The New England Patriots have named their initial 53-man roster for the 2021 season.
Despite that, the roster won’t look exactly the same come opening day. New rules allow teams to place players on short-term injured reserve and bring them back after three weeks, but that requires said players to first be named to the 53-man roster. The Patriots have candidates for such a procedural move, which would open up additional roster spots in the coming days.
But for the most part, the Patriots’ roster is set. So let’s dive into each positional group and how things shook out on cutdown day…
The big surprise of the day, of course, was Bill Belichick's decision to release Cam Newton and name Mac Jones the starting quarterback. In retrospect, perhaps it shouldn't have been so surprising. Jones was going to take over at some point. But it certainly qualifies as a bit of a stunner for Belichick to act so swiftly and decisively in Week 1 of Jones' rookie season.
Jones becomes the first Patriots rookie quarterback to start Week 1 since Drew Bledsoe. Then again, that was really only two quarterbacks ago. But it's a reflection of Jones' impressive training camp and preseason, and the team's confidence in making him Tom Brady's true successor.
Brian Hoyer was released on Tuesday, but is likely to return in the coming days. His release allows more flexibility for the Patriots, who can name players to the 53-man roster that would then become eligible for short-term injured reserve. More on that below.
Harry is a prime candidate to land on short-term IR, which would require him to miss a minimum of three weeks. Bill Belichick gave Harry a big vote of confidence Tuesday morning, but the reporting on his shoulder injury indicates that he won't be ready for Week 1.
Olszewski seemed to be inching closer to the roster bubble after having a rough week in joint practices, but the 2020 All-Pro punt returner will likely keep that role as he continues to develop as a slot receiver. Kristian Wilkerson and Isaiah Zuber didn't make quite enough of a push to slide onto the roster.
This became an easy call after injuries and attrition in this group. Dalton Keene went on season-ending IR and the Pats also released Matt LaCosse early on cutdown day. Once this whole group is healthy, the Patriots boast one of the deepest and most talented tight end rooms in the league.
Of course, health is a legitimate question here. Henry missed a large chunk of camp and the preseason with a shoulder injury, but seems to be trending in the right direction after practicing in a regular jersey on Tuesday. If all the tight ends are active for Week 1, look out.
Jakob Johnson (Fullback)
Another very deep positional group for the Patriots, who are likely to lean heavily on their running game while bringing Mac Jones along in his rookie season. The only one whose roster spot was remotely in question was Bolden, who remains as a special teams cornerstone.
The Patriots' decision to trade Sony Michel represented a vote of confidence in rookie Rhamondre Stevenson and sophomore J.J. Taylor. Stevenson could contribute in change-of-pace and short yardage roles, while Taylor has drawn comparisons to Dion Lewis. Taylor could also become the team's new kick returner.
Talk about deep. The Patriots have one of the best starting units in the league on the O-line, and boast some good backups, too. James Ferentz was a relatively tough cut after he had a strong camp and preseason, but he's one of the top candidates for the practice squad.
Cajuste, meanwhile, looks to finally be emerging after injuries slowed his first two seasons, and could be the No. 1 swing tackle. Karras can back up Andrews at center and also play guard. Durant is an interesting one, because the Pats seem flush with tackles. But they seem to have all the bases covered here.
Infused with both young talent and versatile veterans, this Patriots defensive line should be improved over the 2020 group. First and foremost, they should be able to defend the run better with space-eater Davon Godchaux and edge-setter Henry Anderson.
But the line should also be able to rush the passer more than in recent seasons, and without having to scheme it up too much. Barmore has a chance to be a premium disruptor on the interior, while Wise also looks to be rounding into form after two summers of reinventing himself as a 3-4 defensive end.
Kyle Van Noy
Not many surprises here. Winovich seemed like a potential candidate for a trade or surprise release after playing late in the preseason finale, but he also had a very late start to camp and probably just needed the reps. Judon, Hightower, Uche, and Van Noy represent an excellent core that can do a lot of different things and possibly be the engine of the defense.
Nice story here is Langi, who started his career with the Patriots in 2017. An unfortunate car accident landed him on injured reserve, then Langi missed the entire 2018 season. He played for the Jets in 2019 and 2020, and now ends up where it all began for him. He has a chance to contribute as a reserve middle linebacker to help Bentley.
Stephon Gilmore will begin the season on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list, leaving Jackson as the clear-cut No. 1 corner with a chance to prove himself and earn a big contract. Joejuan Williams had a solid summer and is the likely choice to start opposite Jackson on the outside.
Mills, meanwhile, is listed as a cornerback but is better suited in a hybrid nickel corner/safety type of role. Jones is a mainstay as the slot corner, while Wade offers big upside despite a likely need to develop behind the scenes. If there's any area of vulnerability in the defense, it's at corner. But if and when Gilmore gets back, it should continue to be a formidable group.
This trio should play a lot. The Patriots like to play Nickel, and sometimes "Big Nickel" (three safeties). Dugger and McCourty will be assets against the run, while Phillips looks like the guy to cover opposing tight ends. If the secondary is going to continue to make plays at the level we've been used to over the past few seasons, it'll come more from the safeties, as long as Gilmore is out.
Slater, Bailey, and Cardona were locks. King is finally back and healthy, and his continued presence on the roster speaks to the Patriots' confidence in him as a special teamer. Davis remains as a mainstay on these units.
The surprise here is Nordin, who was erratic (to put it lightly) kicking in both the preseason and late in camp. But the rookie showed his potential in the team's first in-stadium practice during training camp, going 10-for-10 with two field goals over 50 yards. The kid's leg strength is for real, and Belichick apparently believes he can develop him into a more consistent kicker.
Matt Dolloff is a writer and podcaster 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? Yell at him on Twitter @mattdolloff and follow him on Instagram @mattydsays. You can also email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.