The New England Patriots are two weeks into training camp and their first preseason game has yet to be played, which makes this the perfect time for my way too early 53-man roster projection. Did I think more with my heart than my head here? Probably. Is it going to surprise you? Well... Probably.
But I decided to have some fun with it, and make it look as close to realistic as possible. So, here we go.
In (2): Mac Jones, Bailey Zappe
Out (1): Brian Hoyer
I think the rookie has passed Brian Hoyer already, and there are other roster spots needed. I would be shocked if Hoyer doesn’t end up on the practice squad, because he is here to help Mac Jones. That is what he is going to do this season, whether on the 53-man team or the emergency roster.
In (4): Damien Harris, Rhamondre Stevenson, Ty Montgomery, Pierre Strong
PUP (1): James White
Out (2): J.J. Taylor, Kevin Harris
No surprises real here, but I think J.J. Taylor is running out of time. He doesn’t bring the explosiveness that guys like Darren Sproles did, and so I don’t think he’s making the team over a player like Ty Montgomery (who has been much more involved already). Rookie Kevin Harris is probably on the Damien Harris track of getting red-shirted this year, possibly on the practice squad.
In (6): Nelson Agholor, Kendrick Bourne, Jakobi Meyers, Devante Parker, Tyquan Thornton, Tre Nixon
Out (3): Josh Hammond, Lil’Jordan Humphrey, Kristian Wilkerson
If you’ve been listening to me or reading me at all the last two years, you knew Tre Nixon was going to be on this list. I actually think he has a realistic shot to make the team this year. He had an amazing spring, and he’s been solid in training camp so far. Nelson Agholor stays as well, as they are not getting anything back for him and his contract on the trade market. If they’re paying him anyway, he might as well be on the team.
In (3): Hunter Henry, Jonnu Smith, Dalton Keene
Out (2): Devin Asiasi, Matt Sokol
Dalton Keene hasn’t been able to stay healthy, but, if he can, I think he can be the tight end/fullback/H-back that this offense is looking for, or at least spell Jonnu Smith if he is asked to do it. Former third-round draft pick Devin Asiasi continues to be quiet, and I think his time in New England might actually be coming to an end sooner rather than later.
In (8): Trent Brown, Cole Strange, David Andrews, Michael Onwenu, Isaiah Wynn, Justin Herron, James Ferentz, Drew Desjarlais
PUP (2): Chasen Hines, Andrew Stueber
Out (6): Yodny Cajuste, Yasir Durant, Arlington Hambright, Bill Murray, Kody Russey, William Sherman
We know what the starters are going to look like, but I think three backups make sense. James Ferentz has the ability to play guard and center, Justin Herron is your swing tackle, and Drew Desjarlais has been good enough in camp that I would put the CFL standout on this list over somebody like Arlington Hambright or William Sherman. I think Chasen Hines and Andrew Stueber could eventually overtake Desjarlais here, but they look like they will both be starting the season on the physically unable to perform list.
In (6): Christian Barmore, Devon Godchaux, Deatrich Wise Jr., Lawrence Guy, Henry Anderson, LaBryan Ray
Out (4): Carl Davis, Daniel Ekuale, Jeremiah Pharms Jr., Sam Roberts
Carl Davis, Daniel Ekuale, and Sam Roberts are all missing from the 53-man team, but I think at least one of them — Roberts — will end up on the practice squad. Both Davis and Ekuale, meanwhile, might be expendable because of the play of Henry Anderson and the undrafted rookie free agent LaBryan Ray. The latter is a fascinating player: talent was never the question with him, health was. If he can stay healthy, which he has so far, he might be able to crack the rotation by the end of the year.
In (7): Matthew Judon, Ja’Whaun Bentley, Raekwon McMillan, Mack Wilson Sr., Anfernee Jennings, Ronnie Perkins, Cameron McGrone
Out (5): Josh Uche, Harvey Langi, DaMarcus Mitchell, Jahlani Tavai, Nate Wieland
That isn’t a typo: Josh Uche is not on my list. He has been quiet in camp, and has seen plenty of reps with the second-stringers. I think, at this point, a change of scenery might be the best thing for him and the team. Cameron McGrone hasn’t done much in camp either, but with all the hype surrounding him this year, I decided to keep him on the list, assuming he is healthy. It sounded Jahlani Tavai went down hard with a non-contact injury on Thursday, so there is a chance he stays in New England but goes to injured reserve; all of that is just speculation at this point in time.
In (7): Jalen Mills, Terrance Mitchell ,Jonathan Jones, Marcus Jones, Jack Jones, Malcolm Butler, Myles Bryant
Out (2): Shaun Wade, Joejuan Williams
This is a deep unit, with a ton of speed and athleticism across the board. While there isn’t a true No. 1, all of the players look like they belong out there and should be able to contribute this year. Jalen Mills has been the Patriots’ best cornerback in camp, but Malcolm Butler has also been building some momentum and might be primed to have a bounce-back year.
In (5): Devin McCourty, Adrian Phillips, Kyle Dugger, Jabrill Peppers, Joshuah Bledsoe
Out (2): Jalen Elliott, Brad Hawkins
This might be New England’s most talented group from top to bottom. I see the Patriots playing all five of their projected 53-man guys a good amount this season, and wouldn’t be surprised to see several of them on the field at once.
In (5): Nick Folk, Jake Bailey, Joe Cardona, Matthew Slater, Justin Bethel
Out (4): Cody Davis, Brenden Schooler, Tristan Vizcaino, Jake Julien
Cody Davis might be a minor surprise, but other than that the list looks as expected. UDFA Brenden Schooler almost made this list, but the fact that he is going to exclusively play in the kicking game should allow the Patriots to be able to sneak him onto the practice squad.
So, there you have it. Is it going to be perfect? Obviously not, but I was able to keep the guys I really wanted, and also make what I think is a somewhat realistic initial 53-man roster accounting for the annual Bill Belichick surprise move. That is a win, as far as I’m concerned.