Patriots 53-man roster projection: Post-minicamp edition
Of course it's too early to predict who'll make up the 53-man roster in September, but this is a format that allows for a nice tidy position-by-position wrap of that which we saw at Patriots minicamp. We'll start at quarterback, where Tom Brady looked like Tom Brady and his backup didn't look like a guy ready to relinquish his job.
Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer, Jarrett Stidham
Brady looked as we've come to expect him to look this time of year, year after year. His arm was strong -- particularly on a windy Tuesday, driving passes to the boundary without issue -- and he was generally very accurate. While he wasn't afraid to make himself heard during side sessions with N'Keal Harry and others, looking almost like a coach alongside Josh McDaniels, I'm sure he'll be more vocal in training camp if things look as sloppy as they did (too many drops by receivers and tight ends) on Thursday.
Hoyer, meanwhile, was very animated throughout minicamp. He completed contested touchdowns to Harry and Phillip Dorsett and celebrated with his wideouts after each. He was also the one who launched the pass that resulted in the catch of the week, a diving grab by Braxton Berrios. Hoyer was at times, interestingly, the third quarterback on the field in team drills. Stidham took the field after Brady on multiple occasions. That may have been the coaching staff's way of seeing what Stidham has to offer when playing with some more established teammates. Stidham was, as one might expect, up and down. He had to take a couple of laps because of fumbles. He had stretches of inaccurate throws. But he also had a beautiful throw to the back corner of the end zone for fellow rookie Jakobi Meyers on Day 3.
RUNNING BACK (5)
Sony Michel, James White, Rex Burkhead, Damien Harris, Brandon Bolden
We didn't see Sony Michel for three days of minicamp. He was present for the team's ring ceremony presentation for anyone who thought he might've been abducted by aliens. The reality with this player is that maintenance, rest, recovery, rehabilitation and pain management are likely always going to be part of the equation. He's dealt with a number of knee issues that could limit his participation at any given point in the year. In this projection, we'll say he's ready to go to start the season. But given his history I'm not sure anyone would be shocked if he missed time.
If Michel needs some time, Damien Harris looks like he could be a worthy fill-in. Though he wasn't immune from the drops that plagued parts of the roster this week, he did look like a relatively fluid catcher of the football during this week's extension of "passing camp." He caught 52 passes in 54 career games while at Alabama. He won't be confused for White any time soon, but he might be able to provide some measure of run-pass unpredictability in the backfield -- something that the Patriots really don't have when White or Michel is in the game.
WIDE RECEIVER (6)
Julian Edelman, N'Keal Harry, Phillip Dorsett, Maurice Harris, Braxton Berrios, Matthew Slater
The Patriots might've known what they were getting in Maurice Harris since they worked quickly to sign him early in free-agency this offseason. But for those of us who saw very little of him with Washington, this week was a little bit of an eye-opener. He played inside and outside. He high-pointed passes. He worked in with the first offensive grouping -- alongside Edelman and Dorsett -- and didn't look out of place. This time of year is about teaching and not roster competition, but if it was about competition, the competition between Harris and Dontrelle Inman wouldn't have been all that close. Inman was quiet through three days of practice.
Jakobi Meyers is someone worth keeping an eye on this summer. He got some one-on-one time with Nick Caserio before Day 1, and he was with Harry when Harry, McDaniels, Brady and Hoyer worked on refining their timing on comeback routes. Interesting to see an undrafted rookie and a first-round pick getting some tutoring side-by-side. Berrios makes this projection after a solid three days. He also saw plenty of work as a punt-returner, and if he shows some proficiency there this summer that could help him secure a roster spot. (Demaryius Thomas is still recovering from a torn Achilles and could begin the season on PUP; Josh Gordon is suspended indefinitely by the league and isn't eligible to participate during spring work.)
TIGHT END (4)
Matt LaCosse, Ryan Izzo, James Develin, Andrew Beck
Since the last time we put one of these together, Austin Seferian-Jenkins was released. That left a tight end position that already had myriad question marks with even more. Can Matt LaCosse really be the team's No. 1 tight end when Week 1 rolls around? Ben Watson is going to be suspended for a month so the job looks like it'll fall to the former Giants and Broncos tight end. His his frame (6-foot-6, 255 pounds) and solid hands (despite a drop Thursday) make him a logical choice to be the top guy in September -- at least as a pass-catching option. We haven't seen anyone with pads on, though, and the tight end in a run-heavy offense is going to be asked to block more than occasionally.
That's why Izzo is here. He had an unremarkable minicamp -- outside of hearing it from Dante Scarnecchia and McDaniels after apparently botching a goal-line blocking assignment -- but he looks like a blocking specialist and someone who will garner more attention in training camp. Brady said Thursday that this may have to be a group that pieces things together with different skill sets so perhaps Izzo and LaCosse can team up to give the Patriots a representative effort at that position until Watson returns. Beck is one of the most fascinating players on the team from a roster-building perspective. He worked out with the fullbacks (Develin and Jackob Johnson) throughout minicamp. Would the Patriots keep an extra fullback in case anything happened to Develin? It's a position that's sparsely employed throughout the league. Would the Patriots really employ two? I think it's a possibility. The position is critical to what the Patriots do offensively. They could try to get Beck onto their practice squad when camp breaks, but what if there's another team out there that likes what the Patriots, Chiefs and Saints did with their fullbacks last year and wanted one of their own? If he's effective, and if he can play in the kicking game, Beck might have enough value to warrant a roster spot.
Isaiah Wynn, Marcus Cannon, Yodny Cajuste
Even if practices this week weren't in pads, even if there was no contact to speak of, one of the most important developments we came across during minicamp was that Wynn is making progress as he returns from a torn Achilles. He didn't participate in team periods, but during drills he appeared to be moving without issue. He hit blocking pads, he pushed sleds, he pushed teammates -- and he came away from the week no worse for the wear. We'll see what he looks like in camp, but I think there's optimism that he'll be good to go when the Patriots need him.
INTERIOR OFFENSIVE LINE (5)
David Andrews, Joe Thuney, Shaq Mason, Ted Karras, Hjalte Froholdt
Thuney was the guy at left tackle with Wynn (out of team periods) and Cajuste (out entirely) both missing. There could be an interesting competition brewing between Karras and Brian Schwenke, both of whom saw work at left guard with Thuney kicked to the outside. Schwenke was briefly added to the active roster last year before landing on injured reserve, ending his season. Karras, meanwhile, has played in 45 games over the last three years -- mostly in a special-teams capacity -- and has five starts on the interior of the offensive line. He gets the nod here as a versatile option with plenty of in-game experience.
DEFENSIVE TACKLE (4)
Lawrence Guy, Mike Pennel, Adam Butler, Danny Shelton
No changes here since our last projection. There's very little to take note of along the defensive line during minicamp practices, but it was interesting to see the Patriots using plenty of 3-4 fronts over the course of the week. Would rookie fifth-round pick Byron Cowart -- who looks like a five-technique -- be worthy of a roster spot if those are the fronts they're going to deploy? Perhaps. But this group gives you two nose tackles (Pennel and Shelton), one true five technique (Guy) and an effective situational pass-rusher (Butler).
Michael Bennett, Deatrich Wise, John Simon, Chase Winovich
Bennett and Wise give the Patriots a couple of more versatile linemen who could serve as ends in a 3-4 or a 4-3. Simon and Winovich, meanwhile, look more like outside linebackers in a 3-4 -- if that's the type of look Bill Belichick wants to use on a regular basis. Winovich got extensive work as a special-teamer throughout minicamp and he could push Derek Rivers -- another outside-linebacker type who plays in the kicking game -- for a roster spot.
Dont'a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Ja'Whaun Bentley, Jamie Collins, Elandon Roberts, Brandon King
Not to get too far into the weeds on what it might mean if the Patriots are more of a 3-4 defense than they have been in years past, but if that is the case, they're going to ask their linebackers to be able to handle guards one-on-one. That's the way it goes in that type of front. The guards are uncovered and it's up to the off-the-ball linebackers to hold their own and form a wall. (For more on what it takes to play linebacker in the Patriots defense, listen to Patriots inside linebacker coach and former NBC Sports Boston analyst Jerod Mayo explain away.) Roberts can do that, which is why he's on this list.
Collins, on the other hand, is more of an athletic matchup weapon. He had a very strong three days of work, consistently getting into passing lanes with his long arms and leaping ability. I believe he'll have a spot on this team come September, giving the Patriots a moveable chess piece to cover backs, tight ends and blitz. It came as little surprise to see Hightower and Van Noy get plenty of time on the edge as outside linebackers, while Bentley manned the middle. This projects as a strong group if everyone can stay healthy.
Stephon Gilmore, Jason McCourty, Jonathan Jones, J.C. Jackson, Joejuan Williams, Duke Dawson
The corner group here might be even better. Gilmore had an eye-popping minicamp, consistently jumping routes during competitive drills. If he hadn't established such a high bar for himself last season, he would've garnered more attention for his work this week. He's going to be a true lock-down cover corner again in 2019. Jones and Dawson both got their hands on footballs for impressive breakups down the field on Thursday. Those two could be competing for the regular slot role this season.
Williams, like the other highly-touted rookies on the roster, had some forgettable moments but it'll be interesting to see what he looks like when more contact is encouraged at the line of scrimmage. And the Patriots weren't exactly playing matchups defensively so Williams saw himself on smaller receivers he probably won't be asked to check in the regular season. He played primarily on the left side while Gilmore appeared to primarily play on the right this week. (Jackson, who will be in the running to re-claim his starting role from late last season, missed Thursday's practice.)
Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon, Terrence Brooks
Nate Ebner didn't practice this week. Neither did Chung, although photos on the team website showed that Chung participated in OTAs earlier this offseason. If for whatever reason Ebner isn't ready to go for the start of the season, Obi Melifonwu would be an interesting add to the active roster. Like Williams, he'd give the Patriots a rare body type to match up with the bigger players (particularly tight ends) that they'll see throughout the season.
Brooks, who looks like a logical candidate to be a core special-teamer, was the recipient of a few attaboys during team drills for being in good position. He only played 69 defensive snaps last year but could be a reasonable fill-in at a position group where the top two players are both a decade into their careers.
Stephen Gostkowski, Jake Bailey, Joe Cardona
Jake Bailey's big leg stood out this week. It may not be as consistent at the Patriots want it to be just yet; Edelman didn't look thrilled with what he saw during a punt-return period late in the week. But if the rookie fifth-round choice can harness his power and hang time, he could be . . . a weapon.
PRACTICE SQUAD (11)
WR Ryan Davis, WR Jakobi Meyers, FB Jakob Johnson,* OL Cole Croston, EDGE Derek Rivers, EDGE Keionta Davis, DT Byron Cowart, LB Christian Sam, CB Keion Crossen, CB Ken Webster, S Malik Grant
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 Davis would give the Patriots a pair of players with NFL experience who could step in and serve a role if called upon. If Belichick could get Crossen to the practice squad -- someone with special teams experience and promising athleticism to play corner -- that would be a steal. Johnson, an International Pathway program addition, doesn't count against the 90-man roster at the moment. 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, in fact. Those players can't be activated during the season.