Patriots 53-man roster projection, 4.0
Final Patriots 53-man roster projection
There's some serious calculus going on at One Patriot Place. Talent evaluations and projections. Scheme fits. Injury assessments. Trade values. Contract values.
They're all dumped out on a conference room table, or onto a whiteboard, or plugged into a spreadsheet that's shared by the team's brain trust of coaches and personnel people...and by Saturday they'll lead to a 53-man roster.
We've tried to do the same with one brain, accomplishing what Bill Belichick said on a conference call that he and his staff set out to accomplish every year around this time: "You just try to put the best team together that you can."
Let's get to our final 53-man projection before rosters are finalized Saturday...
QUARTERBACK (2): TOM BRADY, BRIAN HOYER
Danny Etling (pictured) had Bill Belichick smiling ear-to-ear following his 86-yard touchdown run in the preseason finale, but he doesn’t look like an active-roster candidate. The practice squad seems to be his best bet to hold onto his locker at Gillette Stadium.
RUNNING BACK (5): REX BURKHEAD, SONY MICHEL, JAMES WHITE, JEREMY HILL, BRANDON BOLDEN
Mike Gillislee (pictured) didn’t play on Thursday, which might be an indication that his roster spot is safe. Maybe the Patriots want to load up on backs so they don’t run into what they ran into at the end of 2015 (aka the Stephen Jackson Era). But he could be a potential trade chip. If the Patriots start the season with Michel on IR to give him some additional time to get healthy, then Gillislee could stick as valuable depth.
RECEIVER (5): CHRIS HOGAN, PHILLIP DORSETT, CORDARRELLE PATTERSON, RILEY McCARRON, MATTHEW SLATER
McCarron, like Gillislee, was a surprise non-participant in the preseason finale. To me, that’s an indication that the Patriots realize their receiver depth is so perilously thin that they need to make sure McCarron (pictured) stays healthy. To me, barring a trade to import an impact wideout, McCarron makes it.
TIGHT END (4): ROB GRONKOWSKI, JACOB HOLLISTER, DWAYNE ALLEN, JAMES DEVELIN
Allen (pictured) was a sneaky candidate to be released, but he’s not going anywhere after his contract restructure. This group of pretty straightforward otherwise.
OFFENSIVE LINE (8): TRENT BROWN, JOE THUNEY, DAVID ANDREWS, SHAQ MASON, MARCUS CANNON, LaADRIAN WADDLE, TED KARRAS, MATT TOBIN
After Ulrick John’s injury in the finale, Tobin (pictured) looks like the best bet to serve as the team’s backup to the backup tackle. He’s played left tackle for much of the preseason, and he saw time there ahead of Croston until Thursday when Croston started on the left side. Croston spent all of last season with the team as a developmental player, but what makes Tobin intriguing is he received reps on the right side against the Giants, and as a jumbo tight end, which was a role often taken on by former Patriots reserve tackle Cam Fleming. Maybe, with injuries at other spots playing a factor, the Patriots find a way to keep Croston or James Ferentz as a ninth.
SPECIALISTS (3): STEPHEN GOSTKOWSKI, RYAN ALLEN, JOE CARDONA
Undrafted rookie Corey Bojorquez didn’t punt in any of New England’s four preseason games. Ryan Allen’s job should be safe.
DEFENSIVE LINE (8): TREY FLOWERS, DEATRICH WISE, ADRIAN CLAYBORN, DEREK RIVERS, DANNY SHELTON, MALCOM BROWN, LAWRENCE GUY, ADAM BUTLER
Butler (pictured) has been solid in his role as an interior rusher and is more game-ready than someone like Keionta Davis, who I would consider to be on the bubble. The coaching staff clearly likes Davis, and they wanted to give him ample opportunity to get his legs under him after a year off, but I’m not sure Davis has put enough on tape to make another team jump at the chance to pick him up on waivers. He could be someone who gets through and then lands on the Patriots practice squad. Same goes for Vincent Valentine, who could make the roster should the team opt to trade away an interior piece like Brown. If both Butler and Valentine made it to the practice squad, that would be good edge and interior emergency depth ready to go in-house.
LINEBACKER (6): DONT’A HIGHTOWER, KYLE VAN NOY, ELANDON ROBERTS, JA’WHAUN BENTLEY, BRANDON KING, NICHOLAS GRIGSBY
The Patriots like to have first and second-down, ready-made linebacker depth. They’d accomplish that by holding onto Roberts despite the fact that Roberts doesn’t have a core special teams role. (Think David Harris in 2017.) Bentley (pictured), meanwhile, has shown too much to expose him to waivers. Makes sense that he was held out on Thursday. The final two listed are core special teamers. Marquis Flowers is typically included in this group as well, but in this scenario, the Patriots go with an extra corner with upside instead.
CORNER (7): STEPHON GILMORE, ERIC ROWE, JONATHAN JONES, DUKE DAWSON, JC JACKSON, CYRUS JONES, KEION CROSSEN
Jackson (pictured), like Bentley, has been too good not to be kept. His combination of ball skills (two picks in the finale) and special teams ability would make him a hot commodity on waivers. Cyrus Jones is exactly one year removed from his ACL injury on Friday, and Bill Belichick has seemed pleased with the 2016 second-rounder’s progress. If fully healthy, he could slot in as slot corner depth (especially if Dawson’s injury lingers) and as the team’s primary punt returner with Julian Edelman suspended. Keion Crossen appeared to injure his right shoulder/collarbone against the Giants, but he’s shown a good combination of athleticism and aggressiveness that could win him a spot as a developmental player. In this scenario, the Patriots would roll with Crossen — who has both defensive and special teams upside — over Marquis Flowers.
SAFETY (5): DEVIN McCOURTY, PATRICK CHUNG, DURON HARMON, NATE EBNER, JASON McCOURTY
Trading Jordan Richards opens the door for Jason McCourty (pictured) to be included in this group (even though he’d be considered more of an all-purpose defensive back). Though it’s a top-heavy safety group, they could use some capable depth here in case of injury, and Jason McCourty may be best suited for that role when compared to the other options on the roster.