Patriots Roster and Practice Squad Projection 2.0

The Patriots have participated in two joint practices, played two preseason games, and made several personnel moves since my first attempt at predicting their roster. With this new information affecting nearly every position, I figured it was time for an update before New England’s final preseason matchup against the Titans on Friday.

Now, equipped with the knowledge that special teams spots have dwindled and Kayshon Boutte “[is] like that“, here’s my second attempt at projecting the Patriots’ 53-man roster and practice squad.

Quarterback (2)

Mac Jones, Bailey Zappe

Practice Squad (1): Malik Cunningham

Cut (1): Trace McSorley

Malik Cunningham had a poised performance at quarterback against the Texans, and he’s had opportunities to show off his rushing ability with the top offense in practice. That said, he went undrafted because teams weren’t sure about his fit at the professional level beyond being dynamic in space, and I’m not sure if one drive of a preseason game was enough to change perception. He’s also still very much a work in progress at wide receiver. All that said, Cunningham’s leadership, toughness, and willingness to contribute at several spots have stood out this offseason. They should make him a valued practice squad member as he develops wherever New England plans to use him.

Bailey Zappe has struggled with inconsistency in training camp and preseason, but there hasn’t been any sign of competition for the backup spot behind Mac Jones.

Running Back (3)

Rhamondre Stevenson, Ezekiel Elliott, Pierre Strong Jr.

Practice Squad (2): J.J. Taylor, Kevin Harris

Cut (1): CJ Marable

Ezekiel Elliott has looked like a candidate to form a legitimate one-two punch with Rhamondre Stevenson since the former Cowboy’s second practice with the Patriots. Not only does he fit the team’s need for another downhill runner to lighten Stevenson’s workload, but teammates have commented on his receiving ability both out of the backfield and when split out.

Pierre Strong was just okay in the first preseason game before suffering an unfortunate concussion, but he returned for Tuesday’s practice in a red non-contact jersey and the team seems high on the explosive dual-threat. As a fourth-round pick in last year’s draft who flashed in limited opportunities, Strong is a near-lock.

J.J. Taylor has been the offense’s top receiving back during the preseason, and Bill Belichick recently commented on his improved pass blocking and increased versatility to contribute on special teams. Still, Taylor’s spent most of his career on New England’s practice squad, and I’m not sure he’s shown enough this preseason for that to change. He seems like a valued member of the locker room and could be a top candidate for elevation when the team wants extra depth in their backfield.

Kevin Harris is solid between the tackles but spent parts of his rookie year on the practice squad and will likely find himself back there as he learns behind Stevenson and Elliott.

CJ Marable hasn’t seen any action this preseason.

Wide Receiver (6)

DeVante Parker, Kendrick Bourne, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Demario Douglas, Kayshon Boutte, Tyquan Thornton

Practice Squad (1): Thyrick Pitts

Injured Reserve (1): Tre Nixon

Cut (1): Ty Montgomery II

Despite being a sixth-round pick due to his lack of size and small-school pedigree, Demario Douglas’ limited preseason action and heavy involvement with Mac Jones in training camp suggests he’s a virtual roster lock.

I had the Patriots stashing Kayshon Boutte on the practice squad in my last projection, but he’s flashed too often for me to believe a receiver-needy team wouldn’t take a chance on him. He appears to have bought into the Patriots’ system and separated himself from the maturity issues that made him a sixth-round pick despite undeniable talent.

Tyquan Thornton started gaining momentum after a slow start to camp, including an extending deep catch in the second joint practice against Green Bay, but he hasn’t been able to stay on the field and is currently week-to-week with a shoulder injury. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him land on injured reserve after initial cuts to prevent losing him for the entire season.

Tre Nixon was waived yesterday to make room for nose tackle Marquan McCall after suffering a shoulder injury against the Packers. It’s unlikely a team claims him at this point in his career, so expect the hardworking receiver to land on season-ending injured reserve.

Nixon’s situation opens the door for Thyrick Pitts to make the practice squad. I already thought that would be the case given Pitts’ solid offseason and his standing as the only true “X” receiver behind DeVante Parker. He also had an impressive high-point grab against Christian Gonzalez yesterday.

Ty Montgomery returned to practice with Pierre Strong and Mike Gesicki on Tuesday after missing all but the first week of camp due to injury. He warmed up with the receivers and didn’t see any snaps in the backfield, which I think hurts his chances of making a roster at a position that already seems overstocked. And even if Montgomery is still seen as a receiving back option, I’m not sure there’s much room for him behind three-down backs Stevenson and Elliott and up-and-comer Strong.

Tight End (2)

Hunter Henry, Mike Gesicki

Practice Squad (2): Matt Sokol, Anthony Firkser

Cut (2): Scotty Washington, Johnny Lumpkin

Mike Gesicki was in a red non-contact jersey in his return to practice following a shoulder injury before the trip to Green Bay. But he was moving well and could be good to go by Week 1.

Matt Sokol has been the team’s best blocking tight end in camp and preseason, and some solid flashes as a receiver in practice, but I think he can be safely stashed on the practice squad and be a top candidate for elevation in run-heavy game plans.

Anthony Firkser is a versatile H-back type who’s had good moments as a receiver and gotten opportunities with the top offense but I’m not sure he’s earned a spot on the initial 53-man roster.

Scotty Washington’s hands are too inconsistent given his limited role for me to think he’s even a practice squad candidate, and I haven’t seen enough from Johnny Lumpkin as a blocker to justify keeping him around.

Offensive Tackle (3)

Trent Brown, Sidy Sow, Conor McDermott

Practice Squad (2): Andrew Stueber, Bill Murray

Non-Football Illness (1): Calvin Anderson

Cut (1): Micah Vanterpool

Sidy Sow is still very much adjusting to offensive tackle, and with Riley Reiff kicking inside to guard the past couple of weeks, I think New England will want a veteran like Conor McDermott behind the rookie. Calvin Anderson could bump McDermott off of the roster once he returns from the NFI list.

Stueber has had enough positive moments that he warrants further evaluation, especially given he’s essentially a rookie after missing all of last season.

Former defensive tackle and guard Bill Murray saw his first action at tackle against the Packers, looking surprisingly comfortable on the right side. Bill Belichick said he “did a solid job [against] a couple of good edge players” when I asked him about Murray’s performance.

Like fellow XFL alum CJ Marable, Micah Vanterpool has not played at all this preseason.

Interior Offensive Line (5)

David Andrews, Cole Strange, Riley Reiff, Atonio Mafi, Jake Andrews

Practice Squad (4): James Ferentz, Bill Murray, Kody Russey, Chasen Hines

Physically Unable to Perform (1): Mike Onwenu

Besides Bill Murray and Riley Reiff switching positions, the only real change here from my last projection is Chasen Hines making the roster. Preseason games have allowed me to evaluate his game more closely, and though he hasn’t been perfect I definitely think his power-centric game is worth further development.

Interior Defensive Line (5)

Davon Godchaux, Christian Barmore, Lawrence Guy Sr., Daniel Ekuale, Sam Roberts

Practice Squad (2): Jeremiah Pharms Jr., Marquan McCall

Cut (1): Carl Davis Jr., Justus Tavai

Daniel Ekuale and Sam Roberts have been very good this preseason, though Roberts did have a senseless penalty against the Packers that might affect his roster security. Since I have no inside knowledge of how the team viewed the infraction, I’m putting him on the roster because he’s still on his rookie deal and has looked like a run-stuffing version of Deatrich Wise.

Jeremiah Pharms has also been a standout on defense this preseason, but he’s a career practice squadder who can be stashed.

With the Patriots claiming 344 lb gap-clogger Marquan McCall yesterday, I’m not sure there’s room on the team for Carl Davis, who is still a good run defender, or Justus Tavai. I wouldn’t be surprised to see McCall move up to the 53-man roster after initial cuts.

Edge Defender (5)

Matthew Judon, Deatrich Wise Jr., Keion White, Josh Uche, Anfernee Jennings

Physically Unable to Perform (1): Trey Flowers

Cut (2): Ronnie Perkins, Carson Wells

No significant changes here.

Linebacker (5)

Ja’Whaun Bentley, Jahlani Tavai, Marte Mapu, Chris Board, Calvin Munson

Cut (3): Mack Wilson Sr., Joe Giles-Harris, Diego Fagot

Calvin Munson looks like he’s in for a significant role on special teams and has mixed in with the top defense enough that I think he has a real shot at the roster.

Mack Wilson’s added weight has shown at times when he takes on blockers, but his recognition is still a concern and I couldn’t justify putting him on the roster over Munson. If the defense needs athleticism at linebacker, I think they can find it in Marte Mapu or Chris Board, who’s similar in size to Wilson.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Diego Fagot sneaks onto the practice squad after a solid preseason on special teams.

Cornerback (6)

Christian Gonzalez, Jonathan Jones, Jack Jones, Marcus Jones, Myles Bryant, Shaun Wade

Practice Squad (1): Ameer Speed

Injured Reserve (1): Isaiah Bolden

Cut (2): Quandre Mosely, Rodney Randle Jr.

Shaun Wade has surprised me with his work in the slot this preseason and has gotten extensive work at free safety, so I’d be a bit worried about subjecting him to waivers at this point.

Ameer Speed’s role as primarily a special teamer should allow him to slide under the radar and potentially make the roster after initial cuts, though he’s also flashed on defense as another corner-safety hybrid.

Talented defensive back and kick returner Isaiah Bolden already seemed like a project, but after his scary injury against the Packers, it’s probably best that this be a redshirt season for him.

Safety (5)

Kyle Dugger, Adrian Phillips, Jabrill Peppers, Jalen Mills, Joshuah Bledsoe

Cut (1): Brad Hawkins

No changes here.

Kicker (2)

Nick Folk, Chad Ryland

Chad Ryland has a boot, but that’s been more of a detriment than an advantage of late. It seems the rookie is still learning to control his kicks, as the height he puts on them has led to several misses on windy days.

While Nick Folk’s leg strength has been an area of concern for years now, he’s automatic inside of 40 yards, which could be the difference between winning or losing tight games. Ryland is an asset on kickoffs and longer attempts, but I think the team will opt for reliability until the young boot proves he can be consistent.

Punter (1)

Bryce Baringer

Practice Squad (1): Corliss Waitman

Bryce Barniger went through a rough slump leading up to the preseason matchup against Greeb Bay, then bounced back in a big way with two moon balls in the game.

I think the team will keep Corliss Waitman around just in case after the second-year punter’s solid camp.

Long Snapper (1)

Joe Cardona

I said it before Tucker Addington was let go and I’ll say it again, Joe Cardona’s not going anywhere.

Coverage Specialist (2)

Matthew Slater, Brenden Schooler

Physically Unable to Perform (1): Cody Davis

Cut (1): Raleigh Webb

I had DaMarcus Mitchell and Jourdan Heilig on my last projection but both were waived by the team, with Mitchell sadly being claimed by the Seahawks. I think these moves signaled a change in roster philosophy following the league’s change to kickoff rules, which I admittedly underestimated. Lesson learned!

Taylor Kyles

Taylor Kyles is the lead NFL Analyst for CLNS Media covering players, schemes, and tendencies through a New England Patriots-centric lens.

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