Patriots 53-man roster projection: Going light at tight end
Let's take a quick run at a roster projection after five days of training camp practice for the Patriots. We're basing this list more on camp performances and reps received of players involved, not necessarily positional "needs." You'll see what we mean when you get to the tight end position. Enjoy.
Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer, Jarrett Stidham
Brian Hoyer had a rough day of practice on Sunday, throwing an interception to Obi Melifonwu and then fumbling the next snap, but he's a strong veteran presence -- a veteran presence scheduled to make $3 million in 2019. He'd cost the team $1.5 million in dead money if cut.
RUNNING BACKS (5)
Sony Michel, James White, Rex Burkhead, Damien Harris, Brandon Bolden
One of the strongest groups on the roster here. Sony Michel's recent return to action means the team won't be making a decision on whether or not to keep him on the physically unable to perform list to start the year.
WIDE RECEIVERS (6)
Julian Edelman, N'Keal Harry, Phillip Dorsett, Maurice Harris, Jakobi Meyers, Matthew Slater
Hard to leave Braxton Berrios off of this list. I could see him -- between the reps he'll get and his role in the offense -- producing impressive numbers in the preseason. That'd make getting him through waivers and onto the practice squad more challenging. But Jakobi Meyers has been the more impressive wideout through the early part of training camp. Maurice Harris feels more like a lock every day. If the Patriots feel like they need to keep a player not named Julian Edelman to return punts, they could go with Berrios. Or maybe even undrafted rookie Gunner Olszewski, a college defensive back who's had his moments as a receiver through the early part of camp. But this is the group we'll roll with for now.
TIGHT ENDS (2)
Matt LaCosse, James Develin
This isn't ideal. Clearly. One tight end. One fullback. Matt LaCosse looks like the second-best option on the roster after Ben Watson, but even he's a significant projection. Watson is getting the bulk of the reps with Tom Brady, but he'll be suspended for the first month of the season. We simply haven't seen much from this group. LaCosse has great length and has shown signs of possessing a good catch radius. But the Patriots typically employ a blocking tight end, and it's unclear if LaCosse can make an impact as such. Bill Belichick could lean on his offensive line depth, picking a lineman to play the role of jumbo tight end, if he wants a reliable run-blocker in situations that would call for one. Undrafted rookie Andrew Beck -- who received more guaranteed money than any undrafted rookie on the team -- is interesting as a second fullback for an offense that makes great use of that position, but he seems like an ideal practice-squad candidate.
OFFENSIVE LINE (8)
Isaiah Wynn, Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Marcus Cannon, Hjalte Froholdt, Ted Karras, James Ferentz
This is a complicated spot. Will Isaiah Wynn be ready? He still isn't participating in team work, but he didn't start the summer on the physically unable to perform list so the assumption is there's some optimism about his availability to start the season. There's not much tackle depth behind him. Dan Skipper looks like the next-best option after Wynn, Marcus Cannon and Joe Thuney (who has played some left tackle in camp). But holding onto veterans Ted Karras and James Ferentz instead makes more sense at this point. Rookie tackle Yodny Cajuste remains on the non-football injury list and could be a mid-season add if it turns out he's not ready to start the year.
DEFENSIVE LINE (6)
Michael Bennett, Deatrich Wise, Lawrence Guy, Adam Butler, Mike Pennel, Danny Shelton
Solid group here for what could be a stout 3-4 defensive line. Michael Bennett, someone who has been a penetrating defensive end for years, is a bit of a curious fit in a two-gapping 3-4. But the passing game is so prevalent, even if he focused on that phase in the team's sub packages, he'd be plenty useful to Belichick and defensive line coach Bret Bielema. Deatrich Wise, Lawrence Guy and Adam Butler make sense as 3-4 ends, and Mike Pennel and Danny Shelton are built like true 3-4 nose tackles.
OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS (6)
Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins, John Simon, Chase Winovich, Derek Rivers, Brandon King
This is another spot where the Patriots have built up some solid depth. Will there be room for Derek Rivers if Chase Winovich can contribute in Year 1? Both players had good showings in pads over the weekend. Both look like ideal 3-4 outside linebackers. Given that Kyle Van Noy may have to at some point play off the line (more on that in a minute) keeping extra bodies at this position seems sensible.
INSIDE LINEBACKERS (3)
Dont'a Hightower, Ja'Whaun Bentley, Elandon Roberts
This might be lighter than the Patriots are willing to go at this position. Second-level linebacker is a strenuous job, and in a 3-4 it's particularly strenuous. Off-the-ball linebackers in that type of front are expected to handle guards, which can lead to some high-impact collisions. All three of the players listed here are built for that, but what if injury strikes? Van Noy could conceivably fill in, but the Patriots may want to keep one more true inside 'backer here -- Christian Sam? Calvin Munson? -- for depth purposes. Sam made an impressive goal-line stop over the weekend.
Stephon Gilmore, Jason McCourty, J.C. Jackson, Joejuan Williams, Jonathan Jones, Duke Dawson, Keion Crossen
Perhaps the deepest group on the entire roster. The Patriots have three starting-caliber outside corners (Stephon Gilmore, Jason McCourty, J.C. Jackson), a potential matchup weapon in 6-foot-4 cover man JoeJuan Williams, slot options in Jonathan Jones and Duke Dawson, and a special-teamer with freakish athleticism in Keion Crossen. Too many talented players here -- including a second-round pick in Dawson that the Patriots likely won't want to give up on -- to cut any of them. Clearly we subscribe to the "you can never have too many good corners" theory.
Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon, Terrence Brooks
With so many corners, the Patriots can afford to go a little lighter at the safety spot. Terrence Brooks looks like someone who could contribute defensively given that he's practiced alongside Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung in some three-safety looks this summer. He'll certainly make his mark in the kicking game. Nate Ebner's not here at the moment because he hasn't practiced. He's on PUP and could be an in-season activation option. Obi Melifonwu, omitted from this list, has had a good start to camp and his rare combination of athleticism and size makes him an intriguing man-to-man option for opposing tight ends.
SPECIAL TEAMS (3)
Stephen Gostkowski, Jake Bailey, Joe Cardona
Jake Bailey has had an up-and-down camp thus far. Some of his punts have been majestic. Others have been the opposite. His draft position -- the Patriots traded up to get him in the fifth round -- seems to make him a good bet for the roster.