Patriots 53-man roster projection: Youth movement at receiver?
With one preseason game in the books, it's time to cobble together another 53-man roster projection. The picture is coming into focus at a handful of spots, but questions remain at receiver, along the offensive line and in the secondary. Which pass-catchers will get the nod? How much depth is enough for offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia? And would a second-round pick ever be cut before playing a single regular-season snap?
Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer, Jarrett Stidham
As good as Jarrett Stidham was on Thursday night, Brian Hoyer's performance in Detroit shouldn't be forgotten. His throw down the seam to Matt LaCosse was one of the best of the night, and he had well-placed passes go for scores to Maurice Harris and Jakobi Meyers. Should Stidham continue to improve, the Patriots may opt to keep just one backup quarterback. But until we see a string of good weeks from the rookie, Hoyer should be on this list.
RUNNING BACK (5)
Sony Michel, James White, Rex Burkhead, Damien Harris, Brandon Bolden
No changes here. This is the group we've had at running back since we first started making roster projections this offseason. It'll be worth keeping an eye on Damien Harris moving forward, though. He had his thumb wrapped prior to Thursday night's game, and that may have been a factor in him receiving no playing time against the Lions. Brandon Bolden saw 12 carries for 41 yards in the contest, but we'd expect his role will be primarily in the kicking game.
WIDE RECEIVER (6)
Julian Edelman, N'Keal Harry, Phillip Dorsett, Jakobi Meyers, Braxton Berrios, Matthew Slater
This is where things start to get interesting. The emergence of Jakobi Meyers has earned him a spot on the 53-man roster, in my opinion. And I believe Braxton Berrios, after a strong week in Detroit, should be here as well. As a true slot receiver, Berrios provides a unique skill set to this group, something the Patriots were looking for this offseason, and he could save Julian Edelman from having to return punts. After Edelman, Harry, Meyers and Berrios, I think there's room for one more. Should it be Phillip Dorsett, someone who is likely a No. 3 or 4 wideout who has crunch-time experience with Tom Brady? Or should it be Maurice Harris, signed this offseason, and one of the top performers in camp to this point? I go with Dorsett here, despite his price tag ($2.6 million cap hit) being more significant than Harris' ($962,500). Harris had been rock solid this summer before letting a couple of passes glance off his hands in Thursday night's game. But Harris has seen first-team reps go to Meyers (another long, versatile receiver) and Dorsett this past week. Plus, he played a whopping 59 snaps Thursday -- most of any skill position player -- indicating that his spot might not be as safe as Dorsett's (12 snaps).
TIGHT END (3)
Matt LaCosse, Ryan Izzo, James Develin
Last time we put this list together, we had LaCosse as the lone true tight end on the roster. He saw early reps against the Lions and made a nice grab deep down the seam, showing off his impressive catch radius. He deserves to be here, though we'll keep an eye on his health after he left Detroit banged-up. I like adding Izzo to the roster in the blocking tight end role as well. He dropped a would-be touchdown from Jarrett Stidham against the Lions, but he showed himself to be competent as a blocker Thursday night, checking in with the No. 4 run-blocking grade among all tight ends with at least 10 snaps in Week 1 of the preseason, according to Pro Football Focus. That might not sound all that important, but for an offense that is going to rely on the run game, having a blocking tight end matters. Remember, Izzo made the 53-man roster for Week 1 last year before landing on IR.
OFFENSIVE LINE (7)
Isaiah Wynn, Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Marcus Cannon, Hjalte Froholdt, Ted Karras
We're still assuming Isaiah Wynn is going to be good to go. But does this unit have enough depth at tackle? Behind Cannon, there are all kinds of question marks. The team could roll with Joe Thuney as its swing tackle if it needs one. That would then thrust either Ted Karras or Hjalte Froholdt into action. Dan Skipper had a quiet enough night at left tackle against the Lions that he deserves roster consideration at this point, but the Patriots may try to get him onto the practice squad where he could serve as an emergency call-up if necessary. The Patriots went with seven offensive linemen on their initial 53-man roster last year, releasing James Ferentz on cut-down day. They could do the same this year in the hopes that Ferentz, as was the case last year, eventually winds up back on the roster if needed.
DEFENSIVE LINE (6)
Michael Bennett, Deatrich Wise Jr., Lawrence Guy, Adam Butler, Mike Pennel, Danny Shelton
No changes here. Solid group for what could be a stout 3-4 defensive line. Michael Bennett, someone who has been a penetrating defensive end for years, is a bit of a curious fit in a two-gapping 3-4. But the passing game is so prevalent, even if he focused on that phase in the team's sub packages, he'd be plenty useful to Belichick and defensive line coach Bret Bielema. Deatrich Wise, Lawrence Guy and Adam Butler make sense as 3-4 ends, and Mike Pennel and Danny Shelton are built like true 3-4 nose tackles. Byron Cowart has made some strides in the last week or so, but the Patriots may hope to be able to sneak the fifth-round rookie onto the practice squad.
OUTSIDE LINEBACKER (7)
Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins, John Simon, Chase Winovich, Derek Rivers, Shilique Calhoun, Brandon King
This is another spot where the Patriots have built up some solid depth. Jamie Collins (sack), John Simon (interception), Chase Winovich (in on two sacks), Derek Rivers (two sacks) and Shilique Calhoun (sack, pressure) all showed up against Detroit's porous offensive line. Calhoun is a new addition to this group after a good week against the Lions. Adding another player here could also allow for more flexibility for Kyle Van Noy and/or Collins to play off the line . . .
INSIDE LINEBACKER (2)
Dont'a Hightower, Ja'Whaun Bentley
. . . And the Patriots may need Collins and Van Noy to contribute as second-level linebackers quite a bit if they only end up going with Dont'a Hightower and Ja'Whaun Bentley as their two true off-the-ball 'backers. We know the Patriots are versatile enough to be able to mix and match to get this spot filled, but we also know that they have no issue playing safeties down in the box at the linebacker level in sub packages. With the league playing sub defense more and more these days, players like Patrick Chung (and potentially Terrence Brooks or Obi Melifonwu) will help provide the team some depth in the middle of the defense. Elandon Roberts is a difficult leave here, especially since his skill set seems well-suited as a run-stuffer in a 3-4 scheme, but the Patriots have several athletes they can throw into the middle of their defense in all situations, and Roberts hasn't offered much in the passing game over the years.
Stephon Gilmore, Jason McCourty, J.C. Jackson, Joejuan Williams, Jonathan Jones, Keion Crossen
I've long subscribed to the theory that Duke Dawson's spot on the 53-man roster is safe. He's a second-round pick. He's a second-round pick whose rookie year was essentially robbed because of injury. (He was activated to the 53-man roster mid-season but didn't see any game action.) But what we've seen from him in camp combined with the performance he put together on Thursday night puts his roster fit in question. This is a deep group with what looks like five locks and a special-teams contributor from 2018 (Crossen) who has out-performed Dawson to this point in the summer. There's still time for Dawson to win that camp battle, but right now -- after Dawson allowed 53 yards on two catches and was involved in two penalties (a hold and a too-many-men-on-the-field infraction) against Detroit -- Crossen seems like he has the edge.
Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon, Terrence Brooks, Obi Melifonwu
We had 11 defensive backs included in our last roster projection, and we'll stick with that number by subtracting a corner and adding Obi Melifonwu to the group of safeties who've been here all along. Melifonwu has consistently shown up in camp, notching a pick and a pass-breakup on the first couple days. He scooped up a (rare) James White fumble. He even helped lead the charge on a goal-line stop. He was a second-round pick for a reason, and it looks like Year 3 could be the year things click for him as an athletic matchup weapon with rare size (6-foot-4, 225 pounds).
SPECIAL TEAMS (3)
Stephen Gostkowski, Jake Bailey, Joe Cardona
Jake Bailey's draft position -- the Patriots traded up to get him in the fifth round -- seems to make him a good bet for the roster. His first punt as a pro (his only punt of the night) was launched. According to PFF, it hung for 4.97 seconds, the ninth-best hang time on any punt in Week 1 of preseason. The value he brings as a kickoff specialist -- three touchbacks on six kicks -- is something we've been over in this space before.