By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
Many on the Patriots beat like to project the 53-man roster periodically throughout the offseason, training camp, and the preseason. So I’ll give it a shot, with at least one bold prediction coming up.
It’s always challenging to predict what Bill Belichick is going to do with the bottom of the roster. But it’s a worthwhile exercise to map out how many players are locks (or close to it) to be with the team at the start of training camp. It also helps you realize who will be on the bubble come roster-cutting time. The Patriots will trim from 90 (technically 89 right now) to 53 by Sept. 1.
The below projections don’t account for injuries. There are likely to be a few players that end up on either short-term IR or the physically unable to perform (PUP) list to start the season. This does, however, account for Julian Edelman’s four-game suspension to start the season. He won’t count against the roster while suspended. So with that, here’s how I’m envisioning the roster shaking out to start 2018…
Quarterback: Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer (2)
Not much to discuss here. Seventh-round pick Danny Etling will most likely pass through waivers and end up on the practice squad.
Wide Receiver: Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett, Kenny Britt, Riley McCarron, Cordarrelle Patterson, Matthew Slater (6)
Eric Decker has yet to show enough progress to prove worthy of a spot over Britt. The latter also might be in trouble if he can’t get back to full participation in practice, but the Patriots picked up his option for a reason and he looked good in minicamp before injuring his hamstring. Patterson and Slater will make the roster for special teams purposes, while McCarron will pick up the early-season slack replacing Edelman on punt returns and the occasional snap in the slot. Braxton Berrios is a strong candidate for the practice squad.
Running Back: James White, Rex Burkhead, Sony Michel, Jeremy Hill, Brandon Bolden (5)
White, Burkhead, and Michel are locks. Hill has shown more burst than he has in the past two seasons and should supplant Mike Gillislee, who will get more opportunities in the preseason to make strides but will likely end up released. Bolden remains a special teams mainstay and has even gotten his share of reps on offense. Ralph Webb is a nice story, but he’s not going to show enough to crack the roster. He could end up on the practice squad, though.
Tight End: Rob Gronkowski, Jacob Hollister, Dwayne Allen (3)
The big discussion here is on Allen, who would cost $5 million for the Patriots to keep and nothing to cut. That’s not ideal for a tight end who’s barely given anything on offense and still looks like the No. 3 option as a pass-catcher at the position. But rookie Ryan Izzo, another practice squad candidate, hasn’t shown enough to be able to beat Allen out as an in-line blocker on the main roster. Ex-Giants TE Will Tye is likely to end up on the chopping block.
Offensive Tackle: Trent Brown, Isaiah Wynn, Marcus Cannon, LaAdrian Waddle (4)
The first three are locks, while Waddle looks like the swing tackle based on his practice reps. Wynn has started to sub in at right tackle, which indicates that Dante Scarnecchia really wants to get the skilled rookie first-rounder in there any way possible. But Cannon remains the likely starter on the right side to start the season, with Wynn as a reserve tackle early on. Matt Tobin is pushing for a roster spot as a backup tackle, but will ultimately be released with a chance to land on the practice squad.
Guard/Center: David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Joe Thuney, Ted Karras (4)
Andrews and Mason are two of the better players at their position and remain locks to make the roster, barring perhaps a surprise Mason trade – but there’s no obvious candidate to take over at right guard right now. Karras continues to show his value with his versatility to play all three interior positions, so he’s likely to stay. James Ferentz is making a push, but will be out on cutdown day.
Defensive End: Trey Flowers, Deatrich Wise, Adrian Clayborn, Derek Rivers, Keionta Davis (5)
This is arguably the deepest, strongest position on the team and the one with the best chance to improve over 2017. Wise had a strong camp and has a great chance to make a big jump in year two, with Rivers making progress as a rotational edge rusher. Special teamer Geneo Grissom will see the end of the line for him in favor of Davis, who can contribute similarly in his role and perhaps mix in as an edge rusher in some situations.
Defensive Tackle: Lawrence Guy, Danny Shelton, Adam Butler (3)
This is where the bold prediction comes in: Malcom Brown will be this year’s surprise just-before-the-season trade. He’s not making a ton of money ($1.7 million base salary), so that’s not the issue. But the fact that the Patriots declined Brown’s fifth-year option, and that he’s failed to really set himself apart from Shelton or Guy, indicates that he could be on the way out. It wouldn’t be a surprise if he stayed, though, because carrying only three true interior defensive linemen would be unorthodox. But the Patriots could make up for that by kicking Wise inside in passing situations, which he has the size and versatility to do if needed. They’ll ultimately lean on Shelton and Guy to stop the run, which should be much-improved over last season.
Linebacker: Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Ja’Whaun Bentley, Marquis Flowers, Brandon King, Christian Sam (6)
Hightower and Van Noy are locks, with Bentley rapidly approaching that territory. The rookie fifth-round pick climbed rapidly up the depth chart over training camp and impressed in his preseason debut, so he has a good chance to start the season as the No. 3 linebacker and ultimately push Elandon Roberts off the roster. Flowers and King will stay due to their special teams contributions, while Sam remains a work in progress but has shown enough in coverage to get a shot at some snaps in passing situations.
Safety: Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon, Patrick Chung, Eddie Pleasant, Nate Ebner (5)
The first three are locks. Ebner should be a virtual lock because of his special teams abilities, despite slowly working his way back from a torn ACL last season. The veteran Pleasant may be the one who finally knocks the much-maligned Jordan Richards out.
Cornerback: Stephon Gilmore, Eric Rowe, Duke Dawson, Jonathan Jones, J.C. Jackson, Keion Crossen (6)
Gilmore and 2018 second-round pick Dawson are locks, and Rowe has looked solid enough to hold on to his spot. Jonathan Jones and Keion Crossen will supplant the disappointing Cyrus Jones as special teams/reserve corners. I actually think there may be enough untapped potential for Cyrus Jones, though, that a team may send the Pats a late draft pick to keep him from hitting free agency. Crossen mixed in as a nickel corner on the last day of training camp. At least one undrafted free agent tends to make the team every year; I’m pegging Jackson as that guy, after he’s impressed in press-man coverage. This means Jason McCourty will end up elsewhere, despite getting starter’s reps at times.
Specialists: FB James Develin, K Stephen Gostkowski, P Ryan Allen, LS Joe Cardona (4)
Self-explanatory. Gostkowski and Cardona’s jobs are safe. Allen and Develin have had competition to push them this summer, but neither P Corey Bojorquez nor FB Henry Poggi have made enough of a push to make those battles interesting.
There are always a handful of tough decisions for Belichick to make. Here’s a rundown of those. And if they’re wrong, well, that’s why they call them bold predictions.
Malcom Brown (trade)
Eric Decker (release)
Mike Gillislee (release)
Cyrus Jones (trade)
Jason McCourty (release)
Elandon Roberts (release)
Anyway, feel free to share your thoughts about this projected roster and predictions.
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.