Following the preseason opener, some players were able to get their names noticed. While the overall play was uninspiring thanks to it being mostly back ups, it was the first chance to get look at some of this years rookies. As they turn their attention ahead to the Packers on this upcoming Saturday, the Patriots will have more players to keep an eye on and some players that will need to do more to make it.
QB (3): Mac Jones, Bailey Zappe, Malik Cunningham (R)
Let the hype train following Malik Cunningham begin! While it's most widely believed that Cunningham will be a WR for the Patriots, his brief shot at QB late in the first preseason game should at the very least get him ahead of Trace McSorley who has not looked good in practice and the game. Part of that to blame is the depth of the offensive line being poor, but McSorley hasn't looked like anything beyond a camp body to take up some of the hits during the preseason. Cunningham may not see a lot of time at QB for the Patriots in practice or the preseason, but if he were to look good again at the position in the last two preseason games, is there enough chance for him to challenge Zappe for the back up role? Zappe may have completed 12 of 14 for 79 yards, but 27 of it came on one play to Tyquan Thornton, which puts his average under 5 yards a completion. Zappe didn't look impressive in part due to the offensive line, but if McSorley were tearing it up, it probably wouldn't be completely unfathomable to see the Patriots move on from Zappe or give McSorley a better chance at the back up role. So why not Malik? Never say never.
RB (4): Rhamondre Stevenson, Pierre Strong, Kevin Harris, Ty Montgomery/Vet
The RB room seems pretty straightforward. J.J. Taylor has always profiled as more of a depth/practice squad guy in this case, and it's probably not going to change this year. Montgomery has been dealing with injuries, and Belichick's favorite saying is the best ability is availability, so it's entirely possible that he gets squeezed out in favor of a different veteran like Ezekiel Elliott, or someone else. The other three seem pretty straightforward barring some unforeseen change of heart.
WR (5): DeVante Parker, Kendrick Bourne, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Demario Douglas (R), Tyquan Thornton
Demario Douglas only saw 2 snaps during the first preseason game, most starters saw 0. If that's not a good indication for how far he's risen up the depth chart through solid practices, it's a least a very positive smoke signal. For right now, Kayshon Boutte is on the outside looking in. With Cunningham making the team in this projection, it's hard to imagine that the Patriots keep him and Boutte due to that technically being 7 WR's on the roster. Boutte will need to show his potential is more than just projection in order to crack into the list. He wasn't helped by the pocket collapsing so quickly, but it's possible that he could still see time with the higher units and things improve enough for him to make it. Malik Cunningham has largely been used at WR in practices, and it's entirely possible that if they let him stick to QB, that Boutte can slide in here still with a strong finish to the preseason.
TE (3): Hunter Henry, Mike Giesecki, Anthony Firkser
In the (unlikely) event that Cunningham and Boutte both make it, the TE room will probably stay with two. In this new projection, the Malik Magic wins a job on the roster, which in turn means that another position gets to keep an extra guy due to Boutte's spot being taken. In this case, Firkser makes it as a third TE. The Patriots will run more two TE sets this year with Bill O'Brien back running the offense, so it would make sense to stash a third TE who can fill in when necessary.
OL (8): Trent Brown, Atonio Mafi (R), Sidy Sow (R), Michael Onwenu, Cole Strange, David Andrews, Riley Reiff, Connor McDermott
If anywhere would need extra depth, you could argue that it's the line. The problem being that the depth hasn't elicited a lot of positive notes. Calvin Anderson is a candidate to fill in at line, even if McDermott's spot, but there's uncertainty around whether he'll be ready for the season, so in this projection he's still out. The starting line when healthy should be decent enough to work for this season. Brown, Onwenu, Andrews, Strange, Reiff. Maybe Mafi or Sow find a way to put their name up there. The depth will continue to be a question mark this season regardless of whether they keep 8 or they keep 9. It's as simple as that. In order to squeeze someone else past the practice squad, they keep 8 in this projection.
DL (6): Davon Godchaux, Christian Barmore, Deatrich Wise, Keion White (R), Lawrence Guy, Daniel Ekuale
If there was to be a surprise cut, Guy seems like he would be a candidate. While it seems unlikely, if it means they can build in a different spot, Belichick doesn't mix personal and business. In this projection, he stays. During the preseason opener, there was one rookie who looked like a real monster, that man was Keion White. White looked like he was channeling the anger he had written on his face on draft day into punishment on the field, and he looked like he belonged in a different area of the depth chart. If White can keep emerging, the Patriots pass rush could be even better than last year when they finished in the upper tier of sacks.
LB (7): Matthew Judon, Josh Uche, Anfernee Jennings, Juwan Bentley, Marte Mapu (R), Mack Wilson, Jahlani Tavai
Part of what makes the potential of the Patriots rush scary again this year is the emergence of Josh Uche and the return of Matthew Judon. We have yet to see what Marte Mapu can do, but he's joining a solid LB room and he's bringing speed and power too. It's a solid core of the LB's and there won't be many, if any, surprises when it comes to projecting who makes the cut.
CB (6): Jon Jones, Jack Jones, Marcus Jones, Christian Gonzalez (R), Myles Bryant, Isaiah Bolden (R)
The surprise cut(s) here could be Myles Bryant, or Jack Jones depending on how bad his legal issues play out. With that being said, Bryant and Jack make the team still. The coaching staff has shown an increased willingness to keep Myles Bryant despite fans not particularly liking him, and this is the case in the CB room for 2023. Isaiah Bolden makes the team due to his high upside and special teams skills, and his size also allows the possibility that he can contribute on the real defense in certain scenarios where a Myles Bryant type player wouldn't be on the field.
S (5): Jabrill Peppers, Kyle Dugger, Jalen Mills, Adrian Phillips, Joshua Bledsoe
Jalen Mills saw time in the preseason opener and picked off C.J. Stroud in the process. The only question here is Bledsoe. As far as depth goes, Bledsoe is a solid option to make the team while Mills most likely moves around the defense. Here he stays, but with other choices for depth along the line and other position groups, it wouldn't be a shock to see him gone too.
K/P (2): Chad Ryland, Bryce Baringer
At this point, Baringer probably has the job unless he starts shanking every punt. Ryland's leg strength being a huge key is why he should get the benefit of the doubt over Nick Folk, he's accurate enough on top of that. Not much guff coming out of the kicking game.
ST (4): Matthew Slater, Chris Board, Brendan Schooler, Joe Cardona
Another pretty easy group, Slater returns once again with Cardona and Schooler. New addition Chris Board hangs onto the roster spot thanks to his own special teams prowess. Straight and to the point.
Last 3 in: Malik Cunningham, Connor McDermott, Myles Bryant
-Bryant was one of the last 3 in because his spot shouldn't be guaranteed based on performance.
-McDermott was one of the last 3 in because he could easily be on the outside looking in with the return of Calvin Anderson or emergence of another option at corner.
-Malik Cunningham was one of the last 3 in because he's got a long way to go and a few players to beat out, possibly even Bailey Zappe.
Last 3 Out: Kayshon Boutte, Ameer Speed, Ty Montgomery (Maybe)
-Boutte was one of the last 3 out due to the addition of Cunningham to the roster and him still being viewed as a WR. He'll also need to show he belongs to stick around on the roster, or squeak by to the practice squad.
-Speed was one of the last 3 out because of Bolden making the team. While Speed is predominately a special teams player, Bolden offers more in the versatility department when it comes to playing defense and returning kicks.
-Montgomery could be one of the last 3 out due to injury history. If the Patriots sign another vet who has good chances of making the roster, there's going to be an uphill battle for Montgomery to reach the 53 man roster.