Roster cutdown day is fast approaching for the Patriots. It’s probably why they haven’t bothered filling in the 4-5 open spots they have on the roster, which will be finalized by Saturday, Sept. 1. That, or trades are coming.
Either way, there are still a bunch of players to keep an eye on as the team gears up for one final preseason game. It would be surprising to see any starters at all playing on Thursday against the New York Giants. But that just means that plenty of players are on the proverbial “bubble” and will have one last opportunity to prove they belong.
Here’s a look at 16 players with something to prove this Thursday night, grouped by position. They’re far from assured roster spots, but should still be considered possibilities to make the team.
WRs Riley McCarron, Braxton Berrios, and Devin Lucien
Eric Decker retired on Sunday, the latest attrition to hit this receiver corps. But Decker was always a long shot anyway. In fact, there’s a chance that none of the above three players make the team. But if they want a traditional slot receiver to fill in for Weeks 1-4 while Julian Edelman sits out due to his suspension, then McCarron would likely get the nod. All three should be candidates for the practice squad if none of them make the final roster.
RBs Jeremy Hill and Mike Gillislee
The first preseason game was the only time Hill clearly established himself in the lead over Gillislee. That may still be the case, but Gillislee has been given every opportunity to mount a comeback. It appears that neither of them are a real threat to special teams running back Brandon Bolden. So it’s clear that only one of these guys will end up making the roster as the “big back”. Hill should still be considered the favorite, but maybe not a big one.
OLs Matt Tobin, Cole Croston, and Ulrick John
These three appear to have the only chance of filling the void left by Isaiah Wynn. Curiously, there’s no official announcement from the Patriots, but the assumption is that Wynn is out for the season with an Achilles injury. Croston has the edge in experience within the Patriots’ system, but Tobin has been the backup left tackle behind Trent Brown and Wynn most of the time. Another option for left tackle is probably the way the Patriots will want to go; Croston is better suited and more experienced on the right side.
TEs Will Tye and Ryan Izzo
It’s hard to believe that Bill Belichick would be remotely excited about paying $5 million for Dwayne Allen. The veteran tight end has mainly been used as a blocker for the run game. And while he couldn’t possibly be worse than 2017 offensively, he still doesn’t look like a factor in the passing game. If Belichick can get a similar level of blocking and occasional receiving out of the cheaper Tye or Izzo, there’s still a chance the head coach goes for the more affordable option here.
DT Vincent Valentine
There likely won’t be any surprises at edge rusher, but the defensive interior is a bit more interesting. The Patriots seemingly have four defensive tackles locked in: Danny Shelton, Lawrence Guy, Malcom Brown, and Adam Butler. But Brown has always felt like a candidate for a surprise trade as part of roster cutdowns. That’s all speculation though, and likely the only avenue Valentine would have to make the roster. It’d be a tough decision for Belichick to move on from the 2016 third-round pick after he missed all of 2017, but Butler has probably shown enough to beat him out for a spot.
DBs Jason McCourty and Jordan Richards
The Patriots tried McCourty at safety during Friday’s preseason loss to the Carolina Panthers. That’s an indication that they’re looking for any kind of roster spot for him. They probably want to get younger at cornerback with a plethora of up-and-coming options on that depth chart. So McCourty’s usage could mean that they’re deciding whether he’s worth keeping as the fifth safety over Richards.
CBs Cyrus Jones, Keion Crossen, and Ryan Lewis
There’s a chance that one of the above names ends up on the 53-man roster. Stephon Gilmore, Eric Rowe, and Duke Dawson are locked in. Assuming McCourty is out at corner, J.C. Jackson has a much better chance of making the team after he continues to flash. Jonathan Jones has value as both a slot corner and special teamer. Cyrus Jones could still make the team as a punt returner; in that case, the Patriots could possibly be choosing between him and McCarron for a roster spot. Crossen has had a tough preseason so he’s not likely to be anything more than a practice squad player at this point. Lewis has impressed at times, but has also dealt with an injury and become more of a long shot as the preseason has gone along.
Most of these guys figure to get their share of action on Thursday night, their final auditions for the team. Expect a few of them to end up making the final 53.
— By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
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.