By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
Last week was my first stab at a 53-man roster projection for the New England Patriots. It’s already wrong.
It also wasn’t the final projection, because moves like Wednesday’s release of Kenny Britt were inevitable before the final cutdown day on Sept. 1. Receiver remains a positional group relatively low on depth or certainty entering the regular season. Especially the first four weeks, which the Patriots will play without the suspended Julian Edelman. Britt’s departure certainly doesn’t help, but he never made it beyond a limited capacity in practices as he deals with a partially torn hamstring.
With Britt gone and other changes in Foxboro, including the apparent loss of Isaiah Wynn to an Achilles injury, it’s time to revisit the projected 53-man roster for Week 1 of the regular season. Below is the post-Britt and Wynn projection. There are, in my opinion, at least nine spots still open. The rest are locks or safe/strong bets to make the team.
Also, no bold predictions this time. This will be a realistic projection. That’s why they call it a projection.
Quarterback: Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer
Nothing to see here. Danny Etling should still have a good chance to pass through waivers and be placed on the Patriots’ practice squad.
Wide Receiver: Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett, Cordarrelle Patterson, Riley McCarron, Matthew Slater
McCarron gets the nod, due to his usage in punt returns and occasional practice reps with Tom Brady and the first-team offense. Edelman will take his spot in Week 5. Rookie Braxton Berrios continues to push McCarron for his spot, though. The struggling Eric Decker likely hasn’t shown enough, while Devin Lucien and Paul Turner remain long shots.
Running Back: Rex Burkhead, James White, Sony Michel, Jeremy Hill, Brandon Bolden
It still appears as if this battle will come down to a choice between Hill and Gillislee. The former has clearly outperformed the latter in real game action. Gillislee still has time to mount a comeback, but it’s trending in the wrong direction for him. Bolden figures to stay on as a special teams cornerstone.
Tight End: Rob Gronkowski, Jacob Hollister, Dwayne Allen
Hollister has all but assured his spot as the No. 2 receiving option at tight end. Allen, meanwhile, has played a lot as a run blocker and continues to occasionally get looks in the passing game. Though Allen would cost $5 million to keep on the 53-man roster, Will Tye and rookie Ryan Izzo haven’t shown enough to prove they can bring more value. Allen may not make a big jump as a pass-catcher in 2018, but he can only be better after contributing virtually nothing in that department last season.
Fullback: James Develin
Develin remains a favorite of Belichick and Josh McDaniels. The Patriots brought in some competition in the form of Henry Poggi, but he’s not a real threat to Develin’s stranglehold on his spot.
Offensive Tackle: Trent Brown, Marcus Cannon, LaAdrian Waddle, Cole Croston
Wynn’s unfortunate injury most likely opens up a roster spot for the entire season. Croston is in his second year in the Patriots organization and the team must like his versatility; he’s played both right tackle and right guard. He’d likely be the backup to Cannon, with Waddle acting as the backup to Brown. The hope is that they can stay healthy at this position from here.
Guard: Joe Thuney, Shaq Mason
Thuney and Mason have seen the vast majority of first-team snaps and could be primed for career-best seasons. Mason is entering a contract year with an opportunity to potentially cash in as a free agent next March. Croston would be the backup at right guard.
Center: David Andrews, Ted Karras
Andrews remains as consistent and reliable as any player on the Patriots offense, and someone who firmly has Brady’s trust. Karras can also back up Thuney or Mason at guard, but his primary role will be backup center. Despite Wynn’s injury, left tackle remains the only starting O-line position that’s changed from 2017.
Defensive End: Trey Flowers, Adrian Clayborn, Deatrich Wise, Derek Rivers, Keionta Davis
The first four guys are roster locks. Clayborn looked outstanding against the Eagles last Thursday. Meanwhile, Davis looks to be surging toward earning a bit of a surprise spot as an edge rusher. He’s a guy who originally had decent draft hopes before a neck injury derailed hims progress after the Combine. He’ll bump the likes of Geneo Grissom and Eric Lee off the roster.
Defensive Tackle: Lawrence Guy, Danny Shelton, Malcom Brown, Adam Butler
To be clear, the bold prediction still stands: Brown is pegged as this year’s surprise trade candidate. But you can’t project him to be dealt. Brown is still probable to hold on to his roster spot. Barring a big move, this is a group that appears locked in. But Vincent Valentine remains one of several players worth watching in the closing weeks of the preseason.
Linebacker: Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Ja’Whaun Bentley, Elandon Roberts, Marquis Flowers, Brandon King
Hightower and Van Noy are locks, with Bentley surging and looking like the best choice for the No. 3 spot over Elandon Roberts. The rookie out of Purdue is making things look more promising for this group entering the season. Roberts holds on over Nicholas Grigsby and rookie Christian Sam, while King and Flowers stay due to their special teams contributions.
Cornerback: Stephon Gilmore, Eric Rowe, Duke Dawson, Jonathan Jones, Cyrus Jones, J.C. Jackson
Gilmore, Rowe, and Dawson are the only ones assured spots. Jonathan Jones showed promise as a slot corner and special teamer before getting injured in 2017. Cyrus Jones is on the bubble, but could still project as the primary punt returner long-term if he sticks around. The Patriots may not want to give up just yet on the 2016 second-round pick, who had a trying rookie season and lost his entire sophomore year to a torn ACL. Jackson has stood out as a press-man outside corner and could be the undrafted free agent who makes the team and keeps that streak going.
It’ll be a tough cutdown, with veteran Jason McCourty still firmly in the mix. Rookie Keion Crossen has potential on special teams, but clearly has a long way to go to becoming an NFL-caliber corner. Ryan Lewis and Jomal Wiltz have had up-and-down summers and remain long shots.
Safety: Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon, Patrick Chung, Nate Ebner, Eddie Pleasant
This is another group that, like defensive tackle, looks mostly locked in. The first three aren’t going anywhere. Ebner looks like he’s staying on as a special teams mainstay. It’s the fifth spot where a move could be made; it looks to be down to the veteran Pleasant and Jordan Richards. Pleasant makes the team based on his special teams pedigree. Richards continues to be glaringly mistake-prone as he enters his fourth season with the Patriots, but he may not make it there.
Specialists: K Stephen Gostkowski, P Ryan Allen, LS Joe Cardona
No surprises here. Allen maintained a clear lead over rookie Corey Bojorquez throughout camp.
Like any kind of projection, this is subject to change – especially if the Patriots have to deal with more injuries. Things could also change after either of the next two preseason games based on pure performance.
With just 10 days until final cutdowns, are still plenty of spots that aren’t set in stone.
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 email@example.com.