In this article, I will project a 53-man roster as we await the start of Training Camp in July.
This is the Number 1 problem on the Patriots team, especially at Tackle. I was appalled at the condition that Trent Brown showed up in for the mandatory Mini-Camp. Brown half-heartedly did his stretching / warm-up drills then only did one rep of a lineman drill before being whisked away by the training staff to work on his conditioning on the lower field. He showed up a day late because a hailstorm canceled his flight to Boston. Brown also did not participate in any of the off-season programs or Organized Team Activities. That is a pretty poor showing for the 3rd highest-paid player on the team ($12.5M). His play last year was lackadaisical at best. Last year he appeared like he did not want to be there. It was his worst season as a professional with 13 penalties (worst in the league) and 8 sacks (T-5th). The players report on July 25th and must complete a fitness test before they are allowed on the field. I cannot see Brown passing that grueling run. One poster in the Patriots Forum even stated that Brown would be a transaction on the 26th announcing his retirement. The Patriots should cut bait with him and release him before the conditioning test. Don’t allow him to pull up with an injury and lock the Patriots into that salary for the year. Make the cut and use the savings ($10) toward signing Free Agents DeAndre Hopkins and Dalvin Cook.
The other two veteran Tackles signed this offseason, Reilly Reiff and Calvin Alexander, were having difficulty handling Matt Judon and Josh Uche in the open media practices. Granted, Judon and Uche gave a lot of NFL Tackles problems last season with 17 and 12 sacks respectively. This doesn’t give me a lot of confidence. Journeyman Connor McDermott finished last season as the starting RT. Rookie 4th round pick (#117 overall) Sidy Sow is being given a look at Right Tackle.
The guard position will be manned by second-year starter Cole Strange. Many felt that Strange was a reach as a 1st round pick last year, and he struggled to start the season. Strange improved as the season progressed and I expect a continuation of that upward progression. Michael Owenu is recovering from off-season ankle surgery and didn’t participate in any off-season activities. This is a contract year for Owenu and he is in line for a big raise. Owenu is clearly the best offensive lineman the Patriots have.
In 2023 the Patriots drafted three interior offensive linemen. Center Jake Andrews was taken in the 4th round (# 107 overall) and is a bigger than usual (327 lbs) Center for the Patriots. He is expected to make the team and serve as a backup to David Andrews while gaining experience in the Pro game. The third O-lineman drafted is Antonio Mafi. He saw some playing time with the first unit during the OTAs. Mafi was a 5th-round pick (#144 overall). Another bigger-than-usual interior lineman at 339 lbs. He was recruited to play at UCLA as a Nose Tackle and played there for two years, starting for the Bruins as a true freshman. He weighed 401 lbs when he entered UCLA. In 2021 he switched to offense and started all 13 games in 2022. Patriots O-line coach Adrian Klemm has quite the project to work with in Mafi. He only has two years of experience and managed to make the 2nd team All-Pac 10 in 2022.
2021 Draft picks Andrew Stueber (OT), Chase Hines (G), and Kody Russey (C) are long shots to make the roster. Veteran James Ferentz may be coming to the end of the line in his career. He just turned 34 and is undersized (6’2” 300 lbs). He has been on the Patriots fringe roster for years now and we thank him for his service but this may be it for the journeyman player.
C (2) J.Andrews, D.Andrews
G (4) M.Onwenu, C.Strange, A.Mafi, S.Sow
T (3) R.Reiff, C.McDermott, C.Anderson
Lots of questions about the line that will be worked out during training camp. This is the number one question mark heading into Training Camp.
Mac Jones appears to be very comfortable in Bill O’Brien’s offensive system that has taken elements from his Alabama days. That gives Jones a leg up on Bailey Zappe because he is unfamiliar with that system. By all reports from the limited time reporters saw the players practice, Jones completed nearly 80% of his passes while the players were in shorts. Jones appeared confident and loose during the practices, re-gaining some of that swagger he had in his rookie season. Zappe wasn’t as accurate but he will be an adequate backup. There is no quarterback competition. It’s Mac Jones’s job. The concern will be if the Offensive line can give them time to pass or keep them injury free! Trace McSorley experienced a lot of difficulty with the 3rd team players and is destined for the Practice Squad.
QB (2) M.Jones, B.Zappe
The big story coming out of spring practice in the backfield is the release of Running Back James Robinson. Robinson was trying to complete a comeback from a torn Achilles he suffered in 2020 while playing for Jacksonville. It just wasn’t happening. The Patriots had several Out clauses in the contract because of Robinson’s injury history. Rhamondre Stevenson has looked like a top 6 Running Back in the league (if the line can block). He was also targeted 88 times out of the backfield last season. I expect the number of touches will go down. His 270 overall touches were due to Damien Harris and Ty Montgomery’s injuries. Montgomery looked great in the spring (as he did last year before he got hurt). Expect Montgomery to steal some of those 3rd down catches from Stevenson and contribute at WR as well. Second-year player Kevin Harris will serve as the big back when short yardage is required. His fellow second-year player Pierre Strong should be the back that spells Stevenson. I anticipate that Stevenson’s workload will be reduced. Rumors have run rampant that the Patriots were interested in Free Agent Dalvin Cook as a package with DeAndre Hopkins. Leonard Fournette and Kareem Hunt are also available. Looks like this will be the end of the line for undersized JJ Taylor.
RB (4) P.Strong, T.Montgomery, K.Harris, R.Stevenson
Bill O’Brien’s two Tight End offense will rely on heavy contributions from Hunter Henry and Mike Gesicki. All Spring these two have been Mac Jones’s favorite targets. The 12 formation where both are on the field at the same time is a favorite of O’Brien. Back when Obrien was first here in New England he had Gronk and Hernandez as his dynamic duo. I would not be surprised if the Patriots keep three TEs because of the reliance on the two-TE system. Yes, they can recall someone from the Practice Squad on an emergency basis, but I think the position is too valuable to take the risk of losing a player from poaching the Practice Squad. Scotty Washington is a former WR turned TE. The big (6’5”) target runs an estimated 4.6 40-yard dash. Anthony Frisker is a six-year veteran TE the Patriots signed as a Free Agent. He played for Atlanta last season. The Harvard grad played for the Jets, Chiefs, and Titans. A bit on the shorter size, he stands only 6’2”. Either of these players will make the team. Matt Sokol and Undrafted player Johnny Lumpkin are candidates for the Practice Squad. Both players are more traditional, in-line blocking TEs.
TE (3) H.Henry, S.Washington, M.Gesicki
With the extension of DeVante Parker it would appear that his position as the number one receiver seems safe. Parker was clearly uncomfortable with questions about Deandre Hopkins possibly signing with the Patriots. The extension was a way to calm Parker while gaining some Salary Cap space. Reports are that the final year is not guaranteed and that nearly half of the reported $33 million is tied up in incentives. Mike Reiss reported that half the contract value is roster bonuses and incentives. Miguel Benzan reports his deal has $14M guaranteed with tiered incentives up to $33M. $11M in new money. This also includes a $4.6M in signing bonus. The Patriots are still the favorite to sign Hopkins, but nothing is certain there until he decides who he wants to play for. I would love to see Kendrick Bourne get a larger role with the offense. He is a player that can get open and run after the catch. Tyquan Thornton appears to have put on some weight, but I am afraid he is always going to be a slight player. He was hurt on the first big hit he took as a rookie and missed time this spring due to a leg injury. Juju Smith-Schuster was signed as a replacement for leading pass catcher Jakobi Meyers. He didn’t participate much in off-season practices due to a lingering knee injury. Rookie draft picks Demario Douglas and Kayson Boutte along with longshot Un-Drafted Free Agent (UDFA), former Louisville QB Malik Cunningham will fight for what is the final roster spot if Hopkins doesn’t sign here. Cunningham is hoping to make the transition to WR the same as Julian Edelman. All three will be candidates for the Practice Squad. Tre Nixon, Ed Lee, and Raleigh Webb are just camp fodder / Practice Squad candidates. Webb has special teams value, but there are a lot of those types of players on the team. With the rules changes put in place by the league, there is a de-emphasis throughout the league on Special Teams only type of players.
WR (5) D.Parker, J.Smith-Schuster, T.Thornton, D.Douglas, K.Bourne
Lawrence Guy held himself out of off-season workouts and the mandatory mini-camp over what was described as a contract holdout. Guy is a 33-year-old DT. In my first mock draft, I didn’t have Guy making the team because of his age. I don’t think he has done himself any favors by holding out.
Davon Godchaux had a solid year at Nose Tackle and Bill Belichick lauded his performance. I am excited to see what rookie Keion White can do at DT in the 3-4 alignment. Spring practice without pads won’t show much, but once the pads are on I expect big things from him. Deatrich Wise is a leader on the team and for the De-line. Last season was the best of his career with the Pats. Carl Davis and Daniel Ekuale were solid contributors last year. Ekuale had a knack of putting pressure on the QB and Davis and his size were a rock in short-yardage situations and spelling Godchaux. Christian Barmore fought injuries all season and we didn’t see as much of a progression as we expected. That doesn’t mean that he won’t shine this year. Looking forward to what he can bring. Sam Roberts made the team out of camp but there doesn’t seem to be a place for him on the team, barring injuries. He is a candidate for the Practice Squad. Jeremiah Pharms was a mid-season replacement and provided a big body. Not much chance of him making the team. Justus Tavai is an undersized rookie DT and is pretty much a camp body.
DE (2) D.Wise, K.White
DT (4) C.Barmore, C.Davis, D.Ekuale, D.Godchaux
Linebacker / Edge
You start the linebacker position with Matt Judon. The 4 x Pro Bowl player is the highest-paid player on the Patriots and clearly a team leader. Judon is also very good with the media and in trying to recruit other Free Agents to sign with the Patriots. Last season he didn’t have the fall-off he did the year before. He finished with 15.5 sacks, his career high. His running mate Josh Uche had his career-best with 11.5 sacks. It was interesting that Uche had more sacks on pure pass rush than Judon, who relied on blitz schemes more. I will add that Uche rarely faced double teams or chips from the TE or RB as Judon did. It will be interesting to see if Uche gets more playing time rather than a pass-rush specialist. JuWhuan Bentley received a well-deserved contract extension. A team captain, Bentley is the rock in the middle of the defense. He is not the fastest and is more like an old-school middle linebacker. He doesn’t cover well. But as a downhill, run-stuffing defender there are few like him. Anfernee Jennings showed flashes of ability last year and with the lack of depth at Linebacker I think he will stay. Rookie third-round pick Marte Mapu was a surprise. Since I do a lot of research on the draft, I knew of Mapu and that he was rising up draft boards. However, I was as surprised as any that he was taken in the 3rd round. When he was taken the Patriots called him a LB. He played a similar position to what Kyle Dugger plays (LB Hybrid Safety). All spring he was running with the 1st team at both positions despite wearing a red non-contact jersey. He has surprised the coaches with his grasp of the defense as well as his ability. I expect big things from him this year Jahlani Tavai was a 2nd round pick of the Detroit Lions, who let him go at the cut-down date in 2021. The Patriots signed him to the Practice Squad and eventually elevated him to the 53-man roster. He has been a staple on Special Teams as well as a serviceable backup linebacker. He is the older brother of Justus Tavai. Chris Board was signed as a Special Teams ace. Calvin Munson, Mack Wilson, Olakunle Fatukasi, Terez Hall are camp bodies. Jourdan Heilig is a UDFA from Appalachian State and worked extensively with Matt Slater this spring as a gunner on special teams. It will be interesting to see how he has progressed. He never worked out for Pro Scouts and with another year of college eligibility available applied for the transfer portal. He received no offers but was contacted by Patriots scouts to sign as a UDFA. Raekwon McMillan tore his ACL in Spring practice and is on IR for the year.
ILB(4) J.Bentley, M.Mapu, C.Board, J.Tavai
OLB(3) M.Judon, J.Uche, A.Jennings
The arrest of second-year Cornerback Jack Jones may have thrown a monkey wrench into the Patriots’ defense’s plans for the 2023 season. J. Jones played outstanding during Spring practices and was all around the ball according to media reports. He was playing as the starting Right Cornerback. He has a probable cause hearing on August 18th, the day before the Green Bay pre-season game. First-round selection, Christian Gonzalez was a steal in the draft, after trading with Pittsburgh, at number 17. He is the big corner the team has been looking for and is just 21, the 3rd youngest player in this past draft. Reports are that he has looked as fluid and athletic as advertised. After re-signing with the Patriots, Jonathan Jones has been freed up to play the slot corner. Marcus Jones looked special as the All-Pro Punt Returner. The Patriots drafted two Special Teams cornerbacks Ameer Speed and Isaiah Bolden. Bolden was the only player that played at a Historically Black College or University. With some practice, Bolden may have the ability to play CB in the league. Both players are very athletic with outstanding 4.3 speed. Myles Bryant seems to be a favorite of fans to be cut every year. He is not the biggest player and that works against him, but he is a valuable member of the secondary and can play safety if needed. I think this may be the end of the Shaun Wade experiment, depending upon the Jack Jones outcome. The Patriots traded a 7th and 5th for Wade but the former All-American has never really worked out.
Quandre Mosely, Tae Hayes, and Rodney Randle would be candidates for the Practice Squad. I don’t think Wade would re-sign with the Patriots if cut.
CB (7) C.Gonzalez, Ma.Jones, Ja.Jones, M.Bryant, I.Bolden, A.Speed, Jon.Jones
Adrian Phillips has been terrific since the day the Patriots signed him. He will continue to move about the defense causing confusion amongst opposing QBs. He plays the run as well as any LB in the league. Jabari Peppers was a big surprise coming off ACL surgery the year before. He saw his playing time increase as the season wore on and ended up playing over 50% of the plays. The hard-hitting safety re-signed with the Patriots despite the crowded secondary. Kyle Dugger was my binky in the 2020 draft. I was hoping that Bill Belichick would trade out of the 1st round and take Dugger early in the 2nd. That was quite an unusual move for Belichick since Dugger played at D II Lenoir-Rhymes. Dugger has the size of an LB and can play all over the field. Would love to see the Patriots extend Dugger before he enters Free Agency next year. Jalen Mills has been moved to Free Safety. I have some concerns about his ability to play this position because of his lack of speed.
SS (3) K.Dugger, A.Phillips, J.Bledsoe
FS (3) J.Peppers, J.Mills
Looks like this will be a transition year for the Special Teams. Chad Ryland was taken in the 4th round and he will replace reliable but old placekicker Nick Folk. Punter Bryce Baringer showed off a big leg when punting this spring. His hang times were spectacular. Joe Cardona returns as the long-snapper with Matt Slater returning for his 16th season and 2nd-year player Brendan Schooler returns as the personnel protector. Schooler was leading the team in Special Teams tackles before he was hurt. Cody Davis is coming back from knee surgery and since he is over 30 I expect that it will be difficult for him to make the team.
ST (5) C.Ryland, B.Baringer, J.Cardona, M.Slater, B.Schooler
Total players: 53
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Passing of former Patriot Ryan Mallett
Saddened by the news that former Patriots QB, Ryan Mallett passed away from a drowning incident in Destin Florida. The former 3rd round draft pick of the 2011 Draft, played 8 seasons in the NFL, all as a backup. The drowning was first believed related to the string of drownings in the area that were the result of riptides. These riptides claimed the lives of 11 beachgoers in the Florida panhandle according to police. Police later said there were no riptides in that area.
Former Red Sox 3rd Baseman and current Color Analyst, Will Middlebrook was a close childhood friend. Mallett was a groomsman at Middlebrooks wedding. Middlebrooks tweeted “I got to go on the field pregame with the Patriots a couple of days after we won a World Series in 2013. Special memories with Mallett. Moments we always envisioned when we were kids running around the backyard. We lived out our dreams and were lucky enough to do it together.”
Middlebrooks mom had a touching tweet about her relationship with Mallett.
Mallett was 35 and was dating Madison Carter whom he was on vacation with when the accident happened. They had just announced their relationship on Instagram on June 1st. Mallet was married for just 4 months to Tiffany Seeley.
Dante Scarnecchia’s Recognition by the Pro Football Hall of Fame
The long-time Patriots assistant coach has had quite the year with the announcement by Robert Kraft of his election to the Patriots Hall of Fame and now The Pro Football Hall of Fame has selected him for the Award of Excellence. He is the 17th person to get the honor. His tenure as a coach started in 1999 through 2014 then after a 2 year hiatus away from the team he returned in 2016 through 2019. During that time he was part of 6 Super Bowl-winning teams.
JuWhuan Bentley’s Contract Extension
The second in two days, the Patriots extended the contract of team leader JuWhuan Bentley. This is a well-deserved extension and a smart move by the Patriots. Bentley can earn up to $18.75 M with $9M guaranteed. This gives Bentley some assurance and the Patriots’ Defense some stability.
Rookies Report in Two Weeks
That’s correct, the rookies show up on the 21st along with select veterans that are coming back from injuries. They will have to pass the conditioning test before they are allowed on the field. The remainder of the team comes in on the 25th with the 1st open practice on the 26th.
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