By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
The Patriots have just two preseason games left before the start of the 2019 season. Here's the latest 53-man roster projection after all we've seen so far.
There have been some significant developments at certain positions. Others are coming more into focus now that training camp is complete. But Bill Belichick's roster decisions haven't gotten any easier in the process.
Depth still defines this year's Patriots roster. It's an uncommon level of talent, especially on defense, that means plenty of roster locks and clear starters. It also means that Belichick will ultimately have to move on from some good players by Sept. 1.
It's a good problem to have. Certainly a bigger, more important challenge than coming up with roster predictions. Below is the easy part, which is our latest projection for The Final 53™. There will be two more installments of this blockbuster franchise after each of the Patriots' final two preseason games. Hopefully the movies haven't grown stale by then.
Quarterbacks (2): Tom Brady, Jarrett Stidham
Bold prediction! Not to seem too reactionary toward Hoyer's subpar game on Saturday against the Titans. But Stidham has shown enough over the course of training camp and the preseason so far that he at least has the talent to push Hoyer for the full-time backup job. As has always been the case with Brady, the Patriots are likely screwed either way if he goes down with an injury. This wouldn't be the first time the Pats rolled with just two quarterbacks and a rookie backup, which happened with Jimmy Garoppolo in 2014.
Stidham has certainly looked better in practice than Garoppolo did as a rookie, and pretty much just as good in the preseason. For now, we're predicting he graduates to Brady's backup and the Patriots shore up their depth elsewhere by moving on from Hoyer.
Wide Receivers (5): Julian Edelman, N'Keal Harry, Phillip Dorsett, Jakobi Meyers, Braxton Berrios
The only issue with this grouping (besides the uncertainty) is the relative lack of traditional outside receivers. Assuming Dorsett is back quickly from his reported thumb injury, though, he and Harry are the top guys on the perimeter. Meyers is more of an inside receiver but he's been a legit one at that. Berrios has had his ups and downs as far as getting on the same page with Brady, but he's the closest thing to a true backup for Edelman and Brady clearly wants to make it work with him.
Maurice Harris is left off here, now that he's dealing with an injury and he's cooled off as the offseason has gone along. Josh Gordon and Demaryius Thomas, meanwhile, could be on the team eventually but for now are projected to start the regular season on the PUP/NFI lists. The rest haven't set themselves apart compared to the others.
Running Backs (6): Sony Michel, James White, Rex Burkhead, Damien Harris, Brandon Bolden, James Develin (FB)
No change here. The only question at this point is whether Michel has made enough progress as a pass-catcher to make Burkhead expendable. Until then, Burkhead remains the team's best mix of running and receiving as an unpredictable weapon. The others are all roster locks.
Tight Ends (2): Matt LaCosse, Lance Kendricks
We're not ruling out the Patriots carrying three tight ends, which could simply mean that someone at another position gets released upon the return of Ben Watson in Week 5. Kendricks made it back to real game action on Saturday, a good sign for his overall progress in the offense. He should make it as a blocker, anyway. LaCosse is in, assuming he gets back in a timely fashion from his sprained ankle and avoids the PUP list to start the season.
Offensive Line (8): Isaiah Wynn, Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Marcus Cannon, Dan Skipper, Ted Karras, Hjalte Froholdt
Froholdt is likely a long road away from getting real snaps with the starters. In fact it would take multiple injuries for him to get in there, so if we see any of him it's a bad sign for their health on the O-line. The story, though, is that Wynn appears right on track to start at left tackle in Week 1 with Skipper taking the swing tackle role. Everyone here is pretty much locked in, barring a surprise trade for a tackle. Cole Croston may have an outside shot over Skipper.
Defensive Line (8): Michael Bennett, Lawrence Guy, Adam Butler, Danny Shelton, John Simon, Derek Rivers, Chase Winovich, Byron Cowart
The one notable change here is that Cowart is in over Pennel, who seemed like a good addition upon arrival but hasn't elevated beyond reserve reps. Cowart played well on Saturday and looked fully recovered from an injury situation that slowed his start to camp. He has the potential to be a Lawrence Guy type as a versatile lineman who can play all over the formation.
Bennett, Guy, Butler, and Shelton are the projected rotation on the interior. They'll be complemented by their smaller counterparts on the edge in Winovich, Simon, and Rivers. Deatrich Wise is out for now, because he's simply not a fit as a D-lineman in 3-4 looks. But the Patriots may be able to trade him to a team that plays more 4-3 and can find a place for him.
Linebackers (7): Dont'a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins, Ja'Whaun Bentley, Shilique Calhoun, Brandon King, Calvin Munson
Elandon Roberts is on the outside looking in, mainly due to stiff competition in this group. They are well stocked at inside linebacker with the return of Collins and a healthy Bentley behind Hightower. If and when Calhoun gets back on the field, he's already shown enough to earn a spot as a member of the edge-rushing corps with Simon, Rivers, and Winovich.
King and Munson are in as core special teamers. Munson was one of the best players on the field on Saturday and if anyone on the bubble improved his chances of making the team, it's him.
Safeties (5): Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Terrence Brooks, Obi Melifonwu, Nate Ebner
Another bold prediction: Duron Harmon ends up on the outside looking in. While most of the other defensive regulars from 2018 got the night off on Saturday, Harmon played much of the first half against the Titans. Brooks and Melifonwu have gotten significant looks at safety. It's possible that Harmon hasn't shown enough to prove that the Patriots can't get similar production out of the other two while saving over $2 million in the process. Harmon is in his seventh year in the league and could have trade value for a team in need of affordable veteran safety help.
Cornerbacks (6): Stephon Gilmore, Jason McCourty, J.C. Jackson, Jonathan Jones, Joejuan Williams, Keion Crossen
It's getting harder and harder to find an avenue for second-year pro Duke Dawson to make the 53-man roster. It would be an unprecedented move for Belichick to give up on a second-round pick before the start of his second season, but this is kind of an unprecedented situation at this position. Jackson and Crossen have markedly outperformed Dawson to this point, while Jones has played well enough to retain a starting slot corner role. Perhaps the Patriots could recoup a draft pick for Dawson in a trade with a team that wants to bypass waivers for him.
Specialists (4): K Stephen Gostkowski, WR Matthew Slater, P Jake Bailey, LS Joe Cardona
The only competition here, as it has been all camp, is at punter. Bailey has impressed enough with his leg to be the pick over Allen, even if he still has work to do on his touch and consistency. It's always been hard to imagine the Patriots moving on from a specialist that they traded up to use a draft pick to acquire.
You can expect two more roster projections over the next two weeks, with final cuts coming down on Sunday, Sept. 1.
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].