Patriots 53-man roster projection 8.0: Offensive line trades affect outlook
Odds were that the Patriots probably had a pretty good idea of how their 53-man roster would be constructed well before Thursday night. But one of the benefits of the preseason finale is that it's one last opportunity for players to do something to make their case for a job — whether that's in New England or elsewhere.
Were there active-roster spots, or more likely practice-squad spots, determined when the Patriots and Giants squared off a week before the NFL officially kicks off its 100th season? Were there clues dropped by the coaching staff in terms of how they view the long-term prospects for certain players?
Let's do some digging here with our final 53-man roster projection of the summer...
Tom Brady, Jarrett Stidham
In general, when Bill Belichick can go with two quarterbacks... he goes with two quarterbacks. He did it in 2014 when Jimmy Garoppolo and Ryan Mallett fought for the backup job. He did it in 2012 when Brian Hoyer and Mallett fought for the backup job. He did it in 2009 with Kevin O'Connell and Hoyer fought for the backup job. In 2016, he kept three knowing that Tom Brady would miss the first four games of the regular season. In 2011, he kept three knowing that Mallett wasn't ready to be a backup. This year? Jarrett Stidham has been as good as any rookie quarterback the Patriots have had in recent memory, in my opinion. Garoppolo had an outstanding preseason opener five years ago that might've been a tick better than what Stidham did in Detroit this summer. But one was a second-rounder and one was taken in the fourth. That Stidham is even in the conversation tells me he's ready for backup duties. What he did Thursday with starting-caliber receivers -- while slow to deliver at times -- was impressive overall.
RUNNING BACK (5)
Sony Michel, James White, Rex Burkhead, Damien Harrris, Brandon Bolden
If you were to ask me how the workload would be shared by this group of backs, that'd be a near-impossible task. Sony Michel (pictured) looks like the "big back" of the group, but he's been incorporated more into the passing game this summer. That could mean less work for James White and/or Rex Burkhead. Damien Harris, meanwhile, looks like a versatile back in his own right and could play in a variety of situations. What we do know is that this group looks poised to make their position group a strength of Belichick's roster throughout the 2019 campaign.
Julian Edelman, Josh Gordon, N'Keal Harry, Jakobi Meyers, Phillip Dorsett, Demaryius Thomas
It still feels as though going heavy at this position -- even if it means making a couple of players here inactive on game day -- makes the most sense for the Patriots. N'Keal Harry's availability early this season seems to be in some doubt not only because of the lingering injuries with which he's dealt but because of the practice time he's missed. Same could be said for Demaryius Thomas, who looked great on Thursday but still hasn't taken any game reps with Tom Brady. Jakobi Meyers put on a show this summer but then looked lost at times during the regular-season dress rehearsal last week. Josh Gordon's reinstatement by the NFL was on a conditional basis and he likely has some conditioning to work on. The picture with this group could change in a week. It could change in four weeks. Right now, though, if they can keep all six of the wideouts listed above that should give them a combination of reliable depth and potential to make it a viable situation for Josh McDaniels.
TIGHT END (3)
Ryan Izzo, Matt LaCosse, James Develin
We're still waiting to see more from Matt LaCosse (pictured) so this projection assumes he's healthy enough to play. He hasn't been spotted in a preseason game since suffering an injury in Detroit, and he was moving gingerly before the game on Thursday. His lower left leg is a real issue at the moment. Perhaps the team would be willing to go with one player here because of LaCosse's injury, which would give them space to keep a third quarterback or an extra linebacker or a punt-return specialist. Either way, odds are this group isn't going to factor into the passing game in a huge way. Ryan Izzo seems like a good option to serve as a blocker first and foremost. And if someone leaves him lumbering down the seam he's shown he can capitalize. James Develin, who fended off undrafted rookie fullback Andrew Beck this summer, is included here because fullbacks meet with the tight ends on a daily basis.
OFFENSIVE LINE (7)
Isaiah Wynn, Joe Thuney, Ted Karras, Shaq Mason, Marcus Cannon, Korey Cunningham, Jermaine Eluemunor
The trades the Patriots swung this week to add to their offensive line told us a few things: No. 1) David Andrews' health scare shined a light on how exactly the Patriots felt about their depth on the interior of the offensive line. No. 2) Dan Skipper probably isn't ready for swing tackle duties. If Ted Karras elevates to a starting role, the Patriots would lose their most versatile interior backup and make themselves a bit vulnerable across the board. The addition of Jermaine Eluemunor, however, gives them options. What the Patriots gave up to get him (a fourth-rounder) indicates they think he can play. Perhaps they'll be willing to try Joe Thuney at center, which could put Eluemunor at left guard. Perhaps the entire left side of the line would shuffle if the Patriots feel like their best combination would be Thuney at center, Isaiah Wynn at left guard and Eluemunor at left tackle. Eluemunor saw one start last year at left tackle and held his own against Steelers outside linebacker Bud Dupree. The team also recently added Korey Cunningham for tackle depth. Hjalte Froholdt suffered an injury Thursday that could make him a candidate to take a red-shirt season. James Ferentz is someone who'd make sense as an eighth offensive lineman, but the team could probably release him and bring him back whenever they had a need. His play in preseason games likely won't have other teams around the league clamoring to claim him.
DEFENSIVE LINE (5)
Michael Bennett, Lawrence Guy, Danny Shelton, Adam Butler, Byron Cowart
Might the Patriots be a little light here? It's a group loaded with massive men, but there's only one nose tackle (Danny Shelton) and there's only one true seven-technique end (Michael Bennett). David Parry would be worth a look to back up Shelton now that Mike Pennel is out of the mix. And Deatrich Wise would give the team another versatile edge, but he seems out of place in a 3-4 scheme. He has value though and it'd make sense if the team tried to trade him to get something in return.
OUTSIDE LINEBACKER (4)
Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins, Chase Winovich, John Simon
This group looked a little deeper earlier in the summer when Shilique Calhoun and Derek Rivers were showing up with their pass-rush ability. Both have been injured, though, and they haven't been spotted at practice in the last two weeks. The Patriots have versatile players at the second level of their defense, though, so if they needed to use Dont'a Hightower down on the edge they can (and will) do that. As it is, all four of the names listed above appear to be athletic enough to rush the quarterback and drop into coverage to a certain extent. That'll make it hard for opposing protection schemes to predict their post-snap whereabouts.
INSIDE LINEBACKER (4)
Dont'a Hightower, Ja'Whaun Bentley, Calvin Munson, Elandon Roberts
If Hightower has to spend more time on the edge due to some of the injuries to to the outside linebacker group, then it'd make sense to keep an extra body or two for the inside linebacker room. That's where Elandon Roberts and Calvin Munson come in. Munson could have a shot at the roster in a special-teams capacity now that we know Brandon King is out for the year. Roberts, meanwhile, looks like someone who could fill in as an off-the-ball 'backer in running-game situations if and when Hightower is on the line of scrimmage. There's not a ton of use for reserve two-down linebackers in 2019, but Roberts has experience in the system and might help fill out the linebacker group as a whole until that outside spot gets healthy.
Stephon Gilmore, Jason McCourty, J.C. Jackson, Jonathan Jones, Joejuan Williams, Keion Crossen, Duke Dawson
We were only about 12 hours removed from the end of the preseason finale when we learned about our first roster spot misfire. Trading Duke Dawson for a Day 3 pick swap (the Patriots sent a seventh and got a sixth in return from the Broncos) shows just how far his stock had fallen in a little more than a year. With his open spot, the Patriots could keep an injured player on the initial 53-man roster and then place him on IR. That might allow someone like Derek Rivers or Shilique Calhoun to return mid-season. In order for players to be eligible to return from IR, they have to be on the 53-man roster.
Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon, Terrence Brooks
It'd make sense for the Patriots to try to find a spot for Obi Melifonwu, who was one of the team's best defensive backs early in camp. He'd be a young, athletic, seemingly-versatile safety who could fill in if a veteran misses time. He'd also represent, perhaps, the next answer at the position whenever Devin McCourty (pictured) and/or Patrick Chung decide to move on. But Melifonwu has become less noticeable in recent weeks and he didn't participate in last week's game against the Panthers, indicating that he might be dealing with some type of injury. This group as it stands has plenty of versatility and special-teams value.
Stephen Gostkowski, Jake Bailey, Joe Cardona, Matthew Slater, Nate Ebner, Gunner Olszewski
The first five names on this list look like locks as kicking game specialists. You've known them for years. The sixth? It's new, but it's one of the most memorable names of the rookie class. And it's a name that has the potential to make the roster. Is it likely? Maybe not. But on a team that doesn't have a definitive choice to return punts or kicks, he's shown a remarkable ability to find space and attack it aggressively in both roles this preseason. The former Bemidji State corner-turned-receiver-slash-