When much of New England was settling in for a night of primetime TV on Tuesday, hours after most of the rest of the NFL had long since revealed their 53-man rosters, Bill Belichick’s Patriots finally announced the team’s transactions to get to the mandated limit.
Many of the team’s cuts and transactions had trickled out through the media throughout the course of the day, and really there were no moves that sent Patriot Nation in to a frenzy. Most were either expected or at least anticipated as potential options.
While this version of the 53-man roster is by no means the final version, or even necessarily the one that will represent the team in less than two weeks for the regular season opener in Miami, it’s still worthwhile to look at the makeup of it prior potential tweaks.
--There were really no shocking cuts and few that even raised an eyebrow. Henry Anderson landing on IR is notable as the versatile veteran has drawn plenty of praise from Belichick over his year-plus in Foxborough, though he’s never played a game for the team in that time. Other veteran cuts that felt notable were special teamer Justin Bethel and cornerback Terrance Mitchell, who signed with the team this offseason and opened training camp as the would-be starter opposite Jalen Mills.
--The roster seems to trend younger, where veterans at positions like offensive line and cornerback were let go in favor of rookie or other early-career players. Ten of the 53 guys are rookies.
--Speaking of rookies, New England extended its streak of 18 straight years with at least one undrafted rookie making the roster. This summer that includes Brenden Schooler and DaMarcus Mitchell, both guys kept with an eye on the core of the kicking game.
--The initial roster is weighted more towards defense and special teams than offense. The breakdown includes 22 players on offense, 25 on defense and six on special teams, although Mitchell could easily be included in that kicking game mix.
--The group includes rookie receiver Tyquan Thornton, who’ll open up a spot when he’s placed on injured reserve due to the collarbone injury he suffered. Veteran running back Ty Montgomery could also be a candidate for the short term IR – the player must miss a minimum of four games – thanks to the ankle injury suffered in the preseason finale in Las Vegas.
--Montgomery’s status is one of the more interesting aspects of the offensive roster. If the veteran running back is out for injury for a few weeks or even lands on IR, the running back group is very thin. Right now it includes Damien Harris, Rhamondre Stevenson, rookie Pierre Strong Jr. and the injured Montgomery. Based on the summer, Strong doesn’t appear ready for significant regular season action for a team that’s often hesitant to give rookie backs a big role. So New England could head into the opener with just Harris and Stevenson at the center of the backfield. Harris has been dinged up a few times in his short career – he missed two games last season and six in 2020. Between lead back duties and third down, the backfield seems a bit undermanned even if the two healthy veteran options have shown more three-down ability this summer in the wake of James Whites’ retirement.
--While cornerback doesn’t lack depth of bodies, it’s an extremely young and uncertain group across the board. After developing No. 1 option Jalen Mills, the rest of the group faces questions. Veteran slot Jonathan Jones has been transitioning to the outside. Third-year safety hybrid Myles Bryant has been manning the slot. Rookies Marcus Jones and Jack Jones are obviously unproven, as is second-year option Shaun Wade. New England clearly favored youth and upside at the cornerback position, but learning that spot on the fly in the NFL can be a bumpy road. Cornerbacks coach Mike Pellegrino certainly has his work cut out for him with this green group.
--Given the Thornton injury it was mildly surprising for the Patriots to keep only four healthy receivers. Veteran Lil’Jordan Humphrey seemed to do enough consistently this summer to add depth to the group. Given his size he was also seen as a depth option at tight end, where New England kept just Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith. Maybe Humphrey will return once Thornton goes on IR or maybe another receiver will be brought aboard.
--The roster was a reminder that short flashes of talent and potential in the offseason aren’t enough to get guys on the team if that production doesn’t extend over a period of time. Tre Nixon didn’t make the cut at receiver despite being one of the best players during spring OTAs. Arlington Hambright took rotational reps with the top offensive line in Mike Onwenu’s right guard spot for a few days in camp but couldn’t take advantage of those snaps to earn a roster spot. Cameron McGrone was supposed to be a new-age addition at linebacker after missing his rookie year to NFI, but that never even came close to coming to fruition on the practice or preseason field.
--Chasen Hines, the rookie sixth-round pick out of LSU, might be the most surprising name on the 53-man roster. The 6-3, 330-pound offensive lineman got a late start to training camp while on NFI and really didn’t garner a lot of attention this August. But the tools/skills that got him drafted and his potential apparently were enough to impress Belichick and Co.
--The offensive line goes eight bodies deep, but the depth of the unit still feels like a question. With the new-look starting lineup from left tackle to right of Trent Brown, Cole Strange, David Andrews, Onwenu and Isaiah Wynn it leaves Justin Herron, Yodny Cajuste and Hines in the backup roles. Cajuste has been the most impressive of that group, but any of the three getting on the field in the regular season would open up concerns in front of Mac Jones.
--With that in mind, experienced veteran depth at tackle and cornerback might be two areas of need the Patriots could target on the waiver wire or as personnel issues settle down across the league in the coming days. A third tight end might also be a consideration to add to the roster.
--With seventh-round lineman Andrew Stueber already lost for the season on NFI, the only of New England’s other draft picks not to make the roster was sixth-round running back Kevin Harris. Harris flashed on a couple runs late in the preseason, but also put the ball on the ground. Given the lack of depth in the backfield, he’d have to be considered a strong candidate for the practice squad assuming he clears waivers.
--While safety gets a lot of love, as it should, the defensive line may be the second-most impressive position on the Patriots roster.
Christian Barmore, Lawrence Guy, Davon Godchaux and Deatrich Wise Jr. are all proven talents, while rookie draft pick Sam Roberts flashed this summer. Carl Davis is sometimes a forgotten veteran presence, but he’s proven over the last year-plus that he can hold his own in the trenches. That depth helped push popular undrafted Alabama rookie product LaBryan Ray off the roster, although he’s another strong practice squad option.
--The undrafted rookie Mitchell is an interesting guy.
The 6-3, 260-pounder has been listed as both a defensive lineman and a linebacker by the team and will likely be used in the kicking game more than anything else. It was notable to see him get core special teams drill work in camp alongside the likes of Matthew Slater and fellow undrafted rookie Schooler.
--Joshuah Bledsoe had a nice second summer of camp action to earn a job in the crowded safety room. Devin McCourty, Adrian Phillips, Kyle Dugger and veteran newcomer Jabrill Peppers will all see plenty of action on defense, maybe at the same time on occasion. Bledsoe is a safety/corner hybrid with obvious special teams potential even if he can’t find his way on the field on defense.
--One player who Belichick and the Patriots seem to like more than many observers is linebacker Jahlani Tavai. The veteran was a former second-round pick of Matt Patricia’s Lions who seemingly didn’t do much to stand out on the practice or preseason field this summer but still locked down a roster spot.
--With the waiver claim period ending at noon ET on Wednesday, teams will be able to sign players to their practice squads. At 4 p.m. on Wednesday teams can move players like Thornton (and maybe Montgomery?) to injured reserve with the ability to return after a minimum four games missed.