Patriots 53-man roster projection: Pre-minicamp edition
Patriots mandatory minicamp begins next week, and as part of our pre-minicamp primer we're taking a quick look at how the roster might be constructed to start the 2019 season.
Since the last time we put together one of these, a veteran tackle retired and a veteran tight end was suspended for the first four games of the season. That means there are two more open spots that could have a domino effect on other portions of the roster. Let's dive into the names that might fill 'em.
Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer, Jarrett Stidham
I'm fascinated to see just how capable rookie quarterback Jarrett Stidham really is. This is the type of scenario -- in t-shirts and shorts -- where those who've scouted him suggest he'll always thrive. He's just such a pure passer that in a controlled environment his talent stands out. Will he play so well that he'll challenge Brian Hoyer for the backup role? I'm not so sure. The Patriots made a significant financial commitment to Hoyer this year, and so it looks like a three-man group makes the most sense.
RUNNING BACK (5)
Sony Michel, James White, Rex Burkhead, Damien Harris, Brandon Bolden
Injuries could certainly alter the picture here. They always do. But even if that's the case, they have enough depth to field a competitive group with a varied set of skills. How Harris factors into the mix will be one of the most interesting offensive storylines surrounding the Patriots this spring and summer.
WIDE RECEIVER (6)
Julian Edelman, N'Keal Harry, Phillip Dorsett, Dontrelle Inman, Braxton Berrios, Matthew Slater
We don't know where Demaryius Thomas will be health-wise when the season begins. We don't know if Josh Gordon will remain suspended. Until something changes with either (or both), we'll leave them off of this projection. Dorsett seems like a logical fit for the No. 3 wideout, and I think Inman has a chance to serve as a big-bodied option who can play inside and out. Inman played a little over a third of his snaps in the slot last season. In 2016, he played over 60 percent of his snaps inside. Berrios is more of a traditional slot whose punt-return ability could help him land a roster spot. I like undrafted rookies Ryan Davis and Jakobi Meyers, but in this scenario they land on the practice squad.
TIGHT END (4)
Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Matt LaCosse, Ryan Izzo, James Develin
Ben Watson's suspension removes for four games the player who was perhaps most likely to hit the ground running at this position group. But the Patriots knew he wouldn't be available for a month, and so they've had some time to think about how this spot might take shape. Seferian-Jenkins has a huge opportunity in front of him. LaCosse could capitalize on his new fit after a nice end to the 2018 season. And what about Izzo? He showed some signs -- not only as a blocker but as a receiver as well -- before landing on IR and missing the entirety of his rookie season. He's not the same type of player that Watson is; Izzo was very open after being drafted last year that blocking is his game. But Izzo could benefit from Watson's four-week hiatus. On the other hand, if Seferian-Jenkins and LaCosse look like a legitimate one-two combination following preseason, perhaps the Patriots would feel comfortable trying to land Izzo on the practice squad, then keeping an additional receiver. Or an extra offensive lineman. There is sure to be some interesting juggling happening before Week 1 as the Patriots try to discern who should be protected from waivers during the 53-man roster cut.
Isaiah Wynn, Marcus Cannon, Yodny Cajuste
When Jared Veldheer retired, a group loaded with question marks didn't get any easier to gauge. In this projection we have rookie third-round pick Yodny Cajuste healthy and ready to go following quad surgery. Will that actually be the case come September? If it isn't, where would the Patriots turn for tackle depth? Cole Croston, who has been in the system and has some positional versatility, seems like a logical choice. The team could also, in theory, use Joe Thuney at tackle -- as they did at times during the first OTA session open to reporters -- since he played there in college. But Thuney is the team's starting left guard and Dante Scarnecchia would probably like to keep him there if at all possible. Needless to say, healthy bodies at this spot, with Wynn still recovering from last year's torn Achilles, are vital.
INTERIOR OFFENSIVE LINE (5)
David Andrews, Joe Thuney, Shaq Mason, Ted Karras, Hjalte Froholdt
In an offense that is so predicated on running the football -- and on protecting the quarterback -- having capable depth here is critical. Plus, with the tackle spot looking like it could be light on pro-caliber options, keeping five interior players makes sense.
DEFENSIVE TACKLE (4)
Lawrence Guy, Mike Pennel, Adam Butler, Danny Shelton
In our last projection, we had David Parry getting a spot. He seemed like a reasonable choice on the interior. Veteran guy. Position that needed a little bit of depth in Bill Belichick's defense. But since then, the Patriots have re-signed Danny Shelton. While Shelton lingered on the free-agent market, while it seemed like the Patriots were content to let him walk, Shelton looks like the better option for New England when compared to Parry. At least at the moment. For one, Shelton's bigger. (Shelton is listed at 345 while Parry sits at 317.) He's also seen exponentially more playing time in recent years. Parry played 53 snaps combined over the course of the last two seasons. Shelton played 344 snaps for the Patriots last year, including 15 in the Super Bowl -- perhaps Shelton's best game of the year. He may not have been the most consistent player on Belichick's 2018 roster, but Shelton has experience in the system, and after his first foray into free-agency, he probably understands his place in the league is tenuous. He may have a little extra motivation to kick-start his career in 2019.
Michael Bennett, Deatrich Wise, John Simon, Chase Winovich
Could the Patriots use more depth here? Maybe another sub-rusher or outside linebacker type like Derek Rivers? How the linebacker group as a whole shakes out could impact how this edge group looks. Dont'a Hightower and/or Kyle Van Noy could end up spending significant time on the outside based on the team's off-the-line personnel.
Dont'a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Ja'Whaun Bentley, Jamie Collins, Brandon King
Collins isn't guaranteed a spot, but I think he's an interesting matchup player in the passing game for a team that wants to play primarily man-to-man. As good as Patriots coverage players were last year, they had issues at times against tight ends and running backs. Collins' athleticism -- which might make him worthy of a niche passing-down role -- could be part of the solution in 2019. I'd expect Ja'Whaun Bentley to play a major role if healthy in the middle of the Patriots defense. He'd already earned an important gig as a rookie last year before suffering a season-ending injury.
Stephon Gilmore, Jason McCourty, Jonathan Jones, JC Jackson, Joejuan Williams, Duke Dawson
Keion Crossen was the last man out in this instance. But let's revisit the tight end spot quickly. If two players (plus Develin) feel like enough there for the first month of the season, might the Patriots just roll with two and keep someone at a completely different position just to protect him from waivers like Crossen? He has talent as a special-teamer, and his skill set would allow him a relatively well-defined role. It's an interesting choice with which Belichick and Nick Caserio could be faced. Seventh-round corner Ken Webster, an eye-popping athlete, might be someone the team could keep on the practice squad.
Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon, Terrence Brooks, Nate Ebner
Another strong group, loaded with veterans. Might there be too much overlap between Brooks and Ebner to keep both? Both look like core special-teamers, and in this projection both end up with roles to start the regular season. 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
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 Ryan Allen in favor of a younger player with a big leg. Bailey also might be able to provide the team with some value as a kickoff specialist as Stephen Gostkowski gets into the later stages of his career.
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, DB Obi Melifonwu, 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 Davis would give the Patriots a pair of players with NFL experience who could step in and serve a role if called upon. 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.