PATS REPORTER

Perry: Patriots 53-man roster projection highlights camp standouts

PATS REPORTER

We're less than a week away from competitive football, as the New England Patriots host the Washington Football Team next Thursday in their preseason opener.

That game will accelerate the process of whittling down the Patriots roster from 90 to 53 by Week 1. While it's too early to tell how things will shake out, players are starting to distinguish themselves as they stack up days at training camp.

Let's run through a 53-man roster projection with real football right around the corner.

Quarterback (2): Cam Newton, Mac Jones

Is it possible that Mac Jones beats out Cam Newton and wins the Week 1 starting job? Yes. Am I willing to predict that will come to pass after eight training camp practices? I'm not. Yet. But the trend over the last two Patriots practices has been to heap work onto Jones' plate.

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The rookie took 52 snaps combined in competitive 11-on-11 periods on Wednesday and Thursday. Newton took 29. Through eight days of camp, Newton has completed 59 percent of his passes (75-for-128) in competitive 11-on-11 and 7-on-7 periods.

Jones, meanwhile, has completed 63 percent of his throws (89-for-141) in those periods. Close. But Jones has built some positive momentum over the last few days.

 

Running back (5): Damien Harris, James White, Rhamondre Stevenson, J.J. Taylor, Brandon Bolden

Damien Harris will be the top back so long as he's healthy. Sony Michel would make for a nice No. 2, but I think by the end of the summer the Patriots may be looking for a way to keep JJ Taylor -- a versatile runner with returner flexibility -- on the roster.

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That might mean trying to find a trade partner for the 2018 first-rounder who's in the last year of his contract. This is a tough room to sort out at the moment. Good problem to have for Bill Belichick.

Wide receiver (5): Nelson Agholor, Kendrick Bourne, Jakobi Meyers, Gunner Olszewski, Matthew Slater

This is a unit that looks relatively thin and could be bolstered by adding early camp standout Kristian Wilkerson. He's impressed with his athleticism and has been seen getting prominent special-teams reps. But with this expected to be a heavy two-tight-end offense, there's little room for reserve wideouts.

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Wilkerson would probably be a practice-squad priority if he doesn't make the club out of camp. In this scenario, the Patriots find a trade partner for N'Keal Harry, who has opened eyes with his contested-catch ability in camp.

Tight end (4): Jonnu Smith, Hunter Henry, Devin Asiasi, Jakob Johnson

The top two options here are going to get a lot of run. If Belichick and his coaching staff are at all concerned about their ability to hold up, then perhaps Matt LaCosse would be an option to stick around as a depth piece and special-teams option.

Jakob Johnson is the lone fullback on the roster -- and as of now he looks like he could have a key special-teams role -- so he gets the nod here.

Offensive line (8): Isaiah Wynn, Michael Onwenu, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Trent Brown, Justin Herron, Korey Cunningham, Ted Karras

The Patriots may need to find a top interior offensive line reserve option if Ted Karras is banged up to start the season. He suffered a lower-body injury early in camp and hasn't been spotted since.

If Karras is ready, he'd be the guard-and-center super sub, which is what we're predicting here. Justin Herron and Korey Cunningham have traded off as top backup tackle options in practices, landing them on this list. 

Specialists (3): Jake Bailey, Joe Cardona, Nick Folk

Folk missed Thursday's practice. If his health is in question, then undrafted rookie Quinn Nordin could be the choice. Nordin had a rough practice in the first week of camp but bounced back with a solid showing at the end of Thursday's session with Folk out.

The Michigan product has a powerful leg ... he just has to be able to rein in his control on a consistent basis. If he does that, we could see a change here the next time we do a 53-man projection.

Defensive line (5): Lawrence Guy, Davon Godchaux, Christian Barmore, Deatrich Wise, Henry Anderson

Carl Davis was a tough one to leave off here. The nose tackle has drawn attention to himself in some of the one-on-one periods thanks to his power at the point of attack. But there might not be all that many snaps available to him defensively so long as Lawrence Guy and Davon Godchaux are healthy.

Henry Anderson got $3 million guaranteed this offseason and likely isn't going anywhere.

Outside linebacker (5): Matt Judon, Josh Uche, Ronnie Perkins, Chase Winovich, Rashod Berry

Rashod Berry has flashed at times as a pass-rusher. He's also been featured on some core special teams units early in training camp. If he makes plays in the preseason -- giving teams around the league an idea of his skill set -- perhaps the Patriots will feel moved to retain him in order to keep him from other clubs. Harvey Langi could be in the mix for a roster spot here as well since he's made plays as a pass-rusher and would also serve as a kick-coverage option.

 

Chase Winovich remains on the physically unable to perform list, but if he's healthy enough to get on the field it's not hard to envision him making the initial version of the active roster.

Inside linebacker (5): Dont'a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Ja'Whaun Bentley, Raekwon McMillan, Anfernee Jennings

Raekwon McMillan had to leave Tuesday's padded practice early with an injury. Will he fall behind and out of consideration for a roster spot coming out of camp? He'd be worthy of a gig based on his play prior to his injury. He consistently got his hands on the football in coverage through the first week of camp -- including making the first pick of camp -- and has plenty of special-teams experience.

Anfernee Jennings looked strong at times in half-line drills on Thursday and will need more moments like those to make good on the third-round pick invested in him last spring.

Cornerback (6): Stephon Gilmore, J.C. Jackson, Jonathan Jones, Jalen Mills, Justin Bethel, Joejuan Williams

Stephon Gilmore still hasn't practiced as he remains on the PUP list, but we'll keep him here throughout the summer unless he's dealt. Joejuan Williams still hasn't necessarily proven that he's worthy of a regular role as a boundary corner in the Patriots defense.

But his special-teams contributions -- does it feel like we've been talking about special teams a bit during this exercise? -- could keep him on the 53-man roster to start the season. He's out early with kicking-game units after playing 174 special-teams snaps last season.

Safety (5): Devin McCourty, Adrian Phillips, Kyle Dugger, Myles Bryant, Cody Davis

Myles Bryant has been used at both corner and safety, and he seems like a good bet to stick on the active roster come Week 1. His playing time defensively only picked up as the season went along last year. (He was more of a defensive contributor than Williams by season's end.) And the fact that he can be used at a variety of positions in the secondary and in the kicking game gives him real value.