The Patriots closed out the 2023 preseason with a horrendous offensive performance in a loss to the Titans while being led by a lineup of mostly back ups. With the end of the preseason, it can only mean one thing: real football is coming. As with all seasons, first the NFL teams need to decide who they will carry into battle with on the initial roster.
QB (2): Mac Jones, Bailey Zappe
While Zappe played crappy, it didn't damage his status as QB2. Trace McSorley has not looked good all summer, and while keeping a veteran around isn't always a bad idea, McSorley hasn't shown anything to point to him being any type of necessary presence on the roster. Malik Cunningham, on the other hand, has not looked very good at playing WR and hasn't seen enough time at QB to warrant keeping a roster spot open just to save him from the practice squad. If his future is going to be playing WR, he'll make it to the practice squad. He has a very long ways to go in order to crack a roster just based on how he looked against actual NFL competition. However, if the Patriots or another team would be open to keeping him at QB, it may be a better path for him to make it onto a 53 man roster at some point. That time just isn't right out of the gate.
RB (4): Rhamondre Stevenson, Ezekiel Elliott, Ty Montgomery, Kevin Harris
Pierre Strong reportedly is headed to Cleveland which makes the roster battle for the RB group a little bit more murky instead of less. Does J.J. Taylor sneak onto the roster over Kevin Harris, or does Harris get the nod? Ty Montgomery seems like he's on the roster, and for this, he's a RB despite being categorized as both. Pierre Strong initially got the nod here, but with him on his way off to a fresh start, it's clear that the final preseason game was more of a showcasing of his talents. Its not impossible that the Patriots roll with only 3 on the roster before players hit the IR, but why take a risk losing out on someone you're comfortable with?
WR (6): DeVante Parker, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Kendrick Bourne, Tyquan Thornton, Kayshon Boutte, Demario Douglas
Tyquan Thornton may find himself on the IR with an injury to start the year, which should make keeping the two sixth round rookies a lot easier to stomach on the roster. Boutte's usage in the finale, as well as Douglas the entire preseason, should be a key indicator on how things are looking as far as his roster status. Belichick spoke glowingly of the progress that Boutte had made over the course of the spring, so it's not hard to imagine a roster where he's on it.
TE (2): Hunter Henry, Mike Gesicki
The last couple projections have had the Patriots keeping a third TE, in reality, this season might see them just keep two. The other options haven't separated themselves from each other in terms of who should make the roster. The roster could use an extra spot open for different positions rather than keeping an extra TE that would've been more of an emergency option than a useful piece. Keeping a third TE on the practice squad or on their emergency list should suffice, but on the initial roster? Keep two.
OL (9): Michael Onwenu, Trent Brown, Cole Strange, David Andrews, Jake Andrews, Sidy Sow, Atonio Mafi, Riley Reiff, Tyrone Wheatley Jr.
With the addition of Wheatley Jr. coming at this point, it's hard to envision he's not on the roster. That's trading Pierre Strong for literally nothing. How does the starting line look? Who knows? The roster has an extra week to get healthy and then we'll find out who's going to be the front line protectors. The preseason did not give any confidence whatsoever in how the depth looks, so nailing the starters will be a key part. Reiff being dinged up led to the trade for Wheatley Jr., and the rookies should stick around as depth they can grow with.
DL (5): Christian Barmore, Davon Godchaux, Keion White, Deatrich Wise, Lawrence Guy
Pretty standard room here. Rookie Keion White has shown that he could really be a difference maker when it comes to the edge and interior pushes. Pair him with a healthy Barmore and the opposing offensive lines could have their hands full. For the Patriots, who finished top 5 in sacks last year, it's a good sign that they were able to not only bring back the services of the line, but add in a key rookie in White. One room for improvement to watch is going to be the run defense, but this is a great start.
LB (8): Matt Judon, Josh Uche, Anfernee Jennings, Mack Wilson, Marte Mapu, Juwan Bentley, Jahlani Tavai, Ronnie Perkins
There is leaving it all out on the field figuratively, then there's Ronnie Perkins. Perkins had his best showing as a pro in an otherwise dreadful preseason game, which included a highlight where he hit the eject button on his stomach before making the tackle. Perkins has upside, he's just been hurt. Does he make the team? It's possible. Outside of Uche and Judon, there isn't a clear outside pass rusher behind them. Jennings has shown that he can when necessary, Mapu can move around the field from secondary to linebacker, but Perkins presents another option to cycle in for Uche or Judon.
CB (5): Christian Gonzalez, Jonathan Jones, Jack Jones, Marcus Jones, Myles Bryant
While keeping Isaiah Bolden on the roster in the previous projections, it's harder to see that this time around. Other roster pushes may have just pushed him right off. Myles Bryant won't be going anywhere this time around, and keeping the Joneses is a good idea for all purposes. Marcus Jones returns kicks and can see time in the slot, Jonathan Jones can also see time in the slot and outside, Jack Jones can see time outside as well and rookie Christian Gonzalez looked great prior to an injury during camp. Rolling with 5 corners isn't too crazy when you consider that Jalen Mills is going to be on the roster and the practice squad will probably hold a few.
S (4): Jalen Mills, Jabrill Peppers, Kyle Dugger, Adrian Phillips
Previous projections have had Joshuah Bledsoe making the roster, in this case, he's off for a player who will appear in the special teams portion. A solid group of 4 with Dugger starting to blossom into one of the best safeties in the league and Peppers starting to capture some of his previous luster. While Jalen Mills did get released earlier in the offseason, it was more likely more of a formality than a purposeful act that will be repeated.
K/P (2): Chad Ryland, Bryce Baringer
Baringer's leg has been huge. He's clearly got a lot of potential to be an asset on the special teams, something that was sorely lacking last season. There's been a weird storyline about whether Nick Folk will beat out Chad Ryland, the 2023 4th round pick. Nick Folk was solid in his time in New England, but it's too early to give up Ryland and his leg. While it may bring growing pains, Ryland's future potential over the next 4 years over the near 40 year old Nick Folk is a much easier risk to take.
ST (6): Matthew Slater, Joe Cardona, Chris Board, Calvin Munson, Brendan Schooler, Isaiah Bolden/Ameer Speed
Pick a rookie to keep. Bolden's concussion probably won't land him on IR, but it is Foxboro Flu season. Speed has great potential as a special teams player so he could be the one to make it and not draw a lot of question marks. Slater, Cardona, Board, Schooler all seem to be about as locked into making it as anyone, so adding Speed and Munson wouldn't hurt. Calvin Munson had a great final preseason game and had a decent summer overall, so him making it won't be coming out of left field.
Only time will tell how the Patriots build their 53 man roster. There will be no brainers, head scratchers, and possibly people not even in the organization at this point. With only two days to go, the names will start to flow sooner rather than later. Considering most people had Pierre Strong making the roster, it's clear that anything can happen.