With training camp already underway, the New England Patriots have fully set their sights onto the upcoming 2022 season.
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 third-year safety Jalen Elliott.
Name: Jalen Elliott
Jersey number: 36
Opening day age: 24
Size: 6-foot-0, 205 pounds
Contract status: Under contract through 2022 (2023 ERFA)
What is his experience? Before joining the NFL as an undrafted free agent in 2020, Elliott spent his entire four-year college career at Notre Dame. The three-star recruit proved himself a durable and reliable player in the Fighting Irish’s secondary, appearing in a total of 51 games with 39 starts. Along the way he registered 173 tackles, 17 pass-breakups and six interceptions — including a team-high four in 2018. Elliott, who primarily aligned as a free safety, was also named a team captain during his senior campaign.
Despite a successful college career, Elliott did not hear his name called in the draft and instead had to go the free agency route to find a team. Find one he did, when the Detroit Lions picked him up shortly after the draft. Over the next two years, he moved between the team’s active roster and practice squad and along the way saw action in eight games. He eventually was let go by the organization in May 2022, remaining unsigned for almost three months before joining the Patriots early in training camp.
What did his 2021 season look like? After spending his entire rookie year on the Lions’ practice squad, Elliott entered 2021 competing for a depth spot on defense and a role on special teams. But while he did see regular action in both areas during the team’s preseason, he was ultimately unable to make the active roster yet again: Elliott was released ahead of the roster cutdown deadline and signed to the Detroit practice squad the following day. He remained there for the first eight weeks of the season.
Before promoting him to their 53-man roster in early November, however, the Lions already elevated Elliott twice to the game-day team; he saw action on both defense and in the kicking game in Detroit’s losses to the Los Angeles Rams and Philadelphia Eagles in Weeks 7 and 8, respectively. With his elevation maximum reached by Week 9, however, the club decided to make him a permanent member of its active roster. Elliott would spend the remainder of the season there.
All in all, he ended his second year at the pro level with eight in-game appearances — the first non-preseason action of his career — and a combined 232 snaps: Elliott was on the field for 92 snaps as a safety (of 1,141; 8.1%) as well as 140 on special teams (of 441; 31.7%). Along the way, he registered eight tackles on defense as well as four more in the kicking game. However, he also allowed opposing quarterbacks to go 5-for-6 for 28 yards and two touchdowns when targeting him in coverage.
What is his projected role? Since entering the NFL back in 2020, Elliott has been used primarily as a free safety — a position he is also expected to play with the Patriots. Additionally, he has seen extensive action in the kicking game which in turn might create a role for him not unlike that of fellow safety/special teamer Cody Davis: despite being listed as a defensive back, his primary role on the roster comes on special teams.
Does he have positional versatility? Besides his ability to play on five special teams units — more on that in a second — Elliott has shown some solid versatility throughout his career. Even when disregarding the fact that he played quarterback, wide receiver and cornerback in high school, he has showcased some good positional flexibility by moving between free safety, box safety and slot cornerback alignments on a regular basis.
What is his special teams value? Elliott, as noted above, can serve as a five-unit special teamer for the Patriots pretty much right away. During his lone regular season on the Lions’ active roster, after all, he saw plenty of snaps on the kickoff return squad (46), punt coverage (34) and kickoff coverage team (31), and the punt return unit (21). Additionally, Elliott was also used on the field goal/extra point blocking team (8).
What is his salary cap situation? The Patriots signed Elliott to a one-year free agency contract earlier this week, and the deal itself is a pretty straight-forward one. He will be playing on a base salary of $825,000 with no additional bonuses or any guarantees attached. With his cap number not high enough to qualify for Top-51 status, Elliott’s pact does currently not move the needle for New England and will only do so if he makes the active roster.
How safe is his roster spot? The short answer would be: not at all. The slightly longer answer goes like this: Elliott joined the Patriots late after a three-month stint in free agency, on a contract that would not create any dead salary cap space if terminated; his status on the team is therefore that of a camp body, for lack of a better term. Elliott will likely see action in the preseason opener and might even survive the first two waves of cutdowns, but him making the 53-man roster seems highly unlikely.
One-sentence projection: Unless the Patriots are dealing with any injuries higher up on their safety depth chart, Elliott might get the axe as soon as the first cutdown day on Aug. 16.