Projection vs Reality: Reaction to the 53 Man Roster

The Patriots always seem to make some surprise cuts and decisions when it comes to cutdown day. It wasn't until recently that a majority of the cuts happened on one day, but with the entire NFL releasing and waiving hundreds of players all at once, it gives teams the chances to sneak people through to their practice squad. This year was no different with the Patriots making some surprising cuts, and keeping players that left some scratching their heads. Taking a look at the last projection I wrote, here, let's look at what the major changes were across the board.

QB (1): Mac Jones

Projection: (2) - Mac Jones, Bailey Zappe

In what was probably the most shocking move to most, the Patriots kept only Mac Jones on the initial roster. It's not the first time they've done this, it happened with Mac/Cam/Hoyer, but it was shocking to see that the Patriots would decide to risk losing both Zappe and Cunningham to other teams by releasing them. Both Zappe and Cunningham have returned via the practice squad, but there is something to be said about the decision to release them at all. Cunningham had an exciting run at QB but largely looked out of place at WR, which may have aided in his return and survival through the waiver wire. Zappe, on the other hand, was a bit more of the shock. Zappe had struggled for most of the summer and didn't do anything in the preseason to ever really present a challenge to Mac Jones, but was it bad enough to cut him entirely? While he had a portion of fans on his side, not everyone but some, it seems as though the feeling weren't entirely extended to Bill O'Brien and Belichick. Releasing Zappe and exposing him to other teams was one way of saying that they could upgrade the back up position if they needed to, but they were also fine with bringing him back. For now, Mac Jones lives alone on the roster, but it's likely to change by the time the first game rolls around.

RB (2): Rhamondre Stevenson, Ezekiel Elliott

Projection: (4) - Stevenson, Elliott, Ty Montgomery, Kevin Harris

Another shocking cutdown grouping was the RB group. When you break it down, at face value, it isn't all that surprising. Kevin Harris was likely going to make it through waivers so it wasn't as big of a risk to release him and hope for the best. As for Montgomery, he was battling injuries for most of his time with the Patriots, so releasing him wasn't necessarily a huge unreasonable mess. What was surprising was that they only kept two on the initial roster. J.J. Taylor was another name that some thought may be able to sneak through onto the roster, he was also released. Montgomery and Harris both found their way back to the practice squad of the Patriots while Taylor reportedly is looking for a fresh start elsewhere. This is another position group that should see some movement by the time the regular season starts.

WR (6): DeVante Parker, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Kendrick Bourne, Tyquan Thornton, Kayshon Boutte, Demario Douglas

Projection: (6) - Parker, Smith-Schuster, Bourne, Thornton, Boutte, Douglas

In the projection, it's noted that Thornton could see himself on the IR for the first four weeks of the season, and that's what is reportedly the case. The projection was spot on as Boutte and Douglas both made the roster after strong camps and strong practices. With Thornton headed to the IR, it should possibly increase the chances that the rookies see the field, with Douglas seemingly moving himself up the depth chart enough to possibly be a regular contributor.

TE (2): Hunter Henry, Mike Gesicki

Projection: (2) - Henry, Gesicki

While it was a surprise to some considering the Patriots wanting to run two TE sets, the projection again was spot on. Keeping Hunter and Gesicki was a no brainer, but no one set themselves up for success when it came to the other TE's on the roster. Since none of them made a case for them to be hard to cut, the Patriots cut it down to the bare minimum on the initial roster, while keeping two other TE's on the practice squad in Matt Sokol and Pharoah Brown. This roster group may change on gameday but this could also just be how the Patriots handle the TE grouping this season based on match ups.

*The final projection was made before the trade for OT Vedarian Lowe, which would've factored into the projection as a 10th lineman*

OL (11): Trent Brown, Cole Strange, David Andrews, Mike Onwenu, Riley Reiff, Calvin Anderson, Sidy Sow, Atonio Mafi, Jake Andrews, Tyrone Wheatley Jr., Vedarian Lowe

Projection: (9) - Brown, Strange, Onwenu. D. Andrews, J. Andrews, Reiff, Sow, Mafi, Wheatley Jr.

The final projection didn't account for the trade for Vedarian Lowe, nor did it account for Calvin Anderson being activated off the NFI list. Both of which would've factored into the roster, but admittedly would've forced someone off the projection. While it's still possible someone gets added to the IR from the grouping to get down to 10, the offensive line being a huge question mark really did necessitate this. The preseason did nothing to invoke any type of confidence in the depth along the line so keeping what the Patriots did was in the best interest of the team. While it remains to be seen who steps up and who gets shuffled out of there, for right now, they keep the best options they can.

DL (7): Davon Godchaux, Christian Barmore, Lawrence Guy, Deatrich Wise, Keion White, Daniel Ekuale, Sam Roberts

Projection: (5) - Godchaux, Barmore, Guy, Wise, White

In the final projection, only 5 made it. In the previous iterations, only 6 made it. In reality, there were 7 that made it. In previous projections, Ekuale made the team due to his ability to pop up in the pass rushing department. After the release of Carl Davis, it seemed that there was a good chance that he was going to make it but in order to keep other players, he was left off of the projections due to there not being a monumental risk that someone claim him. But nonetheless, Ekuale made the roster. Another player that made a strong push alongside the 6th round WR rookies was the 2022 6th round pick, Sam Roberts. Roberts had a strong camp and preseason, but the feeling in the projection was the same as Ekuale. Both guys made the roster, and it's going to be a solid rotation of defensive lineman because of it.

LB (7): Matt Judon, Josh Uche, Anfernee Jennings, Ja'Whuan Bentley, Jahlani Tavai, Marte Mapu, Mack Wilson

Projection: (8) - Judon, Uche, Jennings, Bentley, Tavai, Mapu, Wilson, Ronnie Perkins

Previous projections were completely accurate with the group. The final projection, was not. To be fair, Ronnie Perkins did make it back to the practice squad. It's a solid core where there wasn't a massive amount of question marks surrounding who was going to make it. Some analysts and reporters made the decision to cut Mack Wilson as their surprise cut, but there wasn't any hesitation about keeping him on the roster. The Patriots have been able to get more athleticism into the position, and keeping Mack Wilson adds to that.

CB (6): Christian Gonzalez, Jack Jones, Marcus Jones, Jonathan Jones, Myles Bryant, Shaun Wade

Projection: (5) - Gonzalez, Jones, Jones, Jones, Bryant

Who had Shaun Wade making the team? Anyone? The 6th corner that most projections kept was Isaiah Bolden, not Wade. The third projection was post-injury to Bolden, and correctly projected him to the IR, but the final projection left him off. The main 5 corners weren't going to change much, and the Patriots must feel confident to some extent in Shaun Wade's progression in order to keep him on the roster after he was largely inactive on gamedays last season. Wade had himself a good preseason while being moved around between corner and safety so it's not a completely unwarranted idea to keep him around given any potential depth issues.

S (4): Kyle Dugger, Adrian Phillips, Jalen Mills, Jabrill Peppers

Projection: (4) - Dugger, Phillips, Mills, Peppers

If any group was pretty much locked in, it was this one. Any type of roster push from Joshuah Bledsoe would be snuffed out by someone in a different grouping or a group that needed depth. Bledsoe returned to the Patriots via the practice squad, but the 4 safeties the Patriots decided to carry into the season weren't much of a surprise to anyone.

K/P (2): Chad Ryland, Bryce Baringer

Projection: (2) - Ryland, Baringer

The kicking game got a refresh so to speak when the Patriots selected both Baringer and Ryland in the draft. While some didn't think Ryland should've won the job, or the Patriots for some reason should've rostered 2 kickers, the job did in fact go to the rookie kicker. Ryland's big leg and accuracy shouldn't be a significant drop off from what Nick Folk provided, and the Patriots just don't cut 4th round rookies, even kickers. The Patriots traded Nick Folk to the Titans signifying the end of his tenure, and officially crowning Ryland the winner. As for Baringer, his news came when the Patriots released Corliss Waitman. Aided by his booming punts and impressive hang times, Baringer seemed like he had the job locked up for most of the summer. Now officially, the Patriots bring youth and big legs into the special teams unit that needed some change after last year.

ST (5): Chris Board, Matthew Slater, Joe Cardona, Brendan Schooler, Ameer Speed

Projection: (6) - Board, Slater, Cardona, Schooler, Bolden/Speed, Calvin Munson

The projection called for either Bolden or Ameer Speed to make the team which was largely based on whether or not Bolden landed on the IR, which he ultimately did. Calvin Munson is currently on the practice squad and it is still believed that he will end up on the 53 man roster eventually after the dust settles, which would lead the projection being accurate, but for right now the Patriots roll with 5. Chris Board could technically fall into the LB category, similarly Speed could fall into the CB category, but both will mostly see time as special teams unit pieces. Adding pieces to a group that uncharacteristically struggled last year was a key component to the roster building.

The initial roster was largely set the way it was to make other moves if necessary. Players will still come and go, players will find their way to the IR, the roster will continue to evolve until the first game of the season. Overall, after a few surprises which included the QB room going down to one, the roster isn't too far off from what most projections had. While analysts, sports media talking heads, and social media trolls will look at the roster's current construction with a smirk and no expectation for more moves to be made, it's a wild idea that it'd look like this for week 1 against the Eagles.

If the Patriots do decide to keep the roster the way it's constructed for week 1, then only one movie quote comes to mind:

"That's a bold strategy, Cotton. Let's see how it plays out for 'em."

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