Patriots 53-man roster projection, 3.0
With three preseason games in the books, we're taking yet another shot at which Patriots players will land on the final 53-man roster.
There's depth issues at certain spots. There's an abundance of NFL-caliber talent at others. How it shakes out come September is anyone's guess. Injuries will play a factor. There could be trades.
That is all to say that this list will end up being far from accurate, I'm sure. Still, it's a good exercise for us to track who has showed up, who hasn't, and where the Patriots strengths and weaknesses lie at this point in the team-building process.
Let's get to it:
QUARTERBACK (2): TOM BRADY, BRIAN HOYER
No surprises here. Danny Etling did not play in preseason game No. 3 and has never been a real threat to Hoyer for the backup role.
RUNNING BACK (5): REX BURKHEAD, JAMES WHITE, JEREMY HILL, SONY MICHEL, BRANDON BOLDEN
The picture here could be significantly altered because of injury. Both Michel and Burkhead have missed ample time with knee issues. If one or both can't go by the time Week 1 rolls around, perhaps the team would look into carrying Mike Gillislee for depth. Gillislee has averaged just 3.0 yards per carry this preseason, but he made three tacklers miss on Friday in what was his strongest performance of the summer. Hill still seems to have the lead on Gillislee as the "big back," as he was the first on the field with Brady in Carolina.
RECEIVER (4): CHRIS HOGAN, PHILLIP DORSETT, CORDARRELLE PATTERSON, MATTHEW SLATER
The final four I've listed here is so thin that it feels as though I'm being negligent. Slater isn't a true receiver. And should any of the top three go down in the first week or two, the playbook would be limited. Other positions could help fill in, but they're banged-up too. Plus backs...aren't receivers. Tight ends...aren't receivers. Patriots 12 and 21-personnel groups have historically been among the best in the league, but there's a reason they like their 11-personnel sets. They went three receivers on 44 percent of their snaps last season, their most frequently used grouping, per Sharp Football Stats. Another wideout would make sense here, but there isn't another player in this group who demands to be given a roster spot.
TIGHT END (4): ROB GRONKOWSKI, JACOB HOLLISTER, DWAYNE ALLEN, JAMES DEVELIN
Hollister could be one player who sees his usage go way up with Julian Edelman suspended the first four weeks of the season. He's more of a big receiver than a true impact blocker at the line of scrimmage. Though he was unable to play Friday because of injury, the sense I've gotten is that the injury is not expected to be a long-term issue. Meanwhile, it's worth continuing to keep an eye on Allen. The $5 million the team would save by releasing him could be used to open up cap space if Bill Belichick and his staff want to add elsewhere. He's still a big-time blocker in the run game, but there's the potential there for him to become an accounting casualty.
OFFENSIVE LINE (8): TRENT BROWN, JOE THUNEY, DAVID ANDREWS, SHAQ MASON, MARCUS CANNON, LaADRIAN WADDLE, TED KARRAS, MATT TOBIN
This group has remained relatively steady all along. It looks to me like Karras all but locked up his interior backup role with another good performance against the Panthers. On the outside, Tobin looks like he has the best shot to back up Brown at left tackle. He was the first in on the left side once Brown left the game Friday. Ulrick John has been solid this summer, but he's been used more on the right side. There's always the chance they decide to go tackle-heavy here and keep both. Cole Croston has played just two snaps in the last two preseason games, both coming on Friday. Not a great sign for his chances after the team invested a roster spot in him all of last season.
SPECIALISTS (3): STEPHEN GOSTKOWSKI, RYAN ALLEN, JOE CARDONA
Undrafted rookie punter Corey Bojorquez still hasn't seen game action with the Patriots this preseason. There's a chance the team could keep him around for the practice squad, but right now Allen looks like he has a stranglehold on the job.
DEFENSIVE LINE (8): TREY FLOWERS, DEATRICH WISE, ADRIAN CLAYBORN, DEREK RIVERS, KEIONTA DAVIS, DANNY SHELTON, LAWRENCE GUY, MALCOM BROWN
This is one of the deepest groups on the roster. If all nine could stay healthy, it would give the Patriots an opportunity to provide players rest when they need it, and perhaps a lightened workload across the board could lead to more energy for these bigger bodies. Davis was with the starting unit Friday, and though he didn't make a huge impact (one hurry, one run stop), it seems pretty clear the Patriots view him as having strong potential.
LINEBACKER (7): DONT'A HIGHTOWER, KYLE VAN NOY, ELANDON ROBERTS, JA'WHAUN BENTLEY, MARQUIS FLOWERS, BRANDON KING, NICHOLAS GRIGSBY
Hard to gauge exactly how this group will shake out. Hightower and Van Noy are locks. The three special-teamers seem to have a very good shot at the roster. Then there could be only one spot for Roberts and Bentley, but we have both making the cut here. Roberts was out early on Friday night in the team's "base" (three-linebacker) defense. He still has value in the run game and at the goal line. Bentley looks like a developmental player who the Patriots can't afford to let get to waivers.
CORNER (7): STEPHON GILMORE, ERIC ROWE, JONATHAN JONES, DUKE DAWSON, JASON McCOURTY, JC JACKSON, CYRUS JONES
The top four here look safe, and I believe McCourty provides enough value in different areas to warrant a roster spot where depth is essential. Jackson looks like an early special-teams contributor with the potential to grow into a bigger role defensively. And Cyrus Jones could end up as a defensive reserve and punt-return specialist - especially early in the year with Edelman unavailable. Jones looked light on his feet in his kick-return opportunities Friday, which was a good sign for a player who is still gaining confidence in the knee he injured in last year's preseason finale.
SAFETY (5): DEVIN McCOURTY, PATRICK CHUNG, DURON HARMON, NATE EBNER, JORDAN RICHARDS
This group has remained fairly consistent over the years, and it looks like all will be back again for another go-round. Richards and Ebner are here for their special-teams work. Should the team ever need a replacement defensively for McCourty, Chung or Harmon, they may be more inclined to go with Jason McCourty (who saw safety snaps Friday) or an additional corner.
PRACTICE SQUAD (10): DANNY ETLING, RILEY McCARRON, BRAXTON BERRIOS, RYAN IZZO, COLE CROSTON, VINCENT VALENTINE, ADAM BUTLER, HARVEY LANGI, RYAN LEWIS, KEION CROSSEN
This group gives the team plenty of emergency options at critical spots. The benefits of holding onto a developmental quarterback are obvious. The receiving duo, if healthy, would give the Patriots a pair of stopgap options at a perilously thin spot. Valentine, Butler and Langi have NFL game experience and look like players with room to grow. Langi, McCarron, Berrios, Lewis and Crossen all have special-teams ability, which would obviously be attractive to Belichick and his staff. Crossen, despite a three-penalty game against the Eagles this preseason, could have an issue getting through waivers. He's clearly an NFL-caliber athlete, and the Patriots may try to find a way to keep him on the 53-man roster so as not to lose him.