Patriots Positional Battles To Heat Up This Weekend

Five position battles to keep an eye on as the Patriots begin padded practices on Saturday.

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The Patriots roster to start training camp is one of the deepest the league has seen in some time. From the viewpoint of players with NFL talent, they may be 60-65 deep, and will only be able to keep 53 once the regular season rolls around. On top of that, individual positions will leave players with NFL ability limited with snaps due to the talent ahead of them. It’s tough to remember the last time the Patriots had this many highly contested position battles this early in training camp. 

As Bill Belichick told us earlier this week, the first two days of practice are an extension of minicamp and OTAs, and that the real evaluation begins when the team puts the pads on day 3. With the first full-contact practice coming up tomorrow, here are some breakdowns of the Patriots key position battles, and who has the lead right now before the real hitting starts.

Note: Depth charts are based on educated guesses after the first two days of practice

1Wide Receiver:

As it stands right now:

Julian Edelman*
N’Keal Harry
Phillip Dorsett
Maurice Harris
Dontrelle Inman
Braxton Berrios
Jakobi Meyers
Damoun Patterson
Ryan Davis
Gunner Olszewski
Danny Etling
Demaryius Thomas**

Assuming he’s healthy and ready for week 1, Julian Edelman has the top spot on lock. After him though, things get interesting. Harry and Dorsett have been two of the most impressive players on the field through two days of practice. Harry had the edge once the pads come on, but Dorsett has valuable experience in the system. Given the two have very different skillsets, and the Patriots run a gameplan offense, if they stay neck-and-neck its realistic to expect them to be ‘2A’ and ‘2B’, and for the team to feature one or the other depending on the matchup. 

On the back end of things, it feels like the group of Inman-Berrios-Meyers could be fighting for the 5th (and possibly final) wide receiver spot. Inman hasn’t done much, but as a physical receiver he has a chance to change that once the pads come on. Berrios is an intriguing option given he could be a capable backup for Julian Edelman not just as a slot receiver but also a kick returner. He saw a good amount of work fielding kickoffs and punts in OTAs and so far early in camp. Meyers remains an interesting prospect as well. The UDFA checks all of the physical boxes (6’2, long arms), but the question remains can he pick up on the offense as well as the other two more experienced receivers. 

Demaryius Thomas remains on PUP, and therefore holds the bottom spot on the list. As Bill Belichick likes to say “the best ability is availability”. Danny Etling may have a chance at a practice squad spot due to his versatility, but he went back to throwing today, and looks far from ready to take NFL snaps as a wide receiver. 

*Not practicing, on Non-Football Injury list
**Not practicing, on PUP

2Tight End:


As it stands right now:

Ben Watson*
Matt LaCosse
Stephen Anderson
Lance Kendricks
Ryan Izzo
Andrew Beck

Ben Watson will be a part of the team when he returns from his suspension, but the battle behind him gets tighter and tighter every day. Matt LaCosse gave us a company line after practice about how the group feels like they’re getting better every day, but that’s really seemed to be the case through two practices. LaCosse and Stephen Anderson were trading highlight catches today in red zone drills, while Lance Kendricks experience and durability injects a veteran presence into the competition. LaCosse has a slight edge right now due to his size, but Anderson and Kendricks both have what it takes to be the feature TE in the Pats offense for four weeks. It will probably take a near perfect performance from one of the three to lock down the spot behind Watson/the starting job while he’s suspended.

Izzo and Beck, as blocking tight ends, haven’t been able to show much in the shells practices, but they’ll have a chance to make their case for the third TE spot when the running game becomes a focus tomorrow.

*Suspended first four games

3Left Tackle/Guard:

As it stands right now:

Left Tackle: Isaiah Wynn, Joe Thuney
Left Guard: Joe Thuney, Ted Karras, James Ferentz

This isn’t as much a ‘player-vs-player’ position battle as it is a case of ‘player-vs-himself’. Isaiah Wynn’s recovery has reportedly gone smoothly to this point, but he has yet to take part in 11-on-11 drills. When the team shifts from individual workouts, it’s been Joe Thuney stepping over to protect the blind side, with either Ted Karras or James Ferentz filling in at left guard. If Isaiah Wynn doesn’t start taking place in the team portion of practices soon, it’ll be time to consider Joe Thuney the starting left guard of this team. If that becomes the case, the battle between Ted Karras and James Ferentz for ‘backup’ left guard becomes a lot more important. 

4Cornerback:

As it stands right now:

Outside

Stephon Gilmore
JC Jackson
Jason McCourty
Joejuan Williams
D’Angelo Ross

Slot

Jonathan Jones
Duke Dawson
Keion Crossen
Ken Webster

This might be the Patriots deepest position, the NFL talent on this list is 7 or 8 players deep. JC Jackson and Jason McCourty should both be roster locks, but they will continue their ongoing battle from last season for the number two spot from last season. On the inside, Jonathan Jones has had an outstanding camp, but with one year left on his contract and a cheeper option behind him in last year’s second round pick Dawson, can he separate himself enough to avoid being traded or becoming a cap casualty. Meanwhile, Crossen and Webster seem to be competing for a special teams role, it’s highly unlikely the team keeps both.

5Punter:

As it stands right now:

Ryan Allen, Jake Bailey

They’re listed next to each other because it really feels like a dead heat. An interesting development on Day 2 was that for every punt Ryan Allen got, Jake Bailey got two. It’s possible this is because the Patriots know what they have in Allen and want an extended look at Bailey, or because Bailey is at the top of the depth chart right now. The former seems like the more likely option, but Bailey is closing fast. His display today was one of the most impressive of any player on the field. Unlike the other four positions above, this battle isn’t effected too much by the pads. We’ll really get an idea of where it stands in the first preseason game (unless the Patriots never have to punt…which would be classic them). 

Of course, as we continue to go through camp things will change quickly, make sure to keep up to date on all things Patriots on CLNSMedia.com, and by following us on Twitter @PatriotsCLNS and subscribing to our YouTube page.