Patriots 53-man roster projection: How many QB are too many?
It's far too early to grade the Patriots' 2019 draft class, yet hand out grades we did. It's also incredibly premature to pare down the 90-man roster in New England to 53 players, yet . . . here we are.
Will a rookie end up serving as Tom Brady's backup? How many bodies will the Patriots want to keep at tight end in a post-Rob Gronkowski world? Who will stick at receiver? And might there be some shakeup in the defensive front-seven?
Consider this a quick look at some of the more intriguing positional battles that will take place in Foxboro during the spring ("teaching camp," according to Bill Belichick) and summer ("competition camp").
Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer, Jarrett Stidham
Brian Hoyer could be the odd man out here, but he's guaranteed about $1.5 million for 2019. The Patriots have typically kept two quarterbacks on the active roster with 2016 being an exception, when Brady was suspended the first four games of the year. Still, unless the Patriots can find a suitor for Hoyer via trade, he may be making enough money that he's secured a roster spot. Danny Etling could end up back on the practice squad, giving the Patriots two young arms to develop. But in keeping both Stidham and Hoyer, there might not be practice reps to go around if Etling stuck as well.
RUNNING BACK (5)
Sony Michel, James White, Rex Burkhead, Damien Harris, Brandon Bolden
This is a loaded group with Harris' addition in the third round of this year's draft. Bolden should have a role as a core special-teamer in his return to the Patriots.
WIDE RECEIVER (5)
Julian Edelman, N'Keal Harry, Phillip Dorsett, Braxton Berrios, Matthew Slater
This will be one of the most fascinating position groups to track leading up to the season. Demaryius Thomas could begin the season on the shelf as he works his way back from a torn Achilles. Maurice Harris might end up with a spot as a free-agent add. Same goes for Bruce Ellington. Berrios and Ryan Davis (the undrafted free agent out of Auburn) have intriguing upside as slot options. But Berrios may benefit the most from the uncertainty at this spot -- partly because the Patriots missed out on free-agent slots this offseason, and partly because of his ability to return punts. If Belichick wants versatility from this group, he could keep Jakobi Meyers, who played inside at NC State but has the size to work outside. Josh Gordon's status remains uncertain. If reinstated, the picture here would change.
TIGHT END (4)
Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Ryan Izzo, Matt LaCosse, James Develin
Undrafted free agent signee Andrew Beck looks like a prime practice-squad candidate after he was guaranteed six figures upon agreeing to terms with New England on draft weekend. The team will also keep International Pathway program addition Jakob Johnson as a fullback on the p-squad. He doesn't count against the 90-man roster at the moment, and the Patriots will receive an exemption to keep him as an 11th practice-squad member during the season. (All four AFC East teams will have an 11th practice-squad player from overseas this year. Those players can't be activated during the season.)
Isaiah Wynn, Marcus Cannon, Yodny Cajuste
Will Cajuste be healthy enough to serve as the swing option starting in Week 1? If not, the Patriots will need another body here. Perhaps Joe Thuney will have to be ready to play some tackle in a pinch. Cole Croston seems like a logical practice-squad candidate. The Patriots could add a veteran here after May 7, when free-agent adds no longer count against the compensatory pick formula.
INTERIOR OFFENSIVE LINE (5)
David Andrews, Joe Thuney, Shaq Mason, Ted Karras, Hjalte Froholdt
The Patriots kept five interior linemen last year and could do the same again this season. In this scenario, Froholdt could end up in the same role James Ferentz held in 2018.
DEFENSIVE TACKLE (4)
Lawrence Guy, Mike Pennel, Adam Butler, David Parry
The Patriots could ask David Parry to serve as another big-bodied (listed at 317 pounds) defender to use in a rotation with Pennel and Guy on first and second downs. It'll be interesting to see if Byron Cowart, the fifth-rounder out of Maryland, can challenge for a roster spot. He has intriguing physical traits that should help him transition from college to the pros.
Michael Bennett, Deatrich Wise, John Simon, Chase Winovich
Could Winovich beat out Derek Rivers for the team's sub-rusher role? The Patriots kept both Rivers and Adrian Clayborn (another sub-rusher) on the roster last year, but it's a niche gig and might be taken care of with one roster spot. Keionta Davis could have the inside track on a job here as a big-bodied first- and second-down edge-setter, but he lands on the practice squad in this instance. Ditto for Rivers.
Dont'a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Ja'Whaun Bentley, Elandon Roberts, Brandon King
What would make it easier for the Patriots to get by with fewer bodies on the edge? Depth at linebacker. With Bentley back in the mix after missing most of his rookie season, that may free up Hightower and/or Van Noy to play on the line of scrimmage more frequently. Christian Sam and undrafted rookie Terez Hall could challenge Roberts for a roster spot, but the veteran was solid against the run on early downs last year.
Stephon Gilmore, Jason McCourty, Jonathan Jones, J.C. Jackson, Joejuan Williams, Duke Dawson, Keion Crossen
One of the deepest positions on the roster, this group is filled with starting-caliber players, core special-teamers and high-end draft choices. Hard to make any cuts here. Seventh-round pick Ken Webster, an eye-popping athlete, might be someone the team could keep on the practice squad. The Patriots have set themselves up well at one of the game's most valuable positions.
Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon, Terrence Brooks, Nate Ebner
Another strong group, loaded with veterans. It might make sense to try to hold onto a younger player here in case injuries strike, but McCourty and Chung have proven to be incredibly durable throughout their careers. Obi Melifonwu would be worth considering as a practice-squad candidate thanks to his rare size and athleticism. Same goes for Malik Gant, an undrafted rookie, who looks like an in-the-box option at this position.
Stephen Gostkowski, Jake Bailey, Joe Cardona
It might be difficult to part ways with Ryan Allen following his winning performance in Super Bowl LIII, but taking Bailey in the fifth round (and trading up to get him) serves as an indication that the Patriots are open to moving on from the veteran lefty in favor of a younger player with a big leg.
PRACTICE SQUAD (11)
WR Ryan Davis, WR Jakobi Meyers, TE Andrew Beck, FB Jakob Johnson,* OL Cole Croston, EDGE Derek Rivers, EDGE Keionta Davis, DT Byron Cowart, LB Christian Sam, LB Terez Hall, CB Ken Webster
The Patriots double-up here at positions where they're relatively thin. Ryan Davis and Meyers are slot players with upside -- and Meyers is big enough to play outside -- at the receiver spot. Along the edge, Rivers and Keionta Davis would give the Patriots a pair of players with NFL experience who could step in and serve a role if called upon. At linebacker, where injuries could impact New England's depth quickly, keeping two on the practice squad makes sense. All these players, of course, would need to clear waivers before they end up as practice squad options.