering the NFL with the Atlanta Falcons earlier this offseason. He has seen plenty of action in preseason, moving all over the secondary and appearing on five kicking game units.

LB DaMarcus Mitchell: Mitchell has had a solid preseason, registering one sack and a forced fumble. Besides seeing action as an outside linebacker, he has also served on five of New England’s special teams units.

DT Jeremiah Pharms Jr.: Pharms Jr. originally tried to enter the NFL in 2020, but teams paid little attention to him. Two years later, he finally received his shot: the interior defensive lineman has had a few solid moments, especially on Friday against the Las Vegas Raiders.

DT LaBryan Ray: The Alabama product has lined up all over the New England defensive line since his arrival after the draft. While his preseason résumé consists of only four tackles, he has shown his disruptive skills on several occasions in practice and in-game settings.

C Kody Russey: Russey has some experience playing guard from his time at Houston, but the Patriots used him exclusively at the center position this preseason. If they feel confident in his ability to play elsewhere along their interior offensive line as well, however, he might have a shot at making the team.

S Brenden Schooler: Even though he saw time at the safety position this preseason and even registered an interception versus the Carolina Panthers, Schooler’s biggest contributions have come on special teams. His ability to perform at a high level on five units has made him into realistic roster candidate.

LB Nate Wieland: The pride of Grand View, Wieland joined the Patriots in early August. An off-the-ball linebacker, he has seen relatively little action on defense. He was used on four special teams units this preseason, though.

TE Jalen Wydermyer: With New England facing some injury questions at tight end, the team decided to bring the Texas A&M product aboard on Aug. 18. Wydermyer, who spent time with the Buffalo Bills earlier this offseason, made his Patriots debut on Friday in Las Vegas. He caught one pass and had a touchdown-negating penalty.

Out of those eight players, four have realistic chances at staying on the Patriots’ roster beyond cutdown day: DaMarcus Mitchell, LaBryan Ray, Kody Russey and Brenden Schooler — all of were part of the team’s original UDFA class in early May.

The 53-man roster projection by Pats Pulpit’s own Taylor Kyles has three of those four make the team. In this scenario, Mitchell, Russey and Schooler find themselves on the roster.

Tyquan Thornton undergoes surgery. New England rookie wide receiver Tyquan Thornton has had a promising summer before an injury suffered in the second preseason game changed his trajectory. The second-round draft pick suffered a fractured clavicle that will force him to miss up to 10 weeks.

On Monday, according to ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler, Thornton underwent surgery. The recovery time from the moment of the procedure is projected at six to eight weeks, which put him on a road to possibly play as early as Week 5 versus the Detroit Lions. Obviously, though, that is a rather optimistic estimate.

Nonetheless, Thornton returning at one point this season does look like a realistic outcome. For him to be eligible to do that without taking up a roster spot throughout his recovery, he would have to be on the team through the roster cutdown deadline. Once that has happened, Thornton can be moved to injured reserve and brought back at a later point.

Ty Montgomery’s injury fallout. Speaking of injuries, Patriots running back Ty Montgomery went down with an ankle injury in the first quarter of the game in Las Vegas on Friday. While the severity of the issue remains to be seen, Montgomery missing any extended time might put him in a Thornton-like situation: he might become a candidate for short-term IR as well.

If that happens, New England will have to follow the same guidelines — and look for a replacement. Third-year man J.J. Taylor appears to be a candidate to fill that role after a solid preseason. The team might also turn to rookie Pierre Strong Jr., who is a roster lock anyway based on his fourth-round draft status. Sixth-round rookie Kevin Harris, meanwhile, appears to be more of a between-the-tackles runner and thus not suited to take on the receiving back role filled by Montgomery this summer.

Of course, the Patriots could also employ second-year man Rhamondre Stevenson as a change-of-pace option alongside early-down back Damien Harris. Stevenson played a Harris-esque role last year, but he did show some development as a pass-game contributor.

Buy-in is reportedly a concern with the new-look Patriots offense. Two weeks before the start of the regular season down in Miami, the New England offense does not yet look ready for big-time football. The starting unit struggled versus Las Vegas, despite the Raiders relying primarily on backup defenders to get the job done.

And yet, in four drives, the group produced a total of three points with several negative plays — including a Mac Jones interception. The unit remains a work in progress, and according to a series of reports by NFL Network’s Mike Giardi last week, one of the potential issues is the players’ buying into the new system that was implemented after long-time offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels left to coach the Raiders:

On the offense, the repeated talking point is to allow players to play faster. By and large, that hasn’t happened yet. Talking to people in the building, it’s more about what’s happened up front that has made what’s going on at the skill position look sluggish. But buy-in is still a concern. Players need to see it work to believe it will work.

The frustration that I (and much of the beat) has illustrated here and elsewhere is real. It’s also no surprise to those in the know that the old stuff has worked because the old stuff is what they believe works.

That last point about the old stuff was front and center with the Pats in Vegas against Josh McDaniels. It reminded some key vets that McDaniels had a gift for putting the offense is position to succeed and also finding ways to get his playmakers the ball. Can the new staff do that?

With McDaniels gone, head coach Bill Belichick put the offense and the development of its sophomore quarterback into the hands of Matt Patricia and Joe Judge. While both have head coaching experience, neither has had any substantial coaching role on the offensive side of the ball so far: Patricia worked as an assistant on that side of the ball in 2004 and 2005, while Judge coached the Patriots’ wide receivers (and special teams) in 2019.

Now, Patricia and Judge play key roles in New England’s offense going through a transition. The Patriots doing that might still be in their best interest in the long term, but the short-term results have looked disappointing thus far.

Some context on Isaiah Wynn’s game against the Raiders... Isaiah Wynn’s odd summer took another turn against the Raiders on Friday. Making his preseason debut at the right tackle position, the former first-round draft pick appeared to have a hard time while seemingly giving up a pair of sacks.

However, the film shows that those quarterback takedowns were not necessarily his fault:

Wynn is in the spotlight this summer due to his role change and him being the subject of trade rumors, However, his game on Friday was not as bad as it looked like at first glance — at least in the grand scheme of New England’s offensive struggles.

...and why trading him might not be in New England’s best interest. The Patriots’ offensive line is a major area of concern at the moment, with the unit seemingly far from on the same page when it comes to executing the new focus on zone-based blocking. While that might still come, it is not the only concern: the depth across the unit also appears to be lighter than one would want.

The offensive tackle position is no exception. The projected starters — Trent Brown and Wynn — have had injury issues in the past, with the next two men on the depth chart in the same position: Yodny Cajuste missed his first two years in the NFL entirely and played only a marginal role in 2021; Justin Herron has missed time due to injury this summer and has had his issues when on the field.

Behind those four player, the depth chart consists of Yasir Durant (who also missed time this training camp) as well as a pair of tackle/guard hybrids: Arlington Hambright and William Sherman.

Unless New England feels confident in Cajuste and Herron to solidify the right tackle and OT3 spots, trading Wynn might therefore not be in the team’s best interest. Yes, his cap hit is high at $10.41 million. Yes, he is in the final year of his deal. Yes, there are questions about his commitment to his new role. However, at the end of the day the Patriots offensive line still appears to be at its best with Wynn on the roster.

Robert Kraft has to wait another year for Hall of Fame recognition. Last week, the Pro Football Hall of Fame announced Don Coryell as a finalist for induction out of a group of 12 coaches and contributors. Accordingly, Patriots owner Robert Kraft has to wait a year to get another chance at earning a gold jacket.

The belief is that he will get in eventually given the success his franchise has enjoyed since he bought it in 1994. However, the 81-year-old needs some patience.