Difficult Decisions and Few Easy Answers
The Patriots have one final preseason game on Thursday evening against the Giants. There will be a lot of competition here as the bottom of the roster guys vie for one of the coveted spots on the initial 53-man roll call. There are plenty of guys who will rate a look at the practice squad.
Keep in mind that the 53-man roster of September 3 changes, as we’ve seen thru the years, quite a bit by the end of December. So let’s roll with our final New England Patriots Roster Projection 4.0.
OFFENSE — 24
Quarterback (2): *Tom Brady*, Jimmy Garoppolo, Jacoby Brissett
No changes here. The suspension of Brady gives the team the ability to carry an extra player for the first month as the Pats QB will rate a roster exemption. Rumors that the team will sign a 4th veteran QB are just that….rumors.
Running back (5): Brandon Bolden, James Develin, LeGarrette Blount, D.J. Foster, James White
Dion Lewis starts the season on Reserve/PUP. Foster who was so electric in the spring noses out Tyler Gaffney for the final running back spot. He’s back to work and shown enough. Gaffney winds up on the practice squad. Could the team add another body into the mix with a player being released elsewhere? Yes, but it will depend on who that is.
Blount despite not being a world beater, has the confidence of his coach and if given a reasonable wall up front has proven himself to be effective. Bolden is a core special teams’ player (four units).
Wide receiver (5): Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell, Keshawn Martin, Aaron Dobson
Danny Amendola starts the season on PUP. I really thought that he’d have been activated by now. He’s been at practice for weeks during the stretching phase and then retreating down to the lower fields with the training staff.
That grants a reprieve of sorts for Aaron Dobson who noses out DeAndre Carter and now makes the roster. With Mitchell closer to returning, Dobson will be the outside the numbers, “X” wide receiver until the rookie gradually phases back into the offense. The Patriots are supposedly shopping Dobson, I can’t imagine that there’s a big market for his services right now, but never say never.
Edelman and Hogan are a nice 1-2 punch at wide receiver. Martin earns a spot but his summer was hardly smooth as he battled injury, but he can play inside or outside and can play in the return game. Carter is a practice squad candidate.
Tight end (3): Rob Gronkowski, Martellus Bennett, A.J. Derby
No changes here. Gronkowski and Bennett are roster locks and are going to be very difficult to stop because of their size and athleticism. The Patriots are going to use the “22-personnel” package (2 RBs, 2 TEs, 1 WR) quite a bit this year using James Develin as a lead blocker. It will open up all kinds of play action opportunities.
A.J. Derby had a bad third-down drop a week ago, but he’s built up enough capital to weather that, as long as it doesn’t become a trend. Clay Harbor missed too much time and hasn’t flashed enough to cause a change. Bryce Williams who flashed early in camp in the passing game is a practice squad candidate.
Offensive line (9): Nate Solder, Jonathan Cooper, LaAdrian Waddle, Marcus Cannon, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Joe Thuney, Josh Kline, Cameron Fleming
Sebastian Vollmer begins the season on the Reserve/PUP and is likely done for the season. The Patriots will roll with four tackles and four guards. Cooper has returned to practice and replaces rookie Ted Karras.
Cannon has the opportunity to justify his contract with Vollmer out. He’s been getting the starting reps all summer and has played well. Now the real test begins. Fleming just noses out Karras for the final slot, but this could easily flip-flop on Thursday night.
DEFENSE — 24
Defensive line (10): Jabaal Sheard, Chris Long, Rob Ninkovich, Trey Flowers, Shea McClellin, Malcom Brown, Markus Kuhn, Alan Branch, Vincent Valentine, Geneo Grissom
The Patriots are extremely deep on the edge. Sheard and Ninkovich are the starters and both are close to returning soon. But with Long, McClellin and Flowers behind them they have a deep and talented group that can keep fresh legs on the field. Ninkovich and McClellin can also drop back into the linebacker position and improve the depth there.
Brown and Valentine (by virtue of his draft position) are roster locks. Branch and Kuhn round out the remainder of the big, interior men. Branch has played his best football in New England, despite his being suspended for a few days for an unspecified team rule. Kuhn has played very solidly this summer after arriving with little fanfare from the Giants.
Geneo Grissom by way of his STs prowess (four units), noses out the intriguing Anthony Johnson, who ends up on the practice squad because Flowers, who close to the same size can replicate his interior pass rush. This also noses out my favorite back-end of the roster player Kamu Grugier-Hill, who we’ll mention below.
Linebacker (4): Dont’a Hightower, Jamie Collins, Jonathan Freeny, Barkevious Mingo
Hightower and Collins are now bolstered by the similarly athletic Mingo. The three are likely the Patriots starters when they play in their base defense. They are a mixture of big and physical, (Hightower) and fast, and freaky athletes (Collins and Mingo). Freeny was just awarded a contract extension this week and is also locked in. The unit can be bolstered by either McClellin or Ninkovich who can drop back into coverage. It also shows the versatility of this unit, that can drop into coverage or rush the passer.
Grugier-Hill is an intriguing, athletic player who was one of the most difficult cuts on the team. He can be a valuable addition to the special teams’ units (played on all four) and an athletic, “tweener” on defense. He is a perfect fit for the “big nickel” role on defense and has been wearing the green dot, and calling the defensive signals with the backups during the first two preseason games. He missed the third one because of an illness. Did he do enough to dislodge someone else from the squad? Possibly but we’re in a numbers crunch here. He’ll go to the practice squad, with possibly Rufus Johnson.
Cornerback (5): Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan, Cyrus Jones, Justin Coleman, Cre’Von LeBlanc
LeBlanc leapfrogs Jonathan Jones to make the roster with a late push. His hip injury will bear watching but he’s been the best of the young corners this summer. Butler, Logan Ryan and top draft pick Cyrus Jones as well as Coleman round out the corner position.
Jonathan Jones is an extremely athletic corner who has performed very well this summer. He and Darryl Roberts have played very well; it simply comes down to another numbers crunch. LeBlanc outplayed them by the slightest of margins and those two wind up on the practice squad.
This is perhaps the most tightly contested position on the team. The final game against the Giants could swing the pendulum back but right now these are the five that will start the season against Arizona.
Safety (5): Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Jordan Richards, Duron Harmon, Nate Ebner
No changes here. McCourty and Chung are locked in as starters. They work extremely well together, McCourty as the QB of the defense and centerfielder. Chung as the in-the-box safety and are backed ably by Harmon and Richards. This is a very deep position on the team and Vinnie Sunseri has a real tough time cracking the roster.
Ebner returns to his STs role and the odd occasional snap on defense. With the group all returning to their well-defined roles, it makes a good secondary even better.
SPECIAL TEAMS — (5)
Kicker Stephen Gostkowski, punter Ryan Allen, long snapper Joe Cardona, special teamers Matthew Slater, Brandon King,
No changes here, the top five specialists, are all solid. Gostkowski is among the top kickers in the game but I wondered if his extra point miss in Denver, his first in 10 years may affect him long-term. Then he missed two FGs in a preseason game. The first was a bad snap from Cardona that threw off his timing but the best thing that could happen now is for him to get back on a long hot streak.
Slater remains one of the leaders of the team and was rewarded with an extension that will carry him thru the 2017 season. He’s a five-time Pro Bowl special teams’ player for a reason. He has a tremendous amount of respect in the locker room from his peers.
Posted Under: Patriots Commentary
Tags: 2016 Patriots Roster 53 Man Roster Projection Bill Belichick Chris Long Danny Amendola Dion Lewis Dont'a Hightower Geneo Grissom Jabaal Sheard Jamie Collins Jimmy Garoppolo Julian Edelman LaGarrette Blount Malcolm Butler New England Patriots NFL Patriots Patriots edge rushers Patriots Training Camp Photos Pats Rob Gronkowski Rob Ninkovich Tom Brady Trey Flowers