Instant Reaction to the Patriots’ Initial 52-Man Roster

The Patriots released their initial roster, which only consists of 52 players, on Saturday after a whirlwind of roster transactions.

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EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - AUGUST 30: New England Patriots defensive back J.C. Jackson (34) during the National Football League game between the New York Giants and the New England Patriots on August 30, 2018 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The Patriots made 30 transactions on Saturday, after five on Friday, to get their roster below the mandatory 53-man roster limit by the 4 p.m. eastern deadline.

In all, the Patriots only kept 52 players on the active roster, and one of those players, rookie tight end Ryan Izzo, is expected to land on injured reserve in the next 24 hours.

The extra roster spot, as many theorized would be the case, gives the Patriots the wiggle room to acquire a player via waiver claim, free agent signing or trade.

Below, you’ll find the entire 52-man roster as it stands right now and some instant analysis on the moves:

QUARTERBACK (2): TOM BRADY, BRIAN HOYER

No major surprises here as the Patriots hang onto the veteran quarterbacks in the initial wave of roster cutdowns. My film review on rookie Danny Etling highlights both the good and the bad with the seventh-rounder, and he’ll likely return to the team on the practice squad as a developmental project.

BACKFIELD (5): JAMES WHITE, REX BURKHEAD, SONY MICHEL, JEREMY HILL, JAMES DEVELIN

Veteran running back Jeremy Hill beats out fellow veteran Mike Gillislee and rookie Ralph Webb for the fourth running back spot. Hill will likely be used as a short yardage and goal line back, as the first three names on this list rotate in as every down options. Gillislee, a free agent signing last offseason, couldn’t find his groove in the Patriots’ blocking schemes. As for Webb, he almost played his way onto the roster, but likely lost out due to a rejuvenated Hill showing up to training camp. If Webb makes it through waivers, expect him to be back on the practice squad.

WIDE RECEIVER (4): CHRIS HOGAN, PHILLIP DORSETT, CORDARRELLE PATTERSON, MATTHEW SLATER

As I expected in my final 53-man roster projection, the Patriots go with three “true” wide receivers with Matthew Slater’s impact mainly coming on special teams. In my opinion, slot receiver and return man Riley McCarron didn’t do enough to warrant taking up a roster spot. McCarron struggled to separate downfield and with drops throughout the preseason, and although his abilities as a returner are intriguing, he’s a practice squad player as a wide receiver. The extra roster spot the Patriots currently have will most likely be used to sign or trade for a wide receiver.

TIGHT END (4): ROB GRONKOWSKI, JACOB HOLLISTER, DWAYNE ALLEN, RYAN IZZO

Technically, the Patriots didn’t officially put rookie tight end Ryan Izzo on injured reserve, but reports indicate they will do so shortly. Izzo’s injury likely isn’t season-ending, and by keeping him on the active roster in the initial cutdown, he can return after Week 8. Dwayne Allen’s pay cut likely saved his job. While second-year tight end Jacob Hollister figures to be a huge factor in the passing game this season.

OFFENSIVE LINE (7): TRENT BROWN, JOE THUNEY, DAVID ANDREWS, SHAQ MASON, MARCUS CANNON, LAADRIAN WADDLE, TED KARRAS

The most surprising development from the roster cutdown was along the offensive line, where the Patriots only have three offensive tackles on the active roster. In my final projection, I predicted that second-year tackle Cole Croston would win the job as the fourth tackle, but he was among the final cuts on Saturday. Either the Patriots plan is to use left guard Joe Thuney as depth at tackle, Thuney played left tackle in college at North Carolina State, or they have their eye on one of the tackles released by another team or on the trade market. Also, third-year interior offensive lineman Ted Karras is a perfect example of a player that made it impossible for the coaching staff to release him due to his strong play in August. Karras is a mauler who can serve as a backup at all three interior positions along the offensive line.

DEFENSIVE END (6): TREY FLOWERS, ADRIAN CLAYBORN DEATRICH WISE, DEREK RIVERS, KEIONTA DAVIS, GENEO GRISSOM

With low numbers at wide receiver and offensive line, the Patriots loaded up on defensive linemen on their initial roster. Keionta Davis, who missed the entire 2017 season due to a severe neck injury, played his way onto the roster as well. Davis is a versatile player that can line up at multiple spots along the defensive front and has heavy hands flashing some pass rush ability. The surprise here was that 2015 third-round pick Geneo Grissom earned a roster spot, at least initially. Grissom has rare athletic traits for a player of his size and that translates well on special teams, but still hasn’t figured it out on defense. However, he did finish with 11 pressures in the preseason, second-most on the team, which could be a sign that he’s starting to figure out some things as a pass rusher. Grissom’s hand usage has improved, possibly due to the work he has done with martial arts expert Joe Kim, but he still lacks the necessary bend around the edge to be a consistent force.

DEFENSIVE TACKLE (4): MALCOM BROWN, DANNY SHELTON, LAWRENCE GUY, ADAM BUTLER

The strength of the Patriots’ defense this season will most likely be up the middle with an impressive foursome at defensive tackle. Brown and Shelton will be a formidable run stuffing duo on early downs, Lawrence Guy is a versatile three-down player that can line up everywhere, and Adam Butler will serve as a situational pass rusher and is by far the best penetrator of the group. The Patriots will benefit from having Shelton in the mix on early downs, but Butler is a guy that could be a huge factor in the passing game as he continues to improve his technique to combine with rare movement skills for a giant human.

LINEBACKER (6): DONT’A HIGHTOWER, KYLE VAN NOY, ELANDON ROBERTS, JA’WHAUN BENTLEY, NICHOLAS GRIGSBY, BRANDON KING

The first four names on this list were never in doubt while the last two names on the list will be core special teamers for the Patriots this season. The surprise cut out of this group was veteran Marquis Flowers. The team re-signed Flowers this offseason and gave him a $200,000 signing bonus in March. Flowers, however, was underwhelming in the preseason, and Bentley’s emergence as a potential late-round gem likely pushed him off the roster. Grigsby is another intriguing player. He played in five games down the stretch last season for the Patriots primarily as a special teamer, but his sideline-to-sideline speed makes him the fastest linebacker on the roster. If he can develop the necessary awareness and reaction skills to play off-the-ball on defense, Grigsby might play more than some expect.

CORNERBACK (6): STEPHON GILMORE, ERIC ROWE, JONATHAN JONES, DUKE DAWSON, J.C. JACKSON, KEION CROSSEN

There’s a lot to like about this group. The top of the Patriots’ cornerback depth chart is as expected, but the two rookies, Jackson and Crossen, played their way onto the roster. Jackson kept the undrafted rookie streak alive now at 15-straight seasons and was one of the Patriots’ most consistent coverage guys in the preseason. Jackson moves exceptionally well on the boundary and flashed impressive ball skills with two interceptions and two pass breakups in the four preseason games. With Crossen, his college tape and improvements week-to-week in the preseason likely earned him a roster spot. Arguably the biggest surprise cut of them all, however, was 2016 second-round pick, Cyrus Jones. Jones tore his ACL last August and was still working his way back from the injury, which likely hurt his chances. Although he looked comfortable in the return game, the potential wasn’t enough to keep him on the roster.

SAFETY (5): DEVIN MCCOURTY, PATRICK CHUNG, DURON HARMON, JASON MCCOURTY, NATE EBNER

Veteran defensive back Jason McCourty likely saved his job by switching to safety. The team clearly wanted to move on from 2015 second-round pick Jordan Richards, and McCourty gave them the option to do so by moving over to safety from cornerback. McCourty admitted that he still needs more reps at safety to learn the position, but he performed adequately in that role against the Giants, and the positional versatility allows him to back up two positions in the secondary.

SPECIALISTS: STEPHEN GOSTKOWSKI, RYAN ALLEN, JOE CARDONA

The only specialist on the Patriots in jeopardy of losing his job was punter Ryan Allen, and rookie Corey Bojorquez wasn’t up to the task.

Biggest Concern: my answer here goes hand-in-hand with most people’s concerns about the wide receiver position; who’s returning punts in the first four weeks of the season? The Patriots didn’t hang onto punt returners Riley McCarron or Cyrus Jones, which means there’s no clear answer to that question. The responsibility will likely fall on the shoulders of either Cordarrelle Patterson (one career punt return) or Patrick Chung (three career punt returns), but both players lack experience in that role, and Chung is one of the most important players on the team. Could the signing or trade at wide receiver also yield a punt returner? That seems like a very plausible scenario.