With Patriots minicamp in the books, it makes sense to step back and take a big-picture look at the roster. How will the schemes this team wants to run dictate the personnel it needs? Which young players are primed to break through to earn bigger roles? Which veterans might be on the outside looking in come September?
With training camp -- what Bill Belichick calls "competition camp" in New England -- still more than a month away, let's take a very early look at how the roster might be constructed when the Patriots take the field for their Week 1 matchup with the Dolphins.
Cam Newton, Mac Jones, Jarrett Stidham
This group would make sense should Cam Newton win the starting job out of training camp. Bill Belichick said immediately after drafting Mac Jones that Newton was his team's quarterback, but there is a competition afoot.
Unless trading Stidham would allow the Patriots to get some real value in return, it makes sense to keep him as the future No. 2 for whenever Jones takes over. Because that could happen mid-season, keeping Stidham around may be the wise choice. Stidham has been fine in spring workouts and could assert himself as a legitimate backup option in training camp. From this perspective, it's hard to envision Newton wanting to serve as the No. 2 guy.
In the event Jones wins the job out of training camp, it wouldn't be all that surprising to see Jones and Stidham as the lone two quarterbacks on the roster to start the season -- perhaps with Brian Hoyer in the mix either as a third rostered passer or as a member of the practice squad.
Running Back (6)
Damien Harris, Sony Michel, James White, JJ Taylor, Rhamondre Stevenson, Brandon Bolden
Half a dozen running backs? Really? The Patriots offense is going to go as its running game goes. And because both Damien Harris and Sony Michel have dealt with injury over the course of their careers, keeping both will help keep a fresh set of legs on the field for Belichick on early downs.
It ended up working out that way last year and the Patriots had one of the most efficient running attacks in football. Should Rhamondre Stevenson show that he's ready to back up Harris as the "big back," that may make Michel expendable. JJ Taylor looks like he could fill the versatile-back-with-special-teams-value role once held by Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead. Brandon Bolden is back after opting out and showed good speed in minicamp. If his legs are fresh, he'll be a core special teams option.
Wide Receiver (6)
Nelson Agholor, Kendrick Bourne, Jakobi Meyers, Gunner Olszewski, N'Keal Harry, Matthew Slater
This is a pretty straightforward group... aside from N'Keal Harry. What ends up happening with him is, at this point, anyone's guess. He'll have training camp to prove he's deserving of a role, but after adding two wideouts and two tight ends via free agency, there are fewer targets to go around for the Patriots. That Harry doesn't look like a kicking-game contributor doesn't help his case for a roster spot, either. But there's still time for Harry to show that his upside is worth more time in the program.
Tight End (4)
Jonnu Smith, Hunter Henry, Devin Asiasi, Jakob Johnson
Speaking of upside, Devin Asiasi looks like the best bet to be the No. 3 option at this position. If he can continue to string together solid performances in Patriots practices, he has the athletic ability to warrant consideration over guys like Matt LaCosse and Dalton Keene.
Because minicamp is held in shorts and t-shirts, it was hard to get a feel for how much the Patriots want to use a fullback this year. But that position has been such a key piece to their running game in recent seasons, we'll keep Jakob Johnson involved in this projection.
Offensive Line (7)
Isaiah Wynn, Mike Onwenu, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Trent Brown, Justin Herron, Ted Karras
This may be the deepest position group on the Patriots roster, top to bottom. The five starters are pretty well established even before they head to training camp, as are the top two backups. Offensive tackle Korey Cunningham could potentially push for a spot, but even if the Patriots go with seven Belichick should feel good about this unit when all are healthy.
Jake Bailey, Joe Cardona, Nick Folk
Don't rule out undrafted rookie kicker Quinn Nordin. He spent the spring murdering footballs. If he can be consistently accurate in camp, there could be a changing of the guard at that position. But Nick Folk has been steady enough since taking over for Stephen Gostkowski that we have to keep him here for now. Just watch out for the kid. He could keep alive a 17-year streak of one undrafted rookie making the Patriots roster for Week 1. He's the only option. The Patriots just a one-man undrafted rookie class this year, which is highly unusual for them but the result, in part, of a smaller-than-normal, pandemic-impacted draft class.
Defensive Line (5)
Lawrence Guy, Davon Godchaux, Henry Anderson, Christian Barmore, Deatrich Wise
Does Belichick feel the need to have a true nose-tackle body type on his roster? If so then maybe Carl Davis (6-foot-5, 320 pounds) makes the team. But otherwise this looks like a versatile bunch with the power to hold up against opposing running games and the pass-rushing ability (from the interior with Christian Barmore and from the edge with Deatrich Wise) that Belichick covets.
Outside Linebacker (4)
Matt Judon, Josh Uche, Chase Winovich, Ronnie Perkins
The linebacker group will (once again) be made up of several do-it-all pieces. From this group, for instance, Uche could play off the line of scrimmage and be lumped with the inside linebackers. But he has so much speed off the edge, he looks like a good fit opposite the bigger and perhaps more sturdy Matt Judon.
Inside Linebacker (4)
Dont'a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Ja'Whaun Bentley, Raekwon McMillian
Kyle Van Noy played almost exclusively off the edge the last time we saw him in New England in 2019. But the year before that, helping the Patriots during their Super Bowl run, Van Noy essentially split his time between being an off-the-ball 'backer and an on-the-edge guy. He could be in for a similar role in 2021. Through the spring, he was found quite a bit in the middle of the field.
Raekwon McMillan is a special-teams option who could provide some size and veteran depth to this group should injuries pop up.
Stephon Gilmore, J.C. Jackson, Jalen Mills, Jonathan Jones, Justin Bethel, Myles Brant, Dee Virgin
This projection assumes that the Patriots and Stephon Gilmore will find a way to resolve the corner's unhappiness with his contract. The team needs him in order to play the style of defense it prefers. It needs him if it wants to reach its potential record-wise. So long as Gilmore's demands aren't prohibitive, and it doesn't sound like they will be, he'll be back and a key piece to Belichick's scheme.
Myles Bryant showed some promise as an undrafted rookie last season, which should buy him more time in the system. Meanwhile, Dee Virgin has received a lot of attention from special teams coaches this spring -- and he's spent quite a bit of time with Matthew Slater -- which could bode well for his ability to crack the roster as a kicking-game specialist.
Devin McCourty, Kyle Dugger, Adrian Phillips, Cody Davis
Another fairly straightforward group. Devin McCourty, Kyle Dugger and Adrian Phillips could see quite a bit of time together on the field simultaneously as three of the team's top defensive backs. Cody Davis looks primed to be a mainstay on special teams once again this season after a solid year in that regard in 2020.