Patriots 53-Man Roster Projection: Looking Ahead After Minicamp

Which players are trending up or down heading into the summer break?

by Zack Cox

23 hours ago

Bill Belichick often emphasizes that spring practice is about teaching and learning. The true competition and evaluation, the Patriots head coach says, doesn’t start until training camp begins in late July.

So any declaration that a player has secured his place in organized team activities and minicamp is premature. The list of New England players who flashed in the spring only to fade in the summer is long, with wide receivers Tre Nixon (2022) and Maurice Harris (2019) being two recent examples.

But that doesn’t mean spring drills are useless. It’s the first time coaches — and ultimately members of the media — get to see how a team’s new collection of players fares on the field together. Trends emerge. Surprises happen.

Reporters were allowed to watch a total of five Patriots practice between OTAs and minicamp, with the team canceling a scheduled sixth Wednesday to close out the spring schedule. Based on what we observed in those five drills, and with the aforementioned caveats in mind, here’s our latest crack at predicting New England’s first 53-man roster:

In: Mac Jones, Bailey Zappe
Out: Trace McSorley

McSorley looks like an ideal practice squad candidate. Undrafted rookie Malik Cunningham is listed at quarterback but is trying to switch to wide receiver.

In: Rhamondre Stevenson, Ty Montgomery, Pierre Strong, Kevin Harris
Out: JJ Taylor

The Patriots already made a cut here, releasing James Robinson during minicamp. Montgomery bounced between running back and receiver this spring and looked, as Bill Belichick put it, “really healthy” after missing nearly all of last season with an injury. Strong, who barely played offensively as a rookie, was also heavily involved in the passing game. Can they provide the depth behind Stevenson that the Patriots lacked last season? We will see. With a row big name back pages still lingering in free agency, it wouldn’t be surprising to see a midsummer addition here.

In: Hunter Henry, Mike Gesicki, Matt Sokol
Out: Anthony Firkser, Scotty Washington, Johnny Lumpkin

Since the Patriots are expected to major in two-tight end sets this season, it makes sense for them to have at least one backup at the position. Who it will be depends on what they are looking for from that place. We gave Sokol the nod because he can provide some of the blocking ability that the Henry/Gesicki duo lacks, but if the Patriots want another pass-catching option, they could go with Firkser, who has far more NFL experience than Sokol , or converted receiver Washington. Lumpkin, a massive UDFA who looks like an offensive tackle, could also be in the mix if New England wants pure blocking for heavier sets.

In: JuJu Smith-Schuster, DeVante Parker, Kendrick Bourne, Tyquan Thornton, Demario Douglas
Out: Kayshon Boutte, Tre Nixon, Raleigh Webb, Malik Cunningham, Ed Lee

A DeAndre Hopkins signing would obviously change things here, with his arrival potentially pushing someone like Parker off the roster. The Patriots could immediately part ways with Parker or Kendrick Bourne if they feel the need to clear salary cap space, or hold on to this entire group, plus Hopkins, until closer to cut day. They were already thin at wideout this spring, with Smith-Schuster, Thornton and Boutte all missing multiple practices, so the latter might be the more desirable path.

Of course, there’s no guarantee Hopkins will leave his Patriots visit with a contract. If he does not come on board, the first four names on the list must be locked in the watch places. We have Douglas going fifth and final at the moment, but the battle between him and fellow rookies Boutte, Cunningham and Lee will be one to watch in camp. Of that group, Lee — a UDFA from Rhode Island — showed up the most in spring practice.

In: Trent Brown, Calvin Anderson, Conor McDermott, Riley Reiff, Sidy Sow
Out: Andrew Stueber

If Brown is healthy and on his game, this group should be in decent shape. If not, things can get ugly. His status is one of the Patriots’ biggest X-factors after he didn’t fully participate in any of New England’s spring practices.

In: David Andrews, Cole Strange, Mike Onwenu, Jake Andrews, Atonio Mafi
Out: Bill Murray, James Ferentz, Chasen Hines, Kody Russey

The top trio here is set, assuming Onwenu recovers from his offseason ankle surgery in time for the season. The question: Will rookies Jake Andrews and Mafi push out all of last year’s depth options? Both saw first-team reps at right guard this spring with Onwenu on the sidelines and Andrews able to back up David Andrews at center.

In: Dazu Godchaux, Christian Barmore, Deatrich Wise, Keion White, Carl Davis, Daniel Ekuale
Out: Lawrence Guy, Sam Roberts, Jeremiah Pharms, DaMarcus Mitchell, Justus Tavai

We mentioned Guy as a potential surprise cut in our first roster projection, and he falls on the wrong side of the cutline here after skipping mandatory minicamp, reportedly due to a contract dispute. White could also be lumped together with the edge rushers; he saw reps as a hands-in-the-dirt D-end and a stand-up outside linebacker this spring. As with the O-linemen, we’ll get a much better feel for this group once the pads enter training camp.

In: Matthew Judon, Ja’Whaun Bentley, Marte Mapu, Jahlani Tavai, Josh Uche, Anfernee Jennings, Chris Board, Mack Wilson
Out: Ronnie Perkins, Terez Hall, Calvin Munson, Olakunle Fatukasi

Injured reserve: Raekwon McMillan

The most fascinating player in this position group is Mapu, who played both linebacker and deep safety in OTAs and minicamp. Several veteran players noted how the third-round rookie’s versatility will help the Patriots become more unpredictable.

In: Christian Gonzalez, Jonathan Jones, Jack Jones, Marcus Jones, Myles Bryant, Isaiah Bolden
Out: Ameer Speed, Shaun Wade Quandre Mosely, Rodney Randle

The leading cornerback quartet of Gonzalez and the three Joneses showed a ton of potential this spring, with Gonzalez living up to his first-round billing in non-padded drills. Bryant is unpopular with Patriots fans, but he’s a smart, versatile player who can provide depth in the slot and at safety. For the final spot here, Bolden got the nod over another late-round rookie Speed ​​because of his kick return ability.

In: Kyle Dugger, Adrian Phillips, Jabrill Peppers, Jalen Mills
Out: Joshuah Bledsoe, Brad Hawkins

Bledsoe was a tough cut, but the Patriots are so deep here with Mapu also in the mix, and Jonathan Jones, Marcus Jones and Bryant could all fall back at safety. We still don’t have a clear picture of who Devin McCourty’s primary replacement will be, but Peppers believes losing the longtime free safety could be a blessing in disguise.

In: K Chad Ryland, P Bryce Baringer, LS Joe Cardona, ST Matthew Slater, ST Brenden Schooler
Out: K Nick Folk, P Corliss Waitman, LS Tucker Addington, ST Jourdan Heilig

Physically unable to perform list: ST Cody Davis

We strongly considered keeping Heilig, who spent the entire spring glued to Slater instead of working at his listed position of linebacker. The Appalachian State product might have the best shot of anyone to extend the Patriots’ UDFA streak. But he falls short for now. This projection also has both of New England’s rookie specialists on the way, but they will have to win those jobs over veterans Folk and Waitman this summer.

Thumbnail image via Eric Canha/USA TODAY Sports Images

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