Patriots' 53-man roster projection 4.0: No guarantees
Patriots' 53-man roster projection 4.0: No guarantees
Rodney Harrison gave a colorful description of Bill Belichick's approach to roster-building when the former Patriots safety spoke to The Ringer for a piece on how the Patriots have taken "no-name" players and turned them into valuable commodities.
“When the season started, he showed us an empty depth chart,” Harrison said of Belichick. “He does not care how many Pro Bowls you’ve made. He says: I don’t make the depth chart; you guys make the depth chart.”
Training camp matters. Preseason games matter. And in New England, when well-established players say they're "just trying to make the team," that's not just humility.
The reality is, even accomplished players aren't guaranteed spots. Years ago, Lawyer Milloy was the foremost example of that. More recently, deals involving Logan Mankins, Chandler Jones and Jamie Collins have put players on notice.
Want a shot? Be on board. Be improving, or at least maintaining a level that your peers have yet to hit. Be available. Be, in Belichick's eyes, "what's best for the team."
With that in mind, after three preseason games -- including the third "dress-rehearsal" exhibition -- here's our best guess at what the Patriots 53-man roster will look like.
QUARTERBACK (3): Tom Brady, Jimmy Garoppolo, Jacoby Brissett
Jacoby Brissett did not play in New England's third preseason game, but he should see plenty of time in the finale at Gillette Stadium in a few days. His last performance in a game setting against the Texans was far from perfect, but upon a second viewing, it was better than the numbers might've indicated (5-for-10, 36 yards). Having a third quarterback gives the Patriots some valuable depth at the sport's most important position as uncertainty looms when it comes to the futures of Tom Brady and Jimmy Garoppolo.
RUNNING BACK (5): Mike Gillislee, Rex Burkhead, James White, Dion Lewis, Brandon Bolden
The top four are locks, and Brandon Bolden has remained a critical piece to what the Patriots do in the kicking game so he sticks as well. DJ Foster was a tough player to leave off here as he has been one of the team's best players in the preseason. Julian Edelman's season-ending knee injury could open up a spot for Foster -- who can help in the run game, the passing game and as a returner - but in this scenario, we've opted to go with a third tight end (James O'Shaughnessy) who provides depth at a critical position, receiving help and kick-coverage experience instead.
RECEIVER (5): Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan, Danny Amendola, Malcolm Mitchell, Matthew Slater
The Patriots could opt to add Austin Carr or Devin Lucien here, and they may have to now that Julian Edelman is unavailable. If Malcolm Mitchell and Matthew Slater aren't healthy to start the season, either, then another body at this position may less of a choice than it is a necessity. But neither Lucien nor Carr seem to be significant contributors in the kicking game, and the Patriots have plenty of pass-catching options at other positions (tight end, running back) that Josh McDaniels could deal with a dearth of numbers at wideout if he had to.
TIGHT END (4): Rob Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen, James Develin, James O'Shaughnessy
O'Shaughnessy didn't do himself many favors in Detroit by dropping a pass and being called for a penalty in the kicking game. He also fumbled one out of bounds in Houston the week prior. But he has shown in practices that he has the ability to contribute as a receiver, and he's been taking reps with the first-team kickoff group. Should the Patriots fear they would lose DJ Foster to another team following cuts, they could keep the pass-catching back and hope to place O'Shaughnessy on the practice squad since he has eligibility.
OFFENSIVE LINE (8): Nate Solder, Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Marcus Cannon, Ted Karras, Tony Garcia, Cam Fleming
Things could change here as health will be a factor at this spot. If Nate Solder is still working his way back from injury going into Week 1, then the Patriots might have to actually keep one more tackle (LaAdrian Waddle, Conor McDermott) as a backup to Fleming and Cannon. Garcia hasn't practiced in weeks so where does his availability stand? If the rookie third-rounder were to get healthy between now and cut-down day, and if Solder was ready to go, then perhaps that would make Fleming eligible to be released. Fleming still has practice-squad eligibility and he may be easier to get through waivers and onto the practice squad than players like Foster or O'Shaughnessy.
SPECIAL TEAMS (3): Stephen Gostkowski, Ryan Allen, Joe Cardona
Same old, same old here.
DEFENSIVE LINE (8): Alan Branch, Malcom Brown, Vincent Valentine, Lawrence Guy, Trey Flowers, Deatrich Wise, Geneo Grissom, Adam Butler
With Kony Ealy out of the mix, that makes it even easier to envision a spot being created for impressive undrafted rookie Adam Butler. The Vanderbilt product has flashed disruptive power and quickness throughout training camp, and he had a roster-spot-solidifying type of game against the Lions, hurrying the quarterback three times and notching one quarterback hit. Butler has seen time with the top defensive unit at defensive tackle, but he's also played some on the outside as well -- an indication that the Patriots like his athleticism and his potential to be a scheme-versatile fit.
LINEBACKER (7): Dont'a Hightower, David Harris, Kyle Van Noy, Shea McClellin, Harvey Langi, Elandon Roberts, Trevor Bates
Like on the offensive line, this is another position group that could look significantly different depending on health. Will Dont'a Hightower be ready for a full workload when Week 1 arrives? Will Shea McClellin find his way back to the field by then? How are Elandon Roberts' ribs holding up? With so many question marks, it makes sense that the Patriots would keep an extra body here, and the choice would seem to come down to Jonathan Freeny or Trevor Bates. Both players have seen time with top special-teams units, but Bates (23 years old) is younger than Freeny (28), and Bates has made a handful of noticeably impactful plays in camp, giving him the nod here.
CORNERBACK (5): Malcolm Butler, Stephon Gilmore, Jonathan Jones, Eric Rowe, Cyrus Jones
Cyrus Jones' inclusion on the roster seems to be even more of a sure thing now that Edelman is out. He appears to be the team's top choice moving forward as its punt-returner. Undrafted rookies Kenny Moore and DJ Killings have both had impressive camps -- and Moore has taken first-team gunner reps with Slater out -- but perhaps the Patriots think they though they could land one or both on their practice squad.
SAFETY (5): Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon, Patrick Chung, Nate Ebner, Brandon King
Jordan Richards continues to see time on the team's top kicking-game units, and he could be included on the active roster if the Patriots feel like his value there is too great to pass on. Perhaps an indication of where the team feels its depth is at linebacker -- or perhaps a chance to see Richards at different spots on the field defensively -- he got plenty of work much closer to the line of scrimmage against the Lions.