Patriots' 53-man roster projection 5.0: The final cut
Patriots' 53-man roster projection 5.0: The final cut
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 some of the team's most 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 a full slate of preseason games and with Week 1 just around the corner, here's our last best guess at what the Patriots 53-man roster will look like.
QUARTERBACK (3): Tom Brady, Jimmy Garoppolo, Jacoby Brissett
We've had Jacoby Brissett as part of this projection throughout the summer, and what he did on Thursday night only solidified that. His touchdown throw to Devin Lucien was a good example of where he is in his development at the moment: not all the way there in terms of mastering his responsibilities pre-snap, but headed in the right direction in terms of his understanding of the game as he hones his unique physical skills. Certainly worth keeping around.
RUNNING BACK (5): Mike Gillislee, Rex Burkhead, James White, Dion Lewis, Brandon Bolden
Keeping things pretty static here. All five appear to be locks. For the first four names, it's because of their offensive contributions. For Bolden, it's because of his work on special teams. DJ Foster made a late push for a roster spot, and he could be in consideration for a job with Julian Edelman out for the season and the Patriots in need of more offensive skill position players. But in this scenario, Foster would instead be one of the team's ideal practice-squad candidates if he can get through waivers.
RECEIVER (5): Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan, Danny Amendola, Malcolm Mitchell, Matthew Slater
Devin Lucien and Austin Carr certainly didn't make things any easier on Bill Belichick or Nick Caserio with what they did Thursday night. But despite those players' best efforts in the preseason finale, they may be best suited for the practice squad. Though the numbers at this position are somewhat low, the Patriots have enough in the way of offensive weapons to make up for it. Spots like defensive end and linebacker, on the other hand, seemingly could use added depth. Keep an eye on Cody Hollister as a potential practice-squad addition, as well. His special-teams experience in college -- he was one of Arkansas' best in that phase -- gives him versatility that Carr and Lucien may not have.
TIGHT END (4): Rob Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen, James O'Shaughnessy, James Develin
James Develin obviously isn't a true tight end, but he knows how to handle tight end responsibilities as he meets with that position group daily. James O'Shaughnessy may be the primary beneficiary of the Justin Coleman trade that opened up a spot on the 53-man roster. He has special teams value, and he gives the Patriots a capable pass-catcher behind Rob Gronkowski and Dwayne Allen. I'd expect the Patriots to do all they can to make sure Jacob Hollister is on the practice squad. He showed up as a receiver throughout training camp, and he's developing in terms of his kick-coverage abilities.
OFFENSIVE LINE (8): Nate Solder, Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Marcus Cannon, Ted Karras, LaAdrian Waddle, Cam Fleming
In this scenario, where the Patriots enter the 2017 season with the same group they had in 2016, rookie third-round selection Tony Garcia would end up on injured reserve. That leaves an opening for LaAdrian Waddle, who got the start at left tackle on Thursday. Cameron Fleming was far from immaculate in pass protection this summer, but what he brings in institutional knowledge and run-blocking makes him worthy of a spot. Conor McDermott is a tough leave here, but the sixth-round rookie could slip through to the practice squad. His missed cut block against the Giants that led to Jacoby Brissett's pick-six could help teams look the other way on him when it comes time to claim players off of waivers.
SPECIAL TEAMS (3): Stephen Gostkowski, Ryan Allen, Joe Cardona
No surprises here.
DEFENSIVE LINE (8): Alan Branch, Malcom Brown, Vincent Valentine, Lawrence Guy, Trey Flowers, Deatrich Wise, Geneo Grissom, Adam Butler
Adam Butler didn't see a single snap in the preseason finale -- an indication that he had a roster spot locked down. Well-deserved, too. He's been powerful and explosive off the line of scrimmage throughout training camp, and the coaching staff has experimented with him at various defensive line techniques. He could be a super-sub at a variety of positions. Geneo Grissom gets the nod here for his special-teams ability. He's a depth option at defensive end.
LINEBACKER (7): Dont'a Hightower, David Harris, Kyle Van Noy, Shea McClellin, Harvey Langi, Elandon Roberts, Marquis Flowers
Last week, it looked like there could be a spot for a defensive reserve who projected as a core special-teamer, and the choice came down to Trevor Bates and Jonathan Freeny. Then the Patriots made a trade. That spot now belongs to Marquis Flowers, the former Bengal acquired this week in exchange for a seventh-round draft pick. Injuries at this position could shift things this weekend. Is Shea McClellin healthy enough to start the season? What about Elandon Roberts, who hurt his ribs in Week 2 of the preseason? Or Harvey Langi, who has shown promise but missed practice time this week? Does the team need yet another body here?
CORNERBACK (4): Malcolm Butler, Stephon Gilmore, Jonathan Jones, Eric Rowe
The trade that sent Justin Coleman to the Seahawks leaves the Patriots somewhat low here in terms of numbers, but this top-four has a solid combination of top-end talent and positional versatility, and a fifth corner would rarely see the field barring injury. Undrafted rookies like Kenny Moore and DJ Killings, both of whom had PBUs on Thursday, could be back as practice-squad candidates in this scenario. Will Likely is also an interesting name for the Patriots to keep in the building as he is perhaps their best punt-return option on the roster after Danny Amendola. He was named the Big Ten's top return man in 2015.
SAFETY (6): Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon, Patrick Chung, Nate Ebner, Brandon King, Jordan Richards
Richards has been left off of these projections throughout the course of the summer, but when he was spotted on the sidelines Thursday with other regulars, it was an important reminder: Never underestimate the value of special teams to Bill Belichick and his staff. Recent injuries to the likes of Shea McClellin, Harvey Langi, Brandon King and Nate Ebner could make Richards indispensable in their eyes. He has core-four experience, and he also seems to be the primary backup for defensive Swiss Army knife Patrick Chung. That could very well be worthy of a roster spot.