The Patriots put on quite a show in blowing out the Eagles Thursday night in Philadelphia.
The quarterbacks and running backs in particular looked sharp in the win, and roster spots will be at a premium in the coming weeks. We take another look at what the final 53-man roster might look like ahead of Week 1 against the Dolphins.
Quarterbacks (2): Cam Newton, Mac Jones
Bill Belichick called it. Looks that way, at least. This will be a "hard decision," as he said weeks ago. The question is, if it remains close between Newton and Jones -- and it feels close following Thursday’s preseason work against the Eagles -- would the Patriots not just start Jones?
He seems ready. He likely has the greater potential for growth over the course of the year, which could end up giving the Patriots a superior quarterback by season’s end. But if that happens, if Jones starts early, would Newton stick around to be a backup and/or occasional change-of-pace weapon? Not sure. But for now we’ll keep this position group to this duo.
Running backs (4): Damien Harris, James White, Rhamondre Stevenson, JJ Taylor
Stevenson coughed up a fumble late on Thursday. Not what you’re looking for. But he’s clearly a talented runner. A large man with quick feet, Stevenson has a variety of avenues to take when he wants to force a missed tackle. He could have a role sooner rather than later. Taylor, meanwhile, seems like an ideal backup to White and Gunner Olszewski as a returner. He can also run between the tackles, making him a Jack-of-all-trades like Dion Lewis or Rex Burkhead. If both those young backs hang around, what’s that mean for Sony Michel? He’s caught the ball better lately, but the Patriots still may be best suited finding a trade partner for him. A number of bodies here. Brandon Bolden, who sat out Thursday, may be a candidate to be left off the roster initially and then brought aboard after Week 1 as Belichick tinkers with his 53.
Wide receivers (5): Nelson Agholor, Kendrick Bourne, Jakobi Meyers, Gunner Olszewski, Matthew Slater
No changes here. Unfortunately for N’Keal Harry, he injured himself after diving for a Mac Jones deep ball. That may a) render his trade request moot and b) keep him in Foxboro at least until he’s recovered. Over the last couple of weeks, Kristian Wilkerson’s hands have dinged his chances of making the 53 cut. He also doesn’t appear to be a core-four special-teamer at the moment, which he might need to be to stick around.
Tight ends (4): Jonnu Smith, Hunter Henry, Devin Asiasi, Jakob Johnson
Again, no changes. Injury could change the outlook here, and if Matt LaCosse can get healthy perhaps he ends up lasting. But for now, this is fairly cut and dried. Johnson is critical to certain types of calls Josh McDaniels wants to make, it appears. There was some question as to whether or not the Patriots would want a fullback with so many tight ends available. Based on early preseason action, they do.
Offensive linemen (8): Isaiah Wynn, Mike Onwenu, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Trent Brown, Justin Herron, James Ferentz, Ted Karras
Justin Herron’s usage as a jumbo tight end on Thursday seems to solidify his standing as the team's swing tackle. Pencil him in there. The eighth and final spot here is an interesting one. Will they go with someone on the interior like Ferentz or Alex Redmond? Someone at tackle like Yodny Cajuste -- who’s seen work lately on the left side -- or Korey Cunningham? Tempted to add Cajuste here, in part because Ferentz may be the type of player who’d still be available to add once the regular season begins. But we’ll go with Ferentz. There’s plenty of versatility and depth in this group. Barring injury, McDaniels should feel confident in what he has here.
Specialists (3): Jake Bailey, Joe Cardona, Nick Folk
Quinn Nordin couldn’t miss. Then it’s all he did. A hot streak in practices and a strong outing against Washington led to us including him in our last roster projection. Then he missed a kick at the end of Tuesday’s practice and missed three more in exhibition No. 2 versus the Eagles. We haven’t seen Nick Folk in some time, but if he’s healthy he may have to be the guy to start the season. Could the Patriots get Nordin onto the practice squad to help him iron things out? Would think so. He clearly has some potential. It’s consistency he’s lacking.
Defensive linemen (6): Lawrence Guy, Davon Godchaux, Christian Barmore, Deatrich Wise, Henry Anderson, Carl Davis
Davis simply cannot be ignored. He played well on Thursday and looks like he’d be a valuable backup to both Guy and Godchaux. Even if he’s a healthy scratch on game days to start the season, would be worth keeping him around. Anderson hasn’t done much to get noticed this summer, but he was guaranteed some real dough in the spring, which should earn him a spot here.
Outside linebackers (6): Matt Judon, Kyle Van Noy, Josh Uche, Ronnie Perkins, Brandon King, Chase Winovich
Chase Winovich is back here after getting back on the practice field and then playing 19 snaps against the Eagles, recording a pair of sacks against reserve linemen. What might be an even better sign for his roster chances was the fact that he was out on the field for some core special teams units. It’s a deep group here so he’ll need to be a part of the kicking game in order to get on the field consistently.
Inside linebackers (3): Dont'a Hightower, Ja'Whaun Bentley, Harvey Langi
Anfernee Jennings has been in and out of action all summer so we’ve included Harvey Langi here in this version of our 53-man roster projection. He played more on the edge of the line of scrimmage during his first go-round with the Patriots. But the team was more of a 4-3 scheme back in 2017. Now with more of an emphasis on 3-4 style looks, Langi has played more off the ball as an inside 'backer. As Belichick noted Friday morning, he did plenty of that during his time with the Jets. And Langi can still do both. That versatility -- including work with some of New England’s top special teams units -- could land him a gig come September. There’s opportunity there, especially at inside linebacker, with Raekwon McMillan out injured.
Cornerbacks (7): Stephon Gilmore, JC Jackson, Jonathan Jones, Jalen Mills, Justin Bethel, Joejuan Williams, Dee Virgin
We’ll keep Dee Virgin here for his special teams potential. Seems as though the Patriots like him in the kicking game. Would they rather have Sony Michel as a No. 2 back? Quite possibly. But the kicking game matters to Belichick. Depth there matters. What may keep Virgin off (and Michel on, or Cajuste on, or LaCosse on, or Jennings on ...) is that he may be able to be snuck through waivers.
Safeties (5): Devin McCourty, Adrian Phillips, Kyle Dugger, Myles Bryant, Cody Davis
Bryant is dealing with an injury that has kept him sidelined since last week’s preseason game with Washington. If he can’t get on the field soon, the team might be tempted to use Williams at safety. But with Gilmore still unavailable, Williams has been needed at corner. There are plenty of bodies in Belichick’s secondary in this projection. But because so many are dealing with injury, and because a few are primarily special-teams options, depth could become a bit of an issue here. Which, getting back to the corner group, might be why the Patriots would be OK keeping Virgin around. If they feel he can serve as a backup defensively, they might welcome some added insurance in the defensive backfield.