The Patriots will travel to the Meadowlands to take on the New York Giants in the final preseason game of 2018 on Thursday night.
Before roster cutdowns, the backend of the roster players will get one last chance to showcase their talents not only to the Patriots coaches but the rest of the NFL as well.
Last season, only three players, aside from special teams, that made the initial roster played in the preseason finale (LaAdrian Waddle, Jacob Hollister and Cole Croston).
The following players are guys that we haven’t seen a whole lot of in a Patriots uniform that everyone is still trying to get a feel for their potential roles and standing on the roster.
So although there are others squarely on the roster bubble, such as safety Jordan Richards and defensive end Geneo Grissom, it’s the feeling here that we already know what those players bring to the table.
With that in mind, here are five players to watch in Thursday night’s preseason finale:
Defensive Back Jason McCourty
The longest-tenured veteran on the list lands here because of a recent switch from cornerback to safety. The Patriots surprised many when McCourty took snaps at safety in the team’s third preseason game, and it will be interesting to see how he performs in that role in the fourth preseason game. It’s pretty unusual for a veteran with McCourty’s background to play significant time in the preseason finale, but it seems like that’s where we are headed as the Patriots coaching staff tries to find a roster spot for the McCourty twin. Patriots safeties coach Steve Belichick said the team is still trying to figure out if McCourty can play as the deep safety, so we’ll likely see them use him in that role on Thursday night. Against the Panthers, McCourty made a few nice plays in the run game at his new position but didn’t display the necessary range in centerfield to play off the line of scrimmage. The positional versatility to backup brother Devin, Duron Harmon and Patrick Chung at safety while also potentially playing some corner would make it difficult for the Patriots to release the veteran.
Cornerback Cyrus Jones
Jones is the only player on this list that has been around the Patriots for an extended period. The 2016 second-round pick returned to practice on August 7th and played in his first game since tearing his ACL last August in Week 3 of the preseason. With Jones, the likelihood that he make the Week 1 roster hinges on his ability to add value in the return game, and that’s what everyone will be watching on Thursday night. Jones looked comfortable in his return to game action in Carolina with four returns (three kickoffs, one punt) flashing the return ability that made him one of the most electrifying returners in the FBS during his collegiate career at Alabama. And most importantly, he held onto the football. With the punt return job wide open for the first four weeks, Jones could be the answer if he can prove that he has put his disastrous rookie season behind him.
Defensive End Keionta Davis
Davis is another player that has worked his way up the depth chart and earned high praise from head coach Bill Belichick throughout the preseason. The Tennessee-Chattanooga product signed with the Patriots as an undrafted rookie in 2017, but probably would’ve been drafted somewhere on day three of the NFL Draft if it wasn’t for a severe neck injury in college. Davis missed an entire year of football recovering from the injury. Now healthy, he has earned some serious playing time in the preseason as he continues to work on his timing and feel for the game after missing the 2017 season. However, his breakout performance against the Eagles wasn’t necessarily as productive as the stats suggest. Davis had two sacks and five total pressures, but many of those sacks came late in the down, and the pressures were a result of Davis pushing the pocket rather than showing off quick-twitch athleticism. His ability to play different spots along the defensive front and rush the quarterback within the coordination of the scheme as a pocket pusher could land him on the roster, but he’ll need to show me something against the Giants.
Linebacker Nicholas Grigsby
Grigsby is another player on this list that has been around the organization, but the linebacker hasn’t played a whole lot in the NFL during his stints with the Rams and Patriots. Grigsby stood out last season and in the 2018 preseason as a core special teamer that has worked on six different units throughout the preseason. At 230 pounds, Grigsby has impressive speed for his size often making the first contact with the ball carrier in kickoff coverage and came on at the end of the 2017 regular season to hold down a special teams role. However, we haven’t seen Grigsby play a whole lot on defense, and he’ll get a chance to do so on Thursday night with the regulars taking the night off. Grigsby was solid in coverage in 11 coverage snaps against the Panthers a week ago, which is what he’ll need to do again against the Giants to prove that he could play at linebacker in a pinch to earn a spot on the roster.
Offensive Tackle Ulrick John
The journeyman offensive lineman has made the most of his opportunities since joining the Patriots as rookie Isaiah Wynn’s season-ending injury opened up the competition for the fourth tackle spot on the depth chart. Head coach Bill Belichick had high praise for the veteran saying, “he learns well, he’s big, strong, physical player that again, has experience in the league but hasn’t had a lot of regular season game experience. But he’s done a good job for us.” John has also received high praise from the folks at Pro Football Focus, receiving an 88.5 overall grade through three preseason games (out of 100). From this perspective, John has earned the fourth tackle spot with his fundamentally sound play throughout training camp and the preseason, and he’ll likely get the start on Thursday night with one last chance to prove his worth.
For all Patriots Videos SUBSCRIBE to our CLNS Media YOUTUBE Channel.