After a competitive training camp and preseason, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has some difficult decisions with his initial 53-man roster.
Belichick’s free-agent spending spree is pushing a handful of recent draft picks onto the roster bubble, which could see some of those players cut.
Here is our final stab at a 53-man roster projection for the Patriots ahead of Tuesday’s 4 pm eastern deadline:
QUARTERBACK (2): Cam Newton, Mac Jones
Reserve PUP: Jarrett Stidham, Cut: Brian Hoyer
The Patriots are taking a risk with the ongoing pandemic by carrying two quarterbacks. But first-round pick Mac Jones is more than ready to be an NFL backup, if not a starter, and Belichick kept a rookie QB as the backup three times in the Brady era. Plus, Hoyer is a vested veteran, meaning he doesn’t need to pass through waivers, and he immediately becomes a free agent once the Pats cut him. As soon as the Patriots open a roster spot by placing another player on injured reserve (N’Keal Harry, Stephon Gilmore, and Anfernee Jennings are a few possibilities), they can re-sign Hoyer. The 35-year-old Hoyer may have some suitors once he becomes a free agent, but his roots are in the New England area, and he turned down other offers to remain a Patriot in the offseason. With Jones’s development putting you at ease, it’s worth risking Hoyer to keep young talent at other positions on the roster.
RUNNING BACK (4): Damien Harris, James White, Rhamondre Stevenson, J.J. Taylor
Cut: Brandon Bolden
Bolden is in the same boat as Hoyer. We know the Pats will keep the four running backs above after the Sony Michel trade, while Bolden doesn’t need to pass through waivers. Belichick tried this roster maneuver once before and lost Bolden to Miami, but there isn’t as much demand for Bolden’s services this time around. Bolden is also hurt, wearing a red non-contact jersey and practicing while not participating in preseason games. The Patriots will free up a roster spot for Hoyer and Bolden, and in the meantime, their short-lived departures allow the Pats to put a few players on injured reserve with the option to return this season.
WIDE RECEIVER (5): Nelson Agholor, Jakobi Meyers, Kendrick Bourne, N’Keal Harry, Gunner Olszewski
Cut: Kristian Wilkerson, Isaiah Zuber, Tre Nixon
Kristian Wilkerson is the only “cut” with a legitimate shot to make the roster at wide receiver. Wilkerson faded fast this summer after starting hot. At one point, he was trending towards a near-lock. Although he did what he could to state his case in the preseason finale, shaky hands and inconsistent play cost Wilkerson a shot at the initial 53. He’s another player that could be brought back if Harry ends up on IR, and Wilkerson would have a game-day role on special teams. For now, he falls victim to a deep 53-man roster and is a priority practice squad player. Without much preseason tape, rookie Tre Nixon should make it to the practice squad as well.
TIGHT END/FULLBACK (4): Hunter Henry, Jonnu Smith, Devin Asiasi, Jakob Johnson
Cut: Matt LaCosse, Injured Reserve: Dalton Keene, Troy Fumagalli
After getting laid out by Eagles linebacker Derek Barnett in joint practices, LaCosse’s push to make the roster became murky. The veteran tight end is an NFL player if slotted correctly on the depth chart. But Asiasi’s upside, which we saw come to fruition in the third preseason game, and Johnson’s vital role as a fullback push LaCosse off the roster. The Pats’ upgrades at tight end should allow them to move on from LaCosse.
OFFENSIVE LINE (8): Isaiah Wynn, Michael Onwenu, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Trent Brown, Ted Karras, Justin Herron, Yodny Cajuste
Cut: Will Sherman, Korey Cunningham, James Ferentz, Alex Redmond, IR: Marcus Martin
Cajuste’s performance in the preseason and practice is enough to make the squad. The 2019 third-round pick is raw and hasn’t played much football in the last two-plus seasons but has tremendous movement skills and upside. He has NFL tackle foot speed and Cajuste’s athleticism climbing to the second level pops off the tape. With how well the Pats develop offensive line talent, Cajuste has immense potential in their program. Sherman, Ferentz, and Redmond would be solid stashes on the practice squad.
DEFENSIVE LINE (6): Lawrence Guy, Davon Godchaux, Deatrich Wise, Henry Anderson, Carl Davis, Christian Barmore
Cut: Montravius Adams, Akeem Spence, Nick Thurman, Bill Muray, Reserve PUP: Byron Cowart
There are two questions that the Patriots’ coaching staff will need to answer on the defensive line: one, how much depth do they want to carry, and two, is Henry Anderson a roster lock? The depth question pertains to a sixth big-body, in this case, Carl Davis. Davis had a strong camp and is a good system fit as a two-gapper and interior penetrator. As for Anderson, Belichick had good things to say about the veteran, but he was on the field in the fourth quarter of the preseason finale. Even in an odd front base defense, it feels like Anderson and Davis were two of the best 53 players in camp.
EDGE DEFENDER (4): Matt Judon, Kyle Van Noy, Chase Winovich, Ronnie Perkins
Cut: Teshawn Bower
Similar to the defensive line, there are two questions on the edge of the defense as well. One, is Chase Winovich on this team or a trade chip? Winovich was also on the field late into the preseason finale and is still one of the teams’ top pass rushers. However, his fit as a sturdy edge-setter against the run is in question. Second, is there a spot on this team for Teshawn Bower? Bower had a solid summer and fits the mold as a Pats outside linebacker. Long, strong, and capable of setting the edge. It wouldn’t shock us if the Pats end up dealing Winovich and go with the system fit in Bower as depth.
LINEBACKER (4): Dont’a Hightower, Josh Uche, Ja’Whaun Bentley, Anfernee Jennings
Reserve PUP: Terez Hall, IR: Raekwon McMillan, Cut: Harvey Langi
No major surprises here. Although Jennings could be a surprise cut, the thinking here is that the second-year linebacker makes the initial roster and then heads to injured reserve. Hightower looks like his old self, Uche is the Pats’ breakout star, and Bentley is improving. The off-ball linebacker group looks much better than a year ago with a lot more versatility.
CORNERBACK (6): Stephon Gilmore, J.C. Jackson, Jonathan Jones, Jalen Mills, Joejuan Williams, Shaun Wade
Cut: Mike Jackson, Sr., D’Angelo Ross, Dee Virgin
Gilmore’s status remains up in the air, but moving him to reserve/PUP would wipe out the first five weeks of the season for the former Defensive Player of the Year. It makes more sense to put Gilmore on the 53, then move him to IR if he’s going to miss time. Ross made a late push with Jon Jones and Myles Bryant sitting out the third preseason game, but those two should be back for the opener. Newcomer Shaun Wade takes one of the last roster spots after a trade to acquire the Ohio State defensive back.
SAFETY (4): Devin McCourty, Kyle Dugger, Adrian Phillips, Myles Bryant
Cut: Adrian Colbert, IR: Joshuah Bledsoe
Another position group without a major surprise. After a decent spring, Colbert had a chance to make the team, but it didn’t translate in padded practices. Bryant, like many Patriots, could also be listed as a corner and safety. There’s a lot of crossover between secondary positions, but Bryant should be safe regardless of where he lines up in the defense.
COVERAGE SPECIALISTS (3): Matthew Slater, Justin Bethel, Cody Davis
Cut: Brandon King
Both the players and coaches love Brandon King. He’s a locker room presence who works hard and hits hard. But he doesn’t have any guaranteed money on his deal (Cody Davis does) and shouldn’t be difficult to retain after they free up some roster spots. The roster is too deep this year to keep all four coverage aces.
SPECIALISTS (3): Nick Folk, Jake Bailey, Joe Cardona
Cut: Quinn Nordin
Undrafted rookie Quinn Nordin was close to winning the starting job, but, ultimately, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick values consistency more than anything in a kicker. Nordin has a huge leg and big-time potential. Still, veteran Nick Folk is a steady option who will make a high percentage of his kicks inside 40 yards. As an NFL kicker, that’s the most important thing. Hopefully, the Patriots will be able to stash Nordin on their practice squad.