By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
A week of training camp is in the books for the 2019 New England Patriots. So let's take a look at how the projected 53-man roster could shake out as they gear up for week No. 2.
The Pats get back to practice on Wednesday morning in Foxboro after getting a day off on Tuesday. The first five practices have shed some light on where certain players are at in their development, particularly some of the newer faces. Camp has also illuminated which positional battles are more competitive than others.
Below is our second stab at the projected Final 53™, grouped by position. There are a few changes from our first projection, which admittedly was kind of a shot in the dark. Aren't they all?
That doesn't make it any less relevant to the discussion. Only 53 players are making this team by the start of September. So here's our latest attempt to build the Patriots' group.
Quarterbacks (3): Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer, Jarrett Stidham
This one is pretty cut-and-dry. Brady's day off on day two of camp put more of a spotlight on Stidham, who can definitely throw the football but has real problems getting rid of it quickly enough. Hoyer showed he can keep the starting offense rolling in walkthroughs and team drills far better than Stidham could as a rookie, so it's likely the Patriots continue to value those behind-the-scenes assets and carry three QBs for now.
Running Backs (6): James White, Rex Burkhead, Sony Michel, Damien Harris, James Develin, Brandon Bolden
White and Burkhead have been featured in team passing drills. They could be the Patriots' best combination in their "pony" formations that could turn them both into wide receivers. Michel is in no danger of losing his spot, while Harris is a lock as a rookie third-round pick. Develin is also a virtual lock as one of the best fullbacks in the game. Bolden will reassume his role as a full-time special teamer, but can at least run the ball if the Patriots are in a bind during a game.
Wide Receivers (5): Julian Edelman, Phillip Dorsett, N'Keal Harry, Maurice Harris, Jakobi Meyers
I'm pegging Meyers, because the Patriots need to preserve their streak of undrafted rookies making the team. He's a big target who has shown his impressive frame and hands in competitive drills, but his lack of speed and top-end athleticism is what could ultimately hold him back. Edelman and Harry are locks at this point, and you'll get no argument from me if Dorsett is also in that group. Harris isn't the first pass-catcher to flash in training camp so a lot could change with him in the coming weeks, but based on what we've seen so far, he's a very safe bet. He's been targeted heavily in team drills, indicating that Brady likes what he sees.
Tight Ends (2): Matt LaCosse, Stephen Anderson
Ben Watson will take one of these spots when he returns from his four-game suspension, or take over for a receiver. LaCosse has looked solid, though, and makes the team practically by default. Sixth-rounder Ryan Izzo has gotten a fair shot in his second training camp, but hasn't separated himself and would bring negligible cost to cut. Same goes for undrafted rookie Andrew Beck, although he's still a dark horse to keep the UDFA streak going with the openness of the positional battle alone. Anderson makes the team to start the season because of his relative upside as a pass catcher and familiarity.
Offensive Line (8): David Andrews, Joe Thuney, Shaq Mason, Marcus Cannon, Isaiah Wynn, Ted Karras, Hjalte Froholdt, Dan Skipper
Skipper is starting to see more reps at left tackle, where we've also seen left guard Joe Thuney. Wynn is still participating in practices, but has yet to line up for a competitive team drill. So it's very unclear where Wynn stands in the pecking order with the preseason opener a week away. The other starters are locks. Karras remains the team's most versatile and experienced interior lineman, so I like his chances to stick around. Froholdt should stick around with the upside to contribute at left guard as a rookie if needed, and act as possible Thuney insurance with the latter entering a contract year.
Defensive Line (8): Michael Bennett, Lawrence Guy, Adam Butler, Derek Rivers, Deatrich Wise, Chase Winovich, John Simon, Mike Pennel
It's a little thin on the interior, but the Patriots may be moving to a 3-4 defense this season. This would allow them to use a three-man rotation at nose tackle with Guy, Pennel, and Butler. Rivers has looked good early on, while his fellow 2017 draft-mates Wise and Butler could be counted on for bigger roles in their third full seasons. Winovich is a lock, the question is how much he'll be used in his first year. It'll be interesting to see how Bennett looks if he's leaned on as a 3-4 defensive end, but he's also a lock after returning last weekend. Simon came back this offseason after a solid run as a midseason pickup and rotational pass rusher.
Linebackers (6): Dont'a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Elandon Roberts, Jamie Collins, Ja'Whaun Bentley, Brandon King
King might have a battle on his hands for his spot as a core special teamer, but for now he's still in. Roberts has continued to get a healthy amount of snaps in the rotation along with Hightower, Van Noy, and Collins. Bentley looks like he's a little behind in that department, but he's in no danger of missing the team after an impressive rookie season that was cut short by injury. This is an extremely deep group with little in the way of uncertainty.
Safeties (5): Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon, Obi Melifonwu, Terrence Brooks
Melifonwu and Brooks have seen plenty of reps on defense with Chung out. So the picture at this position will be a lot clearer when No. 23 returns. Brooks is likely to stick as a special teamer, but the team apparently believes he can contribute as a reserve defender too. That could threaten the spot for Nate Ebner, who has been a very good special teams player but is dealing with an injury for the third year in a row as he enters a contract year.
Cornerbacks (6): Stephon Gilmore, Jason McCourty, Joejuan Williams, J.C. Jackson, Jonathan Jones, Duke Dawson
Easily the deepest position on the team. Gilmore, McCourty, and Williams aren't going anywhere. Jackson and Jones have both played like their jobs are on the line early in camp. And I still say it's too early for the Patriots to give up on Dawson, who started his rookie season on IR and couldn't find his way onto the active roster amid all the depth. The team will probably agree; Belichick rarely moves on from second-round picks before completing at least two seasons with them. The odd man out here is Keion Crossen, whom they might be able to move in a trade before cutting. Maybe Bill goes nuts and keeps seven corners.
Specialists (4): Matthew Slater, Stephen Gostkowski, Jake Bailey, Joe Cardona
The only major change is going to Bailey at punter. It's just hard to believe that Belichick would trade up in the draft to take a punter, then not keep that player. Gostkowski and Cardona have no competition. The team may have intended for Crossen to be legitimate competition for the 33-year-old Slater, who is in a walk year and explored free agency a year ago. But Slater remains arguably the best in the league at his role and one of the Patriots' key locker room leaders, so it would be a surprise to see Belichick move on from such a respected presence.
Tough Cuts: WR Demaryius Thomas, S Nate Ebner, CB Keion Crossen, WR Braxton Berrios, DT Danny Shelton, DE Keionta Davis, P Ryan Allen
Crossen could carry trade value after a solid rookie season with his affordable contract and term. Thomas has yet to make it on the field and is falling way behind his counterparts, further illuminating the harsh reality that he won't contribute much this year and may not have much left. Ebner is a longtime special teams cornerstone, but has dealt with serious injuries for the past two seasons. He's injured again this summer with legitimate competition in Foxboro pushing for special teams spots.
Berrios has impressed at times and looks to be gaining traction as far as his understanding of the Patriots offense. He may qualify as a player who has way more value to the Pats than any other team. He could end up waived and stashed on the practice squad. Shelton returned after a strong finish to his first season with the Patriots, but there might just be no room for him with Guy, Pennel, and Butler anchoring the defensive interior and the Pats possibly moving to more 3-4 looks this season. Similar situation for Davis, who could be squeezed out by the drafting of the rookie Winovich.
None of these cuts/trades would be easy decisions. It's just a testament to the depth they have at so many positions this summer, particularly on defense and special teams.
Possible IR moves: OT Yodny Cajuste, DL Byron Cowart, CB Ken Webster
If Cajuste, Webster, and Cowart continue to miss practice or suffer any further injuries, it's possible that the Patriots simply decide to "redshirt" them by placing them on reserve at the start of the season. They did the same with most of their 2018 draft picks.
We'll reset this thing and give another roster projection next week. Patriots training camp in Foxboro continues Wednesday-Friday before they leave for Detroit this weekend.
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 protected].