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New England Patriots 53-man Roster Projection 1.0

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I know what you’re thinking: a New England Patriots 53-man roster projection? Now? It’s not even time for training camp for another month.

Yes, I know. This is way too early for a 53-man roster projection. Who can tell anything about the near 90 players on the New England Patriots’ roster from a handful of voluntary practices and organized team activities (OTAs)? So we’ll have a little fun with this 53-man roster projection and I’ll try to keep my “Fire Josh McDaniels” opinions to my Twitter account.

Well, this is Patriots 53-man roster projection version 1.0. There’s a long way to go until the season opens against the Dolphins in Foxboro, MA on September 12th. Also, there will be plenty more of these 53-man mock rosters to come throughout the preseason (do we not call them “mock rosters” because of fear of replacing “Rock Lobster” with “Mock Rosters” in the B-52s 1978 classic song. Just walking around the house singing, “And there they saw a mock / It wasn’t a mock / It was a mock roster / Mock roster!”).

OK, full truth and all cards on the table: This 53-man roster projection is just about impossible. Not just because it is so early in the preseason. But because the 2021 New England Patriots have a ton of quality depth on the roster right now. I’m up to iteration 16. This should be roster projection 1.16 because 1-15 had between 55 to 73 players on the 53-man roster projection. 

Look no further than this roster depth as a reason why the AFC East is again wide open. Yes, the Buffalo Bills are going to regress and should be scared of the Patriots in 2021. Brian Flores was a great story last year, but Tua was clearly the third-best quarterback on the roster in 2020 and probably battling Zach Wilson for the worst of the division. The Jets…I’ll believe it when I see it.

Back to the Patriots, though. Depth, it’s EVERYWHERE!

Offense? Check.

Defense? Check.

Special Teams? Check. 

Sorting out the starting quarterback is the big question of the preseason as there are two (maybe three?) quarterbacks on the roster battling for the starting role at the most important position on the team. If the Patriots get that right, with the new offensive weapons and beefed-up defense, they are right back in the AFC East battle.

So enough preamble, let’s get to the mock roster (Mock Roster! Help me, I can’t stop singing it in my head now.). Sorry, let’s get on with the 53-man roster projection.

53-man roster projection – OFFENSE (24):

Quarterbacks (2) : Mac Jones and Cam Newton

What about Jarrett Stidham, you “Stid the Kid” fans may ask? (Remember everyone buying Stidham jerseys after Brady left in free agency last year?) 

Well, what about him? He’s third best and there’s only room for two.

He’s not better than Jones, Cam is the starter and the roster is STACKED. No room for any third-stringers around here. Get out! (and take Brian Hoyer with you to the Texans, “Stid the Kid”).

Running Back (5): Damien Harris, Sony Michel, Rhamondre Stevenson, James White and Jakob Johnson:

Someone will get hurt in training camp and let Bill Belichick sneak Brandon Bolden back onto the roster. Sorry, Tyler Gaffney’s comeback is a great story but he’ll be lucky to get a practice squad invite. J.J. Taylor looks like he’s stuck on the practice squad for “Break Glass in Case of Emergency” situations. 

Oh yeah, 1,250+ yards rushing for Damien Harris. Chisel that prediction in stone. Sony will get hurt at some point this year, that’s an easy bonus prediction for free. 

On a serious note, Stevenson could become the goal line vulture and steal a bunch of touchdowns. Add in the tight ends and we may see more creative play calling inside the five-yard rather than Cam left, Cam right, Cam up the middle (Stop. No fire Josh McDaniels comments–I made a promise.)

Interested to see White’s role this year. He was kind of forgotten last year. With a deeper receiving group and the attention on the tight ends, he could see an uptick in usage. I left Jakob Johnson on the roster. Yes, Dalton Keene may be an H-Back, but I’m ready to see a fullback and two (three?) tight ends on the field and the Patriots playing some bully ball in 2021.

Tight End (4): Hunter Henry, Jonnu Smith, Dalton Keene, and Devin Asiasi

I’ve spent most every day wondering how Josh McDaniels is going to somehow screw up an offense with two (maybe three–I still am firmly in “Camp Asiasi”) dynamic tight ends (sorry, last time, I swear.). The other days I’ve dreamed of five tight end offenses and how I can get Troy Fumagalli on the roster. 

Fumagalli can play. His nickname is “The Phantom Finger”. He only has nine fingers! Fumagalli can block. He can play H-back. Sure, he’s third-string behind Jonnu Smith and Dalton Keene in the blocking/H-back tight end role. So what? Realistically, maybe practice squad eligible this year instead and can stick around.

Wait, Matt LaCosse is still on the roster? Really? After he opted out of 2019 and 2020…wait, he played in 2019? He was the “no production tight end” that year? GET HIM OUTTA HERE ALREADY!!!

Wide Receiver (5): Jakobi Meyers, Nelson Agholor, Kendrick Bourne, N’Keal Harry and Matthew Slater

Gunner Olszewski, sorry, kid. All Pro punt returner and no room in the wide receiver room. Tre Nixon, so sorry and don’t care that Ernie Adams picked you–it’s practice squad time. Ditto for freaky athletic Kristian Wilkerson and speedster Isaiah Zuber. 

Young veteran deep-threat Marvin Hall likely needs an injury to make the roster. Devin Smith? What a great story that would be. Pure speed there for the former 2015 second-round draft pick of the J-E-T-S, Jets, Jets, Jets. But not going to happen.

The media constantly underrates Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne. I understand, who was watching the Las Vegas Raiders games last year? But both are HUGE upgrades to the offense. I’ll keep N’Keal Harry on the roster because although I may be the last one, I still believe he can be a productive wide receiver in the NFL. (On a side note, how many media/television/radio call him K’Neal? I should make a list. It cracks me up every time.)

Wait, who’s returning punts and kicks now? Hmmm, good question. Let’s call that TBD. Maybe N’Keal Harry or Sony Michel gets traded to a needy team during training camp and there’s space for Gunner. 

Offensive Line (8): Isaiah Wynn, Michael Onwenu, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Trent Brown, Justin Herron, Ted Karras, and Will Sherman

First, there’s a lot of position versatility so we’ll lump all the big guys together. Second, Michael Onwenu, can we call you Mike? You were worthy of offensive rookie of the year last year. You’re in year two in Foxboro. We’re your biggest fans here at Full Press Coverage Patriots, so we’re pals? Can we call you Mike?

Marcus Martin is a legit NFL guard/center. I feel terrible leaving him off the roster. Ditto for Alex Redmond. If interior offensive line help is needed, though, somehow, someway, the call will come to the frozen winter fields of Iowa and James Ferentz will end up on the roster and starting a game at center or guard at some point.

R.J. Prince made the 90-man roster after participating on a tryout basis at OTAs, but he is focusing on making  the practice squad not the roster. Otherwise, the front five is set in stone and even after losing Joe Thuney in free agency, this unit should be a top-five line.

The final spot on the offensive line comes down to rookie Will Sherman, Korey Cunningham or Yodny Cajuste? The unknown rookie versus the invisible offensive tackle (Cunningham has been on the roster for two years and played one game in 2019 and 46 offensive snaps last year, but no one I mention his name to can tell me anything about him) versus the mystery man third-round draft pick (has anyone ever seen Yodny Cajuste? Is he a real person or a cover-up that the Patriots drafted a made-up player in the third round?).That’s a tough call. When in doubt, go with the shiny new object.

53-man roster projection – DEFENSE (26):

Defensive Line (6): Lawrence Guy, Henry Anderson, Deatrich Wise, Christian Barmore, Davon Godchaux and Montravius Adams

With the positional versatility of the defenders on this team, slotting into positions can be difficult. Who’s the nose tackle? Is Wise a defensive tackle or defensive end? Let’s keep it simple and go with “defensive line.”

Again, a deep position. I can find absolutely no room for last year’s emergency contributors Carl Davis, Akeem Spence, Bill Murray, and Nick Thurman. Some of them may end up on the practice squad and those spots are what they are likely hoping for in camp (or an injury).

The cut that kills me is Byron Cowart, who was active and started 14 games last season.  I desperately want to keep him. Big kid, great attitude, plays hard, one of the few defenders who looked capable against the run last year–I have nothing but good things to say about him. The return of Lawrence Guy and additions of Barmore, Anderson, Godchaux and Adams make the one-dimensional two-gapper irrelevant on defense.

Adams and Godchaux should upgrade the run defense on the interior. Anderson and Wise can rush the passer a little and hold up in the running game. Barmore will replace longtime interior pass rusher Adam Butler (another traitor who left for Miami!) on passing downs.

EDGE Rushers (6): Matt Judon, Ronnie Perkins, Chase Winovich, Kyle Van Noy, Josh Uche and Anfernee Jennings

Again, position titles are absolutely useless on this defense. Who’s a 4-3 end and who’s a 3-4 OLB? We’ll keep it simple again and call them edge rushers and lump them all together (and yes, Winovich may get some work inside at times like Van Noy).

Last year saw Chase Winovich in a larger role and the decline of John Simon and injuries to Shilique Calhoun and Brandon Copeland thrust rookies Josh Uche and Anfernee Jennings into the lineup to grab rare snaps as rookies. For Uche and Jennings, the extra work last year should pay off this season.

Judon and Van Noy should get the majority of work with Uche forcing his way on the field with his explosiveness. This position is so deep that Winovich and Jennings are on the outside looking in for playing time as Judon, Van Noy and Uche are likely to eat up the snaps on the edge.

A lot of talk this week of potentially trading Winovich. Really? He’s on a cheap contract, he’s a “Patriot Hustle Guy”, he’s on a cheap contract, and he’s growing as a run defender.  Did I mention he’s on a cheap contract?

Inside Linebackers (3): Dont’a Hightower, Ja’Whaun Bentley and Raekwon McMillan

Should we try this as a Question and Answer segment?

Question one: “What about Cameron McGrone?” 

Answer one: Good question. He’s starting the year on injured reserve. There’s no space on the roster for a linebacker still recovering from a torn ACL.

Question two: “OK, smart guy, what about Terez Hall?”

Answer two: Do you see those tears running down my cheeks? I LOVE Terez Hall. The man plays like he was shot out of a cannon each play. Serious man-crush territory here. 

Question three: “Harvey Langi?”

Answer three: Stop it, stop it. I’m in an emotional state already talking about Terez Hall. Harvey Langi back from the Jets is a boon and now I have to think of there being no room on the roster for him.

OK, no more questions. Hightower being back is huge. Bentley should play better with less pressure having to play Hightower’s role on defense. Van Noy and Uche can play inside to add extra pass rush to the position. McMillan doesn’t have an apostrophe in his first name, but we’ll let that slide and include him as an inside linebacker.

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Cornerbacks (6): Stephon Gilmore, J.C. Jackson, Jalen Mills, Jonathan Jones, Myles Bryant and Joejuan Williams

First things first. I am predicting a three-year Stephon Gilmore extension before the season starts. He’ll be in Foxboro this year and beyond. Trading Gilmore seems ludicrous. He’s the linchpin of the defense.

J.C. Jackson? I could see him getting shipped off for a draft pick if a team has a catastrophic injury at cornerback during training camp (hint: I cannot fathom the Patriots paying Jackson, who has failed as a number one cornerback repeatedly when Gilmore was out, anything even close to what he will get in free agency next year.). He’s a solid CB2, nothing personal but you shouldn’t want him as your CB1.

Cornerback is yet another stacked position on this defense. Jon Jones is incredibly overlooked as one of the best slot cornerbacks in the league. Jalen Mills, aka “The Green Goblin” (I’ve been reading Spider-Man comics since 1979–OF COURSE Mills is my instant favorite player), can play anywhere in the secondary. He’s a swiss army knife for the Belichick boys. Bryant was an undrafted free agent find who played 156 defensive snaps and also played on special teams last year. 

Joejuan Williams has positional versatility and should be able to be used against certain larger wide receivers and tight ends. Expect more of a role for the 2019 2nd round draft pick. I hate the idea of cutting Michael Jackson (I mean, just for the “Thriller” mentions during the game), but he is a strong press coverage cornerback. An injury or trade can squeeze him onto the roster.

Safeties (5): Devin McCourty, Kyle Dugger, Adrian Philips, Justin Bethel and Brandon King

How great is Adrian Phillips? Is there a player more fun to watch than the hard-hitting safety? Oh yeah, younger and faster hard-hitting safety Kyle Dugger. Dugger is just dripping with “future superstar”. Add in veteran free safety Devin McCourty who continues to flash top-end speed into his 30s and the safety position is yet another deep group.

Jalen Mills and Joejuan Williams can both play safety as well. That basically gets us five deep. Rookie Joshuah Bledsoe will likely be stashed on injured reserve to get him ready for 2022. Somehow, I have to figure out how to get “safety in name only” Cody Davis on the roster for his special teams contributions. Haven’t figured that out yet.

53-man roster projection – SPECIALISTS (3):

First, Matthew Slater, Justin Bethel and Brandon King are three specialists basically stuck into the offense and defense. I tried to make room for Cody Davis (and Brandon Bolden) as I imagine somehow they will be on the roster contributing to the special teams unit. How that will happen, I have no idea. Injuries? Trades? Creative stashing of young players on the practice squad? 

Hopefully, that will sort itself out as we get through training camp and the preseason.

Kicker (1): Nick Folk

The Roberto Aguayo experiment did not get past OTAs. Undrafted free agent Quinn Nordin will have training camp to show he can be accurate enough to steal the job from Folk.

Nordin has consistently been described as having “a big leg”. Obviously, that means he’s got distance and power on his kicks. However, it presents the delightful visual image of him having a disproportionately larger leg and using that additional torque to kick the ball further than Folk. 

That said, Folk has a history of big kicks in New England, accuracy and guaranteed money, which should be enough to win the job.

Punter (1): Jake Bailey

There was no competition. Bailey is a weapon at the punter position now. Heck, he could have been team MVP last year. 

Long Snapper (1): Joe Cardona

Cardona, the Navy alum, has long held down the long snapper position. The Patriots scooped up Wes Farnsworth for the OTAs but he was waived last week. Cardona has no competition the rest of the way.



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