Final Patriots’ 53-man roster projection

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In the next 24 hours or so, Bill Belichick must cut his roster down to 53 players.

Most of the Patriots’ roster is a relatively obvious collection of talent. But for a handful of guys, it may just come down to the wire. All the practice, joint practice and preseason action is one big stew to evaluate whether a guy is worthy of one of the precious 53 spots.

Rules for injured reserve – a player must be on the initial 53-man roster in order to be eligible to return to play this season – and the practiced squad muddy the roster waters even more. Many of the guys who are cut between now at Tuesday’s 4 pm deadline will return to New England’s practice squad assuming they clear through waivers.

Still, there are some interesting decisions to be made by Belichick, Matt Groh and the Patriots at the bottom of the depth chart at nearly every position. Those decisions may not decide New England’s season, but they certainly will alter the career paths of the men in question. Mix in the potential for trades and the possibility of New England adding players from waivers and it’s going to be an interesting couple days putting the roster together before turning team wide attention to preparations for the Sept. 11 regular season opener in Miami.

Given all the information we have to work with, here’s one last projection of what the Patriots’ initial 53-man roster might look like!

Offense (23)

Quarterbacks (3)

Mac Jones, Brian Hoyer, Bailey Zappe

Analysis: These three guys seem pretty locked into their roles, the rookie Zappe earning a roster spot as a developmental backup for the future.

Running backs (4)

Damien Harris, Rhamondre Stevenson, Ty Montgomery, Pierre Strong Jr.

Analysis: Harris and Stevenson are set atop the depth chart.
Montgomery’s ankle injury in the preseason finale adds a layer of uncertainty here. He certainly earned a roster spot and should have a role on the offense when healthy. Strong Jr. hasn’t been all that impressive this summer, but as the fastest running back at last winter’s Combine probably wouldn’t get through waivers. Kevin Harris showed flashes this summer, but probably not enough to justify a roster spot and he looked like he got dinged up against the Raiders. J.J. Taylor is a possibility, but he feels like a guy who you can get to the practice squad or get back on the roster later as needed.

Tight ends (2)

Hunter Henry, Jonnu Smith

Analysis: Henry and Smith are obviously the core of the tight end position. Third-year former third-round pick Devin Asiasi would be the next option, but really has never done much to earn a spot. Lil’Jordan Humphrey or an extra offensive lineman may need to provide the tight end depth until New England finds a more palatable option.

Wide receivers (6)

Jakobi Meyers, Kendrick Bourne, DeVante Parker, Nelson Agholor, Tyquan Thornton, Lil’Jordan Humphrey

Analysis: Thornton will only be on the roster for a day before going to injured reserve for at least a month due to his collarbone injury/reported surgery. The rest of the group is pretty much set assuming there is no shakeup from a last minute trade. At this point, though, New England may not want to eat into its depth at the position even if it would potentially open up some salary cap space.

Offensive line (8)

Trent Brown, Cole Strange, David Andrews, Mike Onwenu, Isaiah Wynn, Yodny Cajuste, Kody Russey, Justin Herron

Analysis: The starting five is set and seemingly back to health even if they were less than impressive in the preseason finale in Las Vegas. Cajuste appears to have the inside track at the swing tackle job, but Herron remains in the mix despite a disappointing summer. Russey has impressed enough as an undrafted rookie to stick around. James Ferentz likely won’t go far and could make his way back to the roster at any point as he always seems to.

Defense (24)

Defensive line (6)

Christian Barmore, Lawrence Guy, Davon Godchaux, Henry Anderson, Deatrich Wise Jr., Sam Roberts

Analysis: This position is one of the best on the roster, with both high-end talent and depth. Barmore, Guy, Godchaux and Wise are the foundation. Anderson is a versatile veteran who’s probably on the bubble but would bring a $1 million dead cap hit if cut. Roberts flashed early in the preseason and gets the nod here over LaBryan Ray and DaMarcus Mitchell, both with the versatility and upside to stick around in some form or fashion. Daniel Ekuale will serve an NFL suspension to open the year, but could join the mix in a couple weeks as well.

Linebacker (6)

Matthew Judon, Josh Uche, Ja’Whuan Bentley, Raekwon McMillan, Mack Wilson Jr., Anfernee Jennings

Analysis: This spot still has plenty of questions to answer after the Pro Bowler Judon, but the guys trying to get the jobs done have settled into some clarity. Uche and Jennings both had decent summers on the outside. Bentley is the trusted vet inside with McMillan and Wilson in the mix. In this scenario a couple Belichick favorites in Harvey Langi and Jahlani Tavai are left on the outside looking in.

Safety (5)

Devin McCourty, Kyle Dugger, Adrian Phillips, Jabrill Peppers, Joshuah Bledsoe

Analysis: This was projected to be the deepest, most talented position on the roster and it remains that way with Bledsoe adding his name to the mix. With Peppers playing into full health the only question now is how many of these guys are on the game field together with regularity for the defense.

Cornerback (7)

Jalen Mills, Jonathan Jones, Myles Bryant, Terrance Mitchell, Marcus Jones, Jack Jones, Shaun Wade

Analysis: The post-J.C. Jackson cornerback spot remains uncertain at best. But there are a lot of relatively competitive bodies to throw at opposing passing attacks. Mills is the No. 1 option and Jonathan Jones looks like he’s going to try to prove he can fill the other outside job after spending most of his career in the slot. Marcus and Jack Jones are rookies with upside. Bryant may get the first hack at the slot job. Mitchell hasn’t had a great summer, but it feels like you may just need the experience from the journeyman veteran at some point. Wade has been up and down, but it’s probably too soon to give up on his upside given all the other uncertainty at the position.

Special teams (6)

Nick Folk (PK), Jake Bailey (P), Joe Cardona (LS), Matthew Slater, Justin Bethel, Brenden Schooler

Analysis: The specialists are locked in, as is Slater as the leader of the coverage units. Schooler has impressed as an undrafted rookie who the team appears to be grooming for a core role. Bethel and Cody Davis could be vying for one roster spot and we’re going to stick with our gut saying the latter could be the odd man out in a move that saves almost $2 million on the cap.

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