New England Patriots

By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com

It’s never too early to do some good old-fashioned roster projectin’.

Well I guess you could point out a time that’s pretty early. March would have been silly. But now it’s almost time for Patriots training camp, so it’s truly time to start thinking about cutdowns for the Super Bowl LIII champs.

Here’s the first official 53-man roster projection for the 2019 Patriots as currently constituted, with training camp kicking off for the public on Thursday. Of course, many things could change from here on out and later projections could look different. But this is how it shakes out as of Monday, with a handful of surprise cuts at their deepest positions.

Quarterbacks (3): Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer, Jarrett Stidham

Pretty straightforward. The only question here is whether the Pats want to keep Hoyer for one more year as a valuable scout team QB and experienced backup. Stidham will be on the roster, but probably isn’t ready to assume the roles that Hoyer has filled since coming back to New England in the Jimmy Garoppolo trade with the 49ers. The former Auburn QB will be this year’s Jacoby Brissett.

Quarterback Jarrett Stidham speaks to reporters by the practice field outside Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. after minicamp on June 5, 2019. (Matt Dolloff/WBZ-FM)

Running Backs (5): James White, Sony Michel, Rex Burkhead, Damien Harris, Brandon Bolden

White and Michel are entrenched in their respective roles. Harris, whom Bill Belichick drafted in the third round as a “best player available” move, is a lock. Bolden is back as a core special teamer and can run the ball in a pinch.

Five backs may seem like a lot, but even last year seemed like a deep group and yet the Patriots still ended up having to run with Cordarrelle Patterson for two games. They certainly want to avoid that scenario again. Burkhead would be the surprise cut, if anyone, but it’s likely he survives final cutdowns again due to his versatility and unpredictability as a weapon.

FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – JANUARY 13: Sony Michel #26 of the New England Patriots reacts with Tom Brady #12 after scoring a touchdown during the first quarter of the AFC Divisional Playoff Game against the Los Angeles Chargers at Gillette Stadium on January 13, 2019 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)

Wide Receivers (5): Julian Edelman, N’Keal Harry, Phillip Dorsett, Braxton Berrios, Matthew Slater

Edelman and Harry, the first receiver drafted by Belichick in the first round in his Patriots tenure, are locks. Dorsett has a very good chance of beating out his veteran counterparts; hopefully his second full offseason with the Pats will help him make a jump in production. Slater counts on the roster as a WR and remains a special teams cornerstone.

Berrios beats out bigger but more expensive targets like Demaryius Thomas, Dontrelle Inman, and Maurice Harris as a true backup slot receiver/punt returner for Edelman, something the Patriots lacked a year ago.

May 23, 2019; Foxborough, MA: New England Patriots wide receiver N'Keal Harry catches a pass during organized team activities at Gillette Stadium practice field. (Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports)

May 23, 2019; Foxborough, MA: New England Patriots wide receiver N’Keal Harry catches a pass during organized team activities at Gillette Stadium practice field. (Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports)

Tight Ends (3): Matt LaCosse, Ryan Izzo, Andrew Beck

Veteran Ben Watson will not count against the 53-man roster for the first four games of the season as he serves a suspension. So either Izzo or Beck will make the initial roster before being relegated to either waivers or the practice squad when Watson returns. LaCosse has shown some upside as a combo tight end in his public appearances at minicamp and OTAs, and could emerge as the best all-around option in a tough situation.

The Patriots are undergoing a complete rebuild at the position in the wake of Rob Gronkowski’s retirement, and clearly didn’t want to overextend themselves to try to find the next Gronk (which will never exist). The hope is that one of the above names can step up to be at least a serviceable option in the passing game.

Oct 1, 2018; Denver, CO: Denver Broncos tight end Matt LaCosse against the Kansas City Chiefs at Broncos Stadium at Mile High. (Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)

Oct 1, 2018; Denver, CO: Denver Broncos tight end Matt LaCosse against the Kansas City Chiefs at Broncos Stadium at Mile High. (Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)

Offensive Line (8): Isaiah Wynn, Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Marcus Cannon, Ted Karras, Yodny Cajuste, Hjalte Froholdt

Wynn remains penciled in at left tackle, with the other four starters virtually locked in. Karras is the only one who could be in jeopardy as he enters the final year of his rookie contract, but for now we have him on the roster as the team’s primary backup interior lineman. Cajuste and Froholdt should both make the team as third and fourth-round picks, respectively. Cajuste could be the backup left tackle from day 1.

Wynn may feel like a question mark at this point, since he still hasn’t participated in team drills this year based on public practices. But the Patriots have little options here and still seem to be supremely confident that Wynn, the 23rd overall pick in last year’s draft, will take over seamlessly for the departed Trent Brown.

Offensive lineman Isaiah Wynn (76) heads to the practice field outside Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. for minicamp on June 5, 2019. (Matt Dolloff/WBZ-FM)

Offensive lineman Isaiah Wynn (76) heads to the practice field outside Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. for minicamp on June 5, 2019. (Matt Dolloff/WBZ-FM)

Edge Rushers (5): Michael Bennett, Deatrich Wise Jr., Derek Rivers, John Simon, Chase Winovich

Bennett should be able to replace Trey Flowers’ pass-rushing production, if not improve it. It’s a big year for both Wise and Rivers, who will be counted on in meaningful roles on the edge in their third NFL seasons – effectively the second for a motivated Rivers.


More: 10 Questions for the Patriots before Training Camp


Simon returns as a serviceable piece who flashed as an edge rusher at times after coming over from the Colts. Winovich is a roster lock as a third-round pick and prototypical Patriots prospect with his combination of smarts, physicality, and energy.

Michael Bennett speaks to reporters after practice for the New England Patriots at minicamp on June 4, 2019 in Foxborough, Mass. (Matt Dolloff/WBZ-FM)

Michael Bennett speaks to reporters after practice for the New England Patriots at minicamp on June 4, 2019 in Foxborough, Mass. (Matt Dolloff/WBZ-FM)

Defensive Tackles (4): Lawrence Guy, Adam Butler, Danny Shelton, Mike Pennel

Here’s one of the positional groups that stays largely intact for 2019. Shelton is back on a one-year deal after an up-and-down 2018 that culminated with a big tackle for loss in the Super Bowl. Guy will again be a mainstay on the defensive interior as he comes off a career-best season.

Butler continues to improve and has a chance to make a big step forward with Malcom Brown out of the picture. Replacing Brown is the veteran Pennel, who should represent an upgrade in the run game. 2019 Fifth-round pick Byron Cowart goes to the practice squad.

FOXBOROUGH, MA - JANUARY 13: Adam Butler of the New England Patriots reacts during the fourth quarter in the AFC Divisional Playoff game against the Tennessee Titans at Gillette Stadium. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

FOXBOROUGH, MA – JANUARY 13: Adam Butler of the New England Patriots reacts during the fourth quarter in the AFC Divisional Playoff game against the Tennessee Titans at Gillette Stadium. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Linebackers (5): Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Ja’Whaun Bentley, Jamie Collins, Brandon King

Hightower and Van Noy remain one of the better inside LB duos in the NFL. Bentley shined surprisingly well early in his rookie season, looking like a steal in the fifth round before tearing his bicep; if he stays healthy he has a chance to be a valuable contributor against both the run and the pass. Collins is back in the fold and will earn a roster spot with his athleticism and familiarity with the Pats. King stays as a core special teamer.

Feb 3, 2019; Atlanta, GA: Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff is tackled by New England Patriots outside linebacker Dont’a Hightower during the second half in Super Bowl LIII at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. (Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports)

Safeties (6): Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon, Patrick Chung, Obi Melifonwu, Nate Ebner, Terrence Brooks

McCourty and Chung are virtual locks, barring a very surprising trade. Harmon may have legitimate competition as a deep safety in Melifonwu, but just my gut feeling is both stay. Ebner remains as a special teams mainstay with Brooks joining him to bolster those units. Undrafted safety Malik Gant could give one of the latter three a run.

Sep 30, 2018; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots defensive back Devin McCourty (32) reacts after making a tackle against the Miami Dolphins in the first half at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Cornerbacks (5): Stephon Gilmore, Joejuan Williams, Jason McCourty, J.C. Jackson, Duke Dawson

Unless Belichick wants to carry six cornerbacks to start the season, like he did in 2018, he probably has to make a tough decision here. It’s unlikely he moves on from Dawson before the 2018 second-round pick gets a real chance to play. Gilmore and Williams are locks, while McCourty is likely in after signing for $5.5 million guaranteed. Jackson has played too well to go anywhere this soon.

That leaves at least one out of Jonathan Jones and Keion Crossen as the odd man out. Either one should be able to fetch Belichick a draft pick in a trade as part of his final roster cutdowns. There’s probably no room for 2019 seventh-rounder Ken Webster.

Feb 3, 2019; Atlanta, GA: New England Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore intercepts a pass intended for Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Brandin Cooks in the fourth quarter in Super Bowl LIII at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. (Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)

Feb 3, 2019; Atlanta, GA: New England Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore intercepts a pass intended for Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Brandin Cooks in the fourth quarter in Super Bowl LIII at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. (Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)

Fullback (1): James Develin

Develin remains one of the best fullbacks in the NFL at a position that is relatively shallow and underutilized. It’s unlikely he’s supplanted by the competition the Patriots have brought in for camp, Jakob Johnson, whom the Patriots signed as part of the International Player Pathway Program and is exempt from the 90-man roster.

Jul 26, 2018; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots fullback James Develin (46) makes his way to the practice field during training camp at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Specialists (3): Stephen Gostkowski, Jake Bailey, Joe Cardona

Ryan Allen would be a bit of a surprise cut, especially after his excellent Super Bowl. But he would cost about twice as much as Bailey ($1.5 million vs. $783K) and less against the cap if cut or traded.

Bailey may initially look like a downgrade at the position if he can’t find Allen’s level of consistency and reliability. But the Patriots traded up in the fifth round to draft him out of Stanford and he kicks absolute bombs, so the Patriots could use him to kick touchbacks in addition to punts. Gostkowski and Cardona have no competition and will remain in their usual roles, with Gostkowski only possibly losing kickoff duty to Bailey.

Stanford punter Jake Bailey executes a punt. (Courtesy Stanford University Athletics)

Stanford punter Jake Bailey executes a punt. (Courtesy Stanford University Athletics)

Toughest cuts: CB Jonathan Jones, CB Keion Crossen, LB Elandon Roberts, WR Demaryius Thomas, WR Maurice Harris, WR Dontrelle Inman, P Ryan Allen

All of the toughest decisions, predictably, come at the Patriots’ deepest positions. Receiver may not seem deep as they undergo the second year of a reset at the position, but there could be three spots locked up already and that should leave at least two veterans on the outside looking in.

The Pats could almost certainly find trade partners for Jones and Crossen, and perhaps Roberts. Allen seems to be signed as a pre-draft insurance policy, because the Pats clearly like Jake Bailey and probably wouldn’t move up to use a draft pick on a punter only to cut him.

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 matthew.dolloff@bbgi.com.