NEPD Editor: Mike Loyko
Since the last roster projection six days ago the Patriots played their first pre-season game and decided to make a few roster moves. With three weeks remaining until rosters are cut down to 75 and ultimately 53, there is still time to make an impression on Bill Belichick.
But, the clock is ticking and now is the time where the “contenders” separate themselves from the “pretenders”. Heading into the second pre-season game here is how I see the current Patriots roster shaking out.
No change after the first pre-season game. Jimmy Garoppolo is trending in the right direction and while Ryan Mallet is inconsistent, his roster spot is rock solid.
Running Backs (3)
Stephen Houston was cut on Sunday after fumbling vs. the Redskins and not taking advantage of his opportunities in practice. Carrying only three backs isn’t ideal, but there isn’t another back in the roster worthy of a spot right now. A Ridley – Vereen – White combo gives the Patriots three quality backs with diverse skills to complement one another. Any other runner that makes the roster won’t see many carries with these three firmly entrenched in their roles.
Develin will be the equivilent of a utility player for the Patriots this season. The lack of depth at both Running Back and Tight End can be supplemented by the ever-improving Fullback. Develin can provide physicality as lead and inline blocker, can handle short yardage carries, and can even catch the ball. Develin was a bubble player at this time last year and now he looks like an integral part to this offense.
Tight End (2)
Ben Hartsock was added over the weekend and has a shot to make the final roster. I just can’t find a spot for him without cutting a drafted WR that will be lost to another team if cut. Hartsock is a terrific blocker and could be on the “Foxboro Shuttle” during the regular season. Justin Jones and Asa Watson were both cut after their underwhelming (to say the least) pre-season performance. It was clear neither player was going to contribute this season.
Wide Receiver (6)
Brian Tyms (Reserve/Suspended)
Many analysts have Josh Boyce on the roster bubble, but I don’t see him getting cut yet. If you look at the composition of this roster there is a gigantic hole at kick returner and that hole becomes much bigger if Boyce is released. Boyce will also immediately get claimed by another NFL team and possibly in the division (the Dolphins had Boyce’s name written down and ready to turn in before the Patriots picked him last year). Bill Belichick has been known to give his draft picks two seasons to show their worth before cutting ties and Boyce deserves more time. Aaron Dobson was back at practice and off PUP list which means he will be on the active roster and ready to play week one. That’s a big development.
Brian Tyms is suspended for the first four games of the season and that could help his chances of sticking around. The Patriots can stash him on Reserve/Suspended list for the first month and then get him on the practice squad when the roster choices are easier.
Offensive Line (9)
The same nine players from my last roster projection. The Patriots could keep only 8 offensive linemen if the rookies show enough promise in the preseason games and if they really want to get another Tight End on the roster. Hartsock’s blocking skills can negate the loss of another blocker. In that scenario Dan Connolly or Josh Kline is the odd man out.
Defensive Tackles (5)
Dominique Easley practiced in pads for the first time on Monday. Easley’s return means that he will not start the season on Non-Football Injury list and should be ready for week one. His return comes at the perfect time because the Defensive Tackle depth took a big hit over the last week. Sealver Siliga was lost to a hand/arm injury in Redskins’ joint practices and Chris Jones was lost to an ankle/knee injury. Jones dodged a huge bulllet as his injury looked pretty serious when he got rolled up on by Marcus Forston. Both players are expected to be back in the next month.
Defensive Ends (5)
The position remains in a some what tenuous and unsettled state. After Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich there isn’t another roster lock, although Buchanan looks safe after Bill Belichick’s comments regarding his play. The number of defensive ends retained is dependent upon the versatility of the defensive tackles. Dominique Easley will definitely see time at defensive end and Chris Jones was lining up there in the first pre-season game. Will Smith is firmly on the bubble, but with some much raw, unproven talent it’d be nice to have a veteran pass rusher that can play multiple schemes.
A little bit of a shake up from my last roster projection. Darius Fleming made a good first impression during the Redskins game, especially versus the rum. Fleming is more versatile than some of the other back-up LB candidates because he’s experienced rushing the passer from his college days. Steve Beauharnais made some noticeable mistakes in pass defense and was slow to drop into his zones, but he did enough to hold his spot for now. If an injury occurs to an Inside Linebacker Beauharnais is the only player capable of playing major snaps. He needs to play better in these next three games to retain his spot. Chris White is the odd man out, but as one of the core Special Teams players it’s won’t be a surprise if he makes it.
No player helped themselves more than Malcolm Butler during the first pre-season game. Butler played great in coverage and wasn’t intimedated in his first NFL game. Butler looked like he belonged playing confident, physical, and broke up a number of plays. Butler currently has the inside track towards the 5th cornerback spot, not bad for an UDFA from West Alabama.
Safety remains the toughest position on the roster to project. Thus far nobody has stepped up and grabbed the starting Safety spot next to Devin McCourty. Duron Harom, Tavon Wilson, and Patrick Chung have all gotten reps and now rookie 6th round pick Jemea Thomas is practicing for the first time. Harmon’s spot on the roster is secure whether he’s starting or not. That leaves one or two spots (depending on the final breakdown) for Ebner, Wilson, Chung, and Thomas.
Ebner is a core Special Teams player, but so is Jemea Thomas. Thomas can also play both Safety and Cornerback, while Patrick Chung can play meaningful snaps. Tavon Wilson is on he roster as of now, but can easily be knocked off if Jemea Thomas shows flashes of the impact he made in college.
The only spot where there is competition is at Long Snapper and Danny Aiken played the meaningful snaps last Thursday. Tyler Ott will have to step his efforts up if he wants to unseat the incumbent snapper.
Final Cuts: Patrick Chung, Jemea Thomas, Brandon Bolden, DJ Williams Chris White, Jake Bequette, Ryan Wendell, Joe Vellano
Kanorris Davis, Safety
Roy Finch, Running Back
Brian Tyms, Wide Receiver (post-suspension)
Jemea Thomas, Corner/Safety (if he makes it through waivers)
Cameron Gordon, Linebacker
Dax Swanson, Cornerback
Jordan Devey, Tackle/Guard
James Morris, Linebacker