Phil Perry’s Patriots 53-man roster projection, 1.0
It's that time again. Time for far-too-early 53-man roster projections.
We put a Patriots roster projection together following each of their preseason games last year, and it felt like a useful exercise. First, it was a good way to reassess what we'd seen -- not just in games, but practices as well. It was also a good way to remind ourselves of what the Patriots value. Score a late touchdown in preseason play? Meh. Show legitimate special-teams ability? That's a different story.
So we're at it again. Here's our first, and sure to be our least-accurate, roster projection of the summer.
QUARTERBACK (2): TOM BRADY, BRIAN HOYER
Danny Etling could be a practice-squad candidate if by preseason's end he's deemed to be still improving.
RUNNING BACK (4): REX BURKHEAD, JAMES WHITE, SONY MICHEL, JEREMY HILL
This assumes Michel will be healthy and ready to contribute when the regular season rolls around. Hill looks like the "big back" on the roster with the most burst at the moment. The team's willingness to try Hill on special teams (he was a first-teamer on three of the core four units against Washington) and as a pass-catcher vaults him ahead of Mike Gillislee here.
RECEIVER (5): CHRIS HOGAN, PHILLIP DORSETT, KENNY BRITT, CORDARRELLE PATTERSON, MATTHEW SLATER
This is relatively light in terms of numbers, thanks in part to Julian Edelman's four-game suspension. Eric Decker (or other slot options like Riley McCarron or Braxton Berrios) could claim a spot, but there's work to be done before any of those three have a firm grip on a job. Decker's contract, with $75,000 in guarantees, indicates he's not guaranteed a gig.
TIGHT END (4): ROB GRONKOWSKI, DWAYNE ALLEN, JACOB HOLLISTER, JAMES DEVELIN
Releasing Allen would save the team $5 million, but he was a key piece to their run game last season and figures to be once again. Hollister seems to have improved after his first full offseason as a pro. Develin is included here because he meets with this group on a daily basis. Though he's not the busiest offensive player on the roster in terms of snaps per game, the fullback is critical to the operation in critical situations (short-yardage, goal-line, etc.).
OFFENSIVE LINE (8): TRENT BROWN, JOE THUNEY, DAVID ANDREWS, SHAQ MASON, MARCUS CANNON, LaADRIAN WADDLE, ISAIAH WYNN, TED KARRAS
Waddle's play last season as Cannon's fill-in at right tackle should all but cement his job for 2018, especially with Cannon missing time this summer. Cole Croston spent all of last season on the active roster as a developmental player who could play guard or tackle, but the Patriots spent a first-round pick on a player with similar versatility this spring. Karras gets the nod here thanks to his ability to back up all three interior spots. He was strong both in pass protection and against the run Thursday night.
DEFENSIVE LINE (8): MALCOM BROWN, DANNY SHELTON, LAWRENCE GUY, ADAM BUTLER, TREY FLOWERS, ADRIAN CLAYBORN, DEATRICH WISE, DEREK RIVERS
This group looks fairly versatile, and it may need to be as Brian Flores figures out the best combinations for whatever front-seven looks he ends up favoring. If there's a challenger for a spot here, one logical addition would be Vincent Valentine. The third-rounder from 2016 missed all of last season injured but has flashed good quickness for a 315-pounder at times in camp. Geneo Grissom should garner consideration here as well thanks to his experience in the kicking game.
LINEBACKER (7): DONT'A HIGHTOWER, KYLE VAN NOY, ELANDON ROBERTS, JA'WHAUN BENTLEY, MARQUIS FLOWERS, BRANDON KING, NICHOLAS GRIGSBY
Three core special-teamers from this spot -- Flowers, King, Grigsby -- feel like safe bets for the roster. Roberts provides some experienced depth at a group that has been beset by injury in the past. We try to be careful about weighing preseason games too heavily, but what Bentley showed as a tackler (following about two weeks of practice where live tackling was mostly prohibited) and as a communicator against Washington was impressive. The fifth-rounder out of Purdue served as play-caller for a stretch, and he seemed comfortable with getting teammates aligned pre-snap based on his reads. His football IQ seems to have come as advertised.
CORNERBACK (7): STEPHON GILMORE, ERIC ROWE, JASON McCOURTY, DUKE DAWSON, JONATHAN JONES, CYRUS JONES, JC JACKSON
Jason McCourty didn't play in preseason game No. 1. Cause for concern? Not yet, in my opinion, but something to monitor. JC Jackson has shown promise since the spring and was utilized early on three of four core kicking-game units against Washington. That may give him an edge over fellow rookie corner Keion Crossen and second-year man Ryan Lewis. We'll see if Lewis' special-teams workload sees an uptick in the near future. Cyrus Jones is here, you'll notice. Only three (out of 22) of Bill Belichick's second-round picks with the Patriots didn't see a third season in New England: Chad Jackson, Terrence Wheatley and Ras-I Dowling. I think with the punt-return situation unsettled for the first month of the season, Jones could be Belichick's answer in addition to whatever duties he'd have as a reserve corner.
SAFETY (5): DEVIN McCOURTY, PATRICK CHUNG, DURON HARMON, NATE EBNER, JORDAN RICHARDS
With the new kickoff rules in place, there may be an opportunity for Belichick to place even more emphasis on the kicking game than he has in previous years. There's an element of the unknown going into 2018, and teams that don't want to be burned by something unexpected may be better off by retaining as many experienced special-teams experts as they can, within reason. We know Belichick appreciates what both Ebner and Richards bring in the kicking game, and for now we're assuming that won't change before Week 1.
SPECIALISTS: STEPHEN GOSTKOWSKI, RYAN ALLEN, JOE CARDONA (3)
Corey Bojorquez has a big leg, but he has not been as consistent as Allen this summer. The veteran still looks like the best bet to be punting for the Patriots when the regular season begins.