First 53-man roster projection for 2017 Patriots: Defensive back, receiver depth stands out
JOBS NOT WON OR LOST YET...
Bill Belichick says it about once a spring, sometimes more: Jobs aren't won or lost during OTAs and minicamp.
Hard to argue there. What we see in April and June is passing camp. It's not "real football," as Belichick explained last week.
But that doesn't mean we can't project out. That doesn't mean we can't guess at who lands on the 53-man roster in September.
That's what we do. Especially when there's not much else to do now that players, coaches -- the entire NFL, really -- is off until training camps begin in late July.
Our best guesses now will probably look a little different once camp gets underway and players can show their skills in pads. But not much.
Unless injuries are a factor, this doesn't have the look of a roster that's going to have big-name pieces lopped off before the regular season begins. New acquisitions are here for a reason. There may not be many spots up for grabs.
Let's go position by position to see . . .
Tom Brady, Jimmy Garoppolo, Jacoby Brissett
When this year's draft came and went and Garoppolo was still on the roster, this trio seemed to be locked in for another season together.
RUNNING BACK (5)
Mike Gillislee, James White, Rex Burkhead, Dion Lewis, Brandon Bolden
This is perhaps the deepest stable of backs the Patriots have ever had, If all are healthy, Bolden looks like he'd be exclusively a special-teamer.
Brandin Cooks, Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell, Danny Amendola, Matthew Slater
Even for proven talents like Mitchell and Amendola, playing time could be hard to come by if all in this group are available. Cooks, Edelman and Hogan were the go-to options in three-receiver sets this spring.
TIGHT END (4)
Rob Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen, James O'Shaughnessy, James Develin
Allen had a bumpy OTA period when it came to catching the football, but he'll have a shot to earn his spot when blocking enters into the equation in camp. O'Shaughnessy looked like a natural pass-catcher this spring and could factor in as a kicking-game contributor. Develin is included here because he has traditionally met with this position group.
OFFENSIVE LINE (8)
Nate Solder, Marcus Cannon, Tony Garcia, Joe Thuney, Shaq Mason, David Andrews, Ted Karras, Cameron Fleming
This is essentially last year's group of linemen with Garcia, a third-round rookie, subbing in for veteran tackle LaAdrian Waddle.
DEFENSIVE LINE (9)
Rob Ninkovich, Trey Flowers, Kony Ealy, Derek Rivers, Deatrich Wise, Malcom Brown, Alan Branch, Vincent Valentine, Lawrence Guy
This looks like a good mix of young and veteran talent. It's also a relatively versatile bunch. It would come as little surprise if Geneo Grissom worked his way into this mix given his special-teams ability.
Dont'a Hightower, David Harris, Shea McClellin, Elandon Roberts, Kyle Van Noy, Brandon King
How Harris fits in with this group will be fascinating to watch over the course of training camp. Can he establish himself as the go-to option alongside Hightower as the No. 2 off-the-ball linebacker? And how might his presence impact the way Hightower is deployed? His addition could mean that the Patriots will have to try to find a way to get rookie Harvey Langi, who was paid relatively handsomely for an undrafted player, onto the practice squad.
Malcolm Butler, Stephon Gilmore, Eric Rowe, Jonathan Jones, Cyrus Jones, Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Nate Ebner, Duron Harmon
Might the depth that the Patriots have at cornerback result in another didn't-see-it-coming summertime trade from Belichick?
Stephen Gostkowski, Ryan Allen, Joe Cardona
The Patriots may bring in players at kicker, punter and long-snapper to compete for time in training camp, but all three names listed above are expected back this season.