Two preseason games have come and gone. Official training camp at Gillette Stadium is now over. A number of injuries and a retirement have shaken up the New England depth chart.
So while there’s still almost three weeks until the Patriots’ regular season opener in Miami and more than a week (Aug. 30) until Bill Belichick must cut his roster down to the 53-man limit, a lot has happened in terms of trying to project exactly what that initial roster might look like.
Some roster spots and roles may even truly be up for competitive grabs this week during joint practice action in Las Vegas prior to Friday’s preseason finale against the Raiders.
With all that in mind, here’s another attempt at projecting the Patriots 53-man roster to open the new season.
Mac Jones, Brian Hoyer, Bailey Zappe
Analysis: Hoyer is clearly the veteran backup even if the rookie Zappe has shown some potential as the developmental depth option for the future. It seems the only way the two don’t join Jones on the opening roster is if Hoyer’s veteran journeyman status makes him a candidate to be used in some roster manipulations as it seems unlikely any team would claim him.
Running backs (5)
Damien Harris, Rhamondre Stevenson, Ty Montgomery, Kevin Harris, Pierre Strong Jr.
Analysis: This still feels like one body too many, especially with neither rookie exactly lighting the world on fire in training camp or preseason action. Maybe New England has to carry all five running backs. Or maybe this plays itself out over the next week. If there is an odd man out it would probably be the sixth-round pick Kevin Harris.
Tight ends (2)
Hunter Henry, Jonnu Smith
Analysis: The two veterans are the only guys who’ve truly earned a roster spot. The third tight end role could probably be filled by some combination of an extra tackle in blocking situations and Lil’Jordan Humphrey’s “tight end-ish” size. It’s almost a lock New England will have a tight end on the practice squad whether that’s one of the guys who doesn’t make the cut or a body from the outside.
Wide receivers (6)
Jakobi Meyers, Kendrick Bourne, DeVante Parker, Nelson Agholor, Tyquan Thornton, Lil’Jordan Humphrey
Analysis: Thornton has to be on the roster to open the season in order to return from IR, where he’ll likely land due to a shoulder injury. That opens up room, sort of, for Humphrey after a very strong summer. There are still questions as to what is going on with Bourne’s strange August, but it’s still hard to envision New England trading away one of its receivers unless some team is willing to pay all of Agholor’s salary.
Offensive line (7)
Trent Brown, Cole Strange, David Andrews, Mike Onwenu, Isaiah Wynn, Yodny Cajuste, Kody Russey
Analysis: With Wynn and Justin Herron missing time and the backup tackles struggling at times, this group becomes more difficult to project by the week. There still would seem to be a need to add a veteran backup tackle to the mix if possible. Russey has come on to earn a backup interior spot, while James Ferentz is a guy to try to sneak through waivers. Onwenu’s ability to play guard and tackle as well as the flexibility with the practice squad leaves this is a short bench to open the year.
Defensive line (6)
Christian Barmore, Lawrence Guy, Davon Godchaux, Henry Anderson, Deatrich Wise Jr., Sam Roberts
Analysis: This position looks more loaded by the week. The veterans are all on solid ground, though Anderson probably wouldn’t be a stunning cut at this point even with a $1 million dead cap hit. Roberts is the keeper among the rookies, although LaBryan Ray and DaMarcus Mitchell also are very much in the mix and it would behoove the team to retain them in some form or fashion.
Matthew Judon, Josh Uche, Ja’Whuan Bentley, Raekwon McMillan, Mack Wilson Sr., Anfernee Jennings
Analysis: This is a tough spot to gauge, at least on the edge behind Judon. The run to be the last guy at inside and outside linebacker could be a competitive one this week and a late injury could always alter things. Uche and Jennings have shown up of late, so Ronnie Perkins becomes the odd man out.
Devin McCourty, Kyle Dugger, Adrian Phillips, Jabrill Peppers, Joshuah Bledsoe
Analysis: This is the deepest, most talented position on the roster. Bledsoe is the only question mark in the group now that Peppers is working his way back to full health. Bledsoe seems to have earned a spot with his playmaking, versatility, energy and special teams potential.
Jalen Mills, Jonathan Jones, Myles Bryant, Terrance Mitchell, Marcus Jones, Jack Jones, Shaun Wade
Analysis: Even with Malcolm Butler and Joejuan Williams out of the mix on IR, this remains a competitive and interesting spot. Mills is locked into the No. 1 role, while the rest could be a work in progress. Bryant’s versatility to play all over the back end and maybe return punts earns him a job. The two Jones rookies will be on the roster if they stay healthy. The journeyman veteran Mitchell would seem to be a necessary depth piece based on his experience as a starter elsewhere, while it’s seemingly too early to give up on Wade.
Special teams (6)
Nick Folk (PK), Jake Bailey (P), Joe Cardona (LS), Matthew Slater, Justin Bethel, Brenden Schooler
Analysis: The specialists are locked, but the core special teams roles have some room for debate. Slater isn’t going anywhere but Bethel and Cody Davis might be battling for one roster spot with the undrafted rookie Schooler doing enough in this scenario to earn a job.