Patriots roster projection 2.0: Adjusting after joint practices
Aug 19, 2022; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick on the field before the start of the game against the Carolina Panthers at Gillette Stadium. Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
Since then, we’ve seen a lot more football. The Patriots had two joint practices with the Carolina Panthers, and the majority of the projected starters made their in-game debuts in Friday night’s preseason game, offering some clues in regards to personnel usage.
With all of that now put on tape, what has changed from last week? Let’s update the roster projecting heading into the final week of camp.
Note: Players are listed alphabetically by position. Rookies are in italics
Aug 19, 2022; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Bailey Zappe (4), quarterback Brian Hoyer (5), and quarterback Mac Jones (10) jog out for warm-ups before a preseason game against the Carolina Panthers at Gillette Stadium. Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports
–Mac Jones -Bailey Zappe
Changes from Roster Projection 1.0: None
Same group as last week. Brian Hoyer’s new contract that he signed back in the spring would make him much tougher to cut and bring back, as the team did last year. Expect to see three QBs on the roster this season.
Running backs (4)
Aug 19, 2022; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots wide receiver Ty Montgomery (14) makes a catch during the first half of a preseason against the Carolina Panthers game at Gillette Stadium. Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports
-Ty Montgomery (also listed as a WR)
–Pierre Strong Jr.
Changes: Cut Kevin Harris
Ty Montgomery has been spending more and more time with the running backs as camp has gone on, which helps with the depth of this group. But the team is so deep at other positions, it’s hard to justify keeping five players here.
Kevin Harris has been the workhorse back late in the preseason games, which sometimes is a sign that player is the odd-man out. He’d be a candidate to return either on the practice squad, and/or be brought back on the roster after another player is put on IR.
Wide receivers (5)
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
When writing this prior to the update on Tyquan Thornton’s injury, Lil’Jordan Humphrey was not included. However, Thornton’s early-season absence may be enough to get Humphrey on the roster, with the Patriots not wanting to go with bare minimum numerical depth at a crucial position.
Since the start of last week, Humphrey has looked every bit the part of an NFL-caliber player. When on the field with borderline roster players, he clearly appears to be a step or two ahead of the competition (both on offense and special teams). He has been the best of the group of bubble receivers, which also includes Tre Nixon and Kristian Wilkerson.
The Patriots could re-add a fifth receiver after placing Thornton on IR following initial roster cuts (in order to be eligible to return from IR, players must first get a roster spot on the initial 53-man roster on cut-down day), but that would be tough with Humphrey. In order for that to happen, he’d have to be cut and pass through waivers before returning. Given what he’s showed this summer, it seems unlikely all 31 other teams would pass up a chance to add him. If the Patriots want to keep him, they may have to do it outright.
Tight ends (2)
Jul 29, 2022; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots tight end Jonnu Smith (81) catches the ball during training camp at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports
–Hunter Henry –Jonnu Smith
Devin Asiasi had a good week of joint practices and was featured heavily in the preseason game, but he still falls just short of the roster. He’s likely a player the Patriots could get through waivers to the practice squad, and then could be elevated when needed on a week-to-week basis.
Humphrey’s presence on the roster could also take care of the third tight end spot. Bill Belichick referred to him as a ” tight end-ish type of guy” Friday night due to his size and blocking ability. The Patriots may feel they could turn to him in a tight end role in an emergency situation if needed.
Offensive line (7)
FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – SEPTEMBER 27: Isaiah Wynn #76 of the New England Patriots looks on after the game against the Las Vegas Raiders at Gillette Stadium on September 27, 2020 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
The Patriots generally like to keep eight or nine offensive linemen, but the new practice squad elevation rules open up some flexibility. Typically, the eighth lineman doesn’t dress on gamedays, so it may make more sense to keep that player/those players on the practice squad and elevate him/them when needed. Arlington Hambright and UDFA Kody Russey are two players who have popped at times in camp, but still could pass through waivers.
Justin Herron’s situation is an interesting one. He hasn’t practiced since last week, and may now be behind Yodny Cajuste on the depth chart for the swing tackle spot. If he does make the team, he could be a player that is signed and then moved to IR.
Of course, the overall picture at tackle hinges on Isaiah Wynn’s availability. Wynn hasn’t practiced in over a week and has now missed two games. His unknown status makes this one of the tougher positions to project.
Defensive line (7)
Aug 19, 2022; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; The Carolina Panthers offensive line and New England Patriots defensive line meet at the line of scrimmage during the second half of a preseason game at Gillette Stadium. Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports
Changes: Added Carl Davis, cut Henry Anderson
After an impressive week of joint practices, Carl Davis jumps Henry Anderson for the final defensive line spot. If he passes waivers, Anderson would be a candidate to return after players are placed on IR. Why keep the rookies over Anderson? Anderson is on a one-year deal. If they cut him and bring him back, it doesn’t change much. Cutting a rookie and then having to re-sign him could end up burning three years of term.
Sam Roberts has been an interesting player to watch. He didn’t do much during the joint practices, but has showed up in a big way during games. What he’s flashed in those games get him on the roster as potentially an explosive sub interior rusher.
Note: Because Daniel Ekuale will serve a two-game suspension to start the season, he won’t count against the Patriots’ initial 53-man roster but the team does not have to cut him.
Oct 24, 2021; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots linebacker Josh Uche (55) celebrates with linebacker Jahlani Tavai (48) after recovering a fumble during the second half against the New York Jets at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports
All the clues are there that the Patriots have a somewhat significant role in line for Jahlani Tavai this season. Earlier this month, Belichick told SiriusXM NFL that “I think [Tavai] will be a big factor for us this year, on all four downs; not just defensively but also in the kicking game.”
That approach was reflected in Tavai’s usage Friday night. He rotated in on the first few drives of the game with the projected starting defense, playing alongside Ja’Whaun Bentley and Raekwon McMillan. He appeared to be ahead of Mack Wilson – who has had an impressive camp in his own right – in that rotation.
Even though it may not seem like it from an outside perspective, it makes sense that internally the Patriots are fans of what Tavai brings to the table. He’s one of the bigger linebackers (6-foot-2, 250 pounds) on a team that tends to prioritize size at the position, and he was drafted by Matt Patricia (second round, 43rd overall in 2020) when Patricia was running the Detroit Lions.
In order to make room for Tavai, the Patriots move on from Ronnie Perkins. To this point in camp Perkins hasn’t shown much, and has only gotten on the field late in the two preseason games. It’s not very common for teams to part with a top-100 pick after just a year (Perkins went in the third round, 96th overall last spring), but it’s not unprecedented either. In 2019, the Patriots traded 2018 second-round pick Duke Dawson in a seventh/sixth round pick swap.
Perkins not making the roster wouldn’t necessarily mean he gets cut. He could get dealt like Dawson, or placed on IR.
Aug 19, 2022; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots cornerback Myles Bryant (27) picks up the fumble against the Carolina Panthers in the first half at Gillette Stadium. Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
Changes: Added Myles Bryant, Malcolm Butler to IR
Malcolm Butler going on IR opens up a spot in the cornerback room. Right now Myles Bryant looks like the leader for that job, with Shaun Wade also in the running but just off the roster right now.
Bryant’s edge is twofold. First, with Jonathan Jones playing more on the boundary the Patriots will need added depth in the slot. Bryant can be that guy, and looks to be neck-and-neck with rookie Marcus Jones for the starting job vacated by Jonathan Jones’ move. Bryant has also looked comfortable on special teams, especially as a punt returner.
Special teams are also part of why Wade remains off the roster for now. He had a pair of miscues in the kicking game Friday night – highlighted by running into his own returner – that clearly caught Belichick’s attention. “The punt return game was disappointing. We didn’t really do anything on that,” Belichick noted after the game. If Wade clears waivers, he’d be a logical candidate to return following the initial roster shuffling.
Aug 19, 2022; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; Carolina Panthers tight end Stephen Sullivan (84) fumbles the ball under pressure from New England Patriots safety Joshuah Bledsoe (24) during the first half of a preseason game at Gillette Stadium. Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports
After a hot start to camp, Joshuah Bledsoe seemed to fade a bit last week. However, he came roaring back in a big way during joint practices, then made a nice play to force a fumble in the preseason game. That, along with his special teams abilities make him a likely fit for the roster.
Aug 19, 2022; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA;New England Patriots place kicker Nick Folk (6) kicks a point after against the Carolina Panthers during the first half of a preseason game at Gillette Stadium. Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports
–K Nick Folk
–P Jake Bailey
–LS Joe Cardona
Brenden Schooler and DaMarcus Mitchell continue to make a strong case for the Patriots’ roster. Right now though, they’re more likely to pass through waivers than a player like Humphrey or Roberts, so the Patriots may be able to release one or both of them then bring them back after roster shuffling. Assuming they goes unclaimed, both should be back in Foxborough one way or another.
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
This section is a way to quantify the roster ‘bubble’ that often gets brought up this time of year by looking at those players on the fringe of the roster and those who were the last taken off. Usually, this section contains three players in each category but to highlight how close some of these current roster battles are, this time it’s four and four.
Last four off:
Last four on:
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 @RealAlexBarthor via email at abarth@985TheSportsHub.com.