New England Patriots

  • L-R: WR Lil'Jordan Humphrey, CB Shaun Wade (USA Today)

    L-R: WR Lil’Jordan Humphrey, CB Shaun Wade (USA Today)

    The NFL’s final roster cut-down deadline has passed, leaving the Patriots and the other 31 NFL teams with their initial 53-man rosters. These are known as the ‘initial’ 53 because there will be a number of changes for every team between now and their Week 1 kickoffs as the waiver wire process and practice squad building gets underway.

    So before we look ahead with he Patriots’ initial roster (which likely won’t last in its current iteration for more than a few hours), let’s take a closer look at some of the more ‘surprise’ cuts and other decisions they made on Tuesday.

    Why is ‘surprise’ in quotes? Because last year at this time, the team released Cam Newton after repeatedly calling him the starter for four months. Nothing they did this year comes close to that, but there were some notable moves to get into.

  • Releasing Kevin Harris and J.J. Taylor

    LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - AUGUST 26: Running back Kevin Harris #36 of the New England Patriots runs with the ball against the Las Vegas Raiders during the second half of a preseason game at Allegiant Stadium on August 26, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Getty Images)

    LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – AUGUST 26: Running back Kevin Harris #36 of the New England Patriots runs with the ball against the Las Vegas Raiders during the second half of a preseason game at Allegiant Stadium on August 26, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Getty Images)

    Keeping six running backs on the initial roster would have been excessive, so it seemed likely one of either J.J. Taylor or rookie Kevin Harris would be let go on Tuesday. What stands out is that both were waived. That leaves the Patriots with Rhamondre Stevenson, Damien Harris, Ty Montgomery, and rookie Pierre Strong Jr. as their initial backfield.

    The top of that group with Stevenson and Harris is worth getting excited about. However, the depth falls off quick. Montgomery’s status is still unknown after he was carted off during the Patriots preseason finale on Friday. Meanwhile, Strong missed the first half of training camp and hasn’t been very involved since.

    There’s a number of different things that could be inferred by these moves. The most encouraging development would be that Montgomery’s injury ended up being minor and he’ll be ready to go to start the season. In a similar line of thought, it could be an indication the Patriots feel Strong is ready to contribute right away. In the past, they’ve been hesitant to play rookie non-first-round running backs right away. Stevenson was an exception to a longstanding trend last year.

    Of course, there’s always the chance the personnel in the running back room changes between now and Week 1. Taylor and/or Harris could be brought back if they clear waivers, or the Patriots could make an external addition. A number of veteran running backs were released on Tuesday including Phillip Lindsay, Duke Johnson, Marlon Mack, and Sony Michel.

  • Keeping five wide receivers

    Aug 19, 2022; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots wide receiver Lil'Jordan Humphrey (83) runs the ball as Carolina Panthers cornerback Madre Harper (36) closes in during the second half of a preseason game at Gillette Stadium. Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports

    Aug 19, 2022; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots wide receiver Lil’Jordan Humphrey (83) runs the ball as Carolina Panthers cornerback Madre Harper (36) closes in during the second half of a preseason game at Gillette Stadium. Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports

    One of the top position battles of training camp appeared to be Lil’Jordan Humphrey, Tre Nixon, and Kristian Wilkerson all battling for the sixth wide receiver spot. That battle came further into focus following Tyquan Thornton’s injury in the second preseason game.

    There was only one problem. It turns out that sixth wide receiver spot didn’t exist.

    Even with Thornton projected to miss at least a month to start the regular season, the Patriots parted ways with all three receivers above, electing to keep just five players at the position on the initial roster.

    They could end up bringing a receiver back if and when Thornton is placed on IR, but exposing Humphrey and Nixon is risky. Both put together some impressive reps this summer, which combined with their affordable contracts could make them targets on the waiver wire. There could also be an external addition coming, but it would be a quick and perhaps major adjustment for any player signed to be ready for the opener in 12 days.

  • Rookie wins interior offensive line spot

    Aug 11, 2022; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots guard Chasen Hines (63) warms up before a preseason game against the New York Giants at Gillette Stadium. Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports

    Aug 11, 2022; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots guard Chasen Hines (63) warms up before a preseason game against the New York Giants at Gillette Stadium. Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports

    Along the Patriots offensive line – particularly on the interior – a number of new names made a roster push this summer. Arlington Hambright and UDFA Kody Russey both had standout moments during camp. However, the eighth and final roster spot went to rookie sixth-round pick Chasen Hines.

    Hines late push to the roster is notable after he missed the first few weeks of camp. The Patriots generally prefer to ease rookies in, but he clearly made up for the lost time enough to earn a roster spot.

    That being said, it’s very possible Hambright and Russey aren’t done in New England. They are strong candidates to come back on the practice squad, although both are players who could get attention on waivers for for a spot on another team’s 53-man roster from free agency.

  • Favoring size up front defensively

    FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - AUGUST 11: Oshane Ximines #53 of the New York Giants defends Sam Roberts #96 of the New England Patriots during the preseason game between the New York Giants and the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium on August 11, 2022 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – AUGUST 11: Oshane Ximines #53 of the New York Giants defends Sam Roberts #96 of the New England Patriots during the preseason game between the New York Giants and the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium on August 11, 2022 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    As camp wound down, it looked like there was a battle between four defensive linemen for the final two spots at the position. That bubble included two veterans in Henry Anderson and Carl Davis, and rookie sixth-round pick Sam Roberts and UDFA LaBryan Ray. The Patriots ended up going with one veteran in Davis and one rookie in Roberts.

    Interestingly Davis and Roberts profile similarly as players, as do Anderson and Ray. The Patriots chose to go with the bigger more traditional interior linemen instead of the more versatile options.

    While Anderson was placed on season-ending IR, Ray shouldn’t be done in New England. If he does get through waivers, he should be one of the Patriots’ top priorities to bring back on the practice squad.

  • What happened with Cameron McGrone?

    FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - AUGUST 19: Cameron McGrone #45 of the New England Patriots in action during the preseason game between the New England Patriots and the Carolina Panthers at Gillette Stadium on August 19, 2022 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – AUGUST 19: Cameron McGrone #45 of the New England Patriots in action during the preseason game between the New England Patriots and the Carolina Panthers at Gillette Stadium on August 19, 2022 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    Cameron McGrone was one of the most hyped players on the team heading into training camp. He was even getting praised by the coaches in a manner not typically seen with Bill Belichick’s Patriots.

    So how did he go from there to not making the team? When McGrone was a star at Michigan, his carrying trait was his explosiveness. In his first action since tearing his ACL in November 2020, McGrone looked a step slower than he did in college. That’s not uncommon for players coming off of his injury, with a common catch-all for such players being they don’t really return to form until two years after the injury.

    If McGrone goes unclaimed, he could return to the Patriots on the practice squad and continue working on his game. Then, it would be about making a Year 3 jump, similar to what Anfernee Jennings appears to be doing this season.

  • Going young at cornerback

    FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - AUGUST 19: Jack Jones #34 of the New England Patriots lines up during the preseason game between the New England Patriots and the Carolina Panthers at Gillette Stadium on August 19, 2022 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – AUGUST 19: Jack Jones #34 of the New England Patriots lines up during the preseason game between the New England Patriots and the Carolina Panthers at Gillette Stadium on August 19, 2022 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    The odd-man out at cornerback turned out to be veteran Terrance Mitchell. Mitchell has a strong start to camp, but failed to build on that momentum once padded practices began. Midway through camp, the Patriots started giving Jonathan Jones reps on the boundary, which significantly cut into Mitchell’s playing time. Jones will likely continue playing on the boundary with Mitchell no longer on the team.

    Mitchell’s released opened up a late roster spot for Shaun Wade, giving the Patriots one of the youngest cornerback rooms they’ve had in recent memory. The average age of the six players in the room – which includes two rookies and two second-year players – is 25 years old. Jonathan Jones is the oldest of the group, he turns 29 next month.

  • How the UDFA streak was extended

    Aug 19, 2022; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots safety Brenden Schooler (41) keeps the punt out of the end zone and stops it on the 3 yard line during the second half of a preseason against the Carolina Panthers game at Gillette Stadium. Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports

    Aug 19, 2022; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots safety Brenden Schooler (41) keeps the punt out of the end zone and stops it on the 3 yard line during the second half of a preseason against the Carolina Panthers game at Gillette Stadium. Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports

    There were four real candidates to extend the Patriots’ UDFA streak on this year’s camp roster – Russey, Ray, Brenden Schooler, and DaMarcus Mitchell. In the end, the offensive and defensive players ended up off the roster, while the two players who spent most of the summer focused on special teams were given a spot. This just hammers home a core Patriots theme, that contributions in the kicking game can make or break a player’s chance at making the roster.

    To open up a spot, for at least one of these two players, the Patriots parted ways with Justin Bethel, who has been a core special teams player for the last three seasons in New England. Many expected Cody Davis (who made the team) to be on the outside looking in, but Schooler’s skillset in particular makes him a better replacement for Bethel than Davis (Mitchell’s role in the kicking game doesn’t quite mirror either player). Bethel seems like a candidate to be brought back after players are put on IR, but his Instagram post from Tuesday afternoon suggests his time in New England is over.

  • What’s next?

    LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - AUGUST 26: Head coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots looks on during warm-up before a preseason game against the Las Vegas Raiders at Allegiant Stadium on August 26, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Getty Images)

    LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – AUGUST 26: Head coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots looks on during warm-up before a preseason game against the Las Vegas Raiders at Allegiant Stadium on August 26, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Getty Images)

    Now that the Patriots have their initial 53-man roster in place, they can start making subsequent moves such as placing players on designated to return IR (ex. Tyquan Thornton). Then they’ll begin the process of making waiver claims, which they’ll find out about at noon on Wednesday. After that, they can start building their practice squad.

  • Alex Barth is a writer and 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. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Looking for a podcast guest? Let him know on Twitter @RealAlexBarth or via email at abarth@985TheSportsHub.com.