Patriots 53-man roster projection: New England has some tough decisions to make

With the NFL’s third and final roster cutdown deadline set for Tuesday 4 pm ET, the New England Patriots are going to need to trim the roster down significantly. This year is an interesting one to do that, because they have a ton of talent at the bottom of the team but are not going to be able to keep all of those players.

With that out of the way, here is my final 53-man projection. Of course, expect the Patriots to make a trade in the next two days that will render this list completely obsolete. It’s a fun exercise regardless, though, so here we go.

Quarterback

In (2): Mac Jones, Bailey Zappe

Out (1): Brian Hoyer

What happens to Brian Hoyer? I’m not sure, but I’m not keeping him on the 53-man roster. Rookie Zappe is just as good as he is right now, if not better, and a viable backup behind Mac Jones.

I know what Hoyer’s contract looks like, but I’m not concerned about the $2.8 million dead money cap. Maybe he ends up on injured reserve, maybe he retires, maybe they just flat-out cut him. Either way, I’m not using a spot on the roster on him given the depth and needs elsewhere on the team.

Running Back

In (5): Damien Harris, Rhamondre Stevenson, Ty Montgomery II, Pierre Strong Jr., Kevin Harris

Out (1): JJ Taylor

There have been some questions about whether or not the Patriots would keep Damien Harris, with his contract expiring at the end of the year. However, he is way more valuable to the Patriots than anything they would be going to get back in a trade, so I think he’s here this year.

The injury to Ty Montgomery might allow JJ Taylor to sneak onto the initial 53-man roster — something that I don’t believe would’ve happened if Montgomery were healthy. In this scenario, however, they waive Taylor with the hopes of re-signing him after moving Montgomery to injured reserve as early as Wednesday. That way, they would keep him eligible to be reactivated further down the stretch.

I do see a scenario where Pierre Strong Jr. or Kevin Harris ended up getting the Foxboro Flu, and they saved a roster spot here, but I decided to keep them both on my initial roster.

Wide Receiver

In (6): Jacoby Meyers, Kendrick Bourne, DeVante Parker, Nelson Agholor, Tyquan Thornton, Lil’Jordan Humphrey

Out (3): Tre Nixon, Josh Hammond, Christian Wilkerson

Anyone who has listened or read anything by me knows that the big story here is the release of Tre Nixon. The simple fact is that he just hasn’t done enough to earn himself a spot on a deep wide receiver group. The good news is that I expect him to make it back to the practice squad, so there is always next year for that hype train to truly take off.

Lil’ Jordan Humphrey, on the other hand, has done enough on both offense and special teams to earn himself a spot on the team. Tyquan Thornton will be moved right to injured reserve, but just like Ty Montgomery must be on the initial roster in order to be able to come back this season. I’m curious to see if one of the other receivers ends up getting called up from the practice squad (assuming both Hammond and Wilkerson get through).

Tight End

In (2): Hunter Henry, John Smith

Out (3): Devin Asiasi, Matt Sokol, Jalen Wydermyer

Is it risky to only keep two tight ends on the initial roster? Absolutely. Is there any other guy I think deserves to be on the roster over players at other positions? Absolutely not.

I think Matt Sokol might be the best option as a third tight end, but I assume he will be able to start the year on the practice squad. Asiasi might be as well, but his status as a former third-round draft pick might prompt a team to put in a waiver claim.

Offensive Line

In (9): Isaiah Wynn, Michael Onwenu, David Andrews, Cole Strange, Trent Brown, Kody Russey, William Sherman, Yodny Cajuste, Arlington Hambright

Out (6): Justin Herron, Yasir Durant, Drew Desjarlais, Chasen Hines, Bill Murray, James Ferentz

Barring a surprise trade or cut, we know who the starting five are going to be, so the question is who else are the Patriots going to keep. I picked the four players I thought played the best over the course of the summer.

Undrafted rookie Kody Russey has been arguably their best backup lineman, and, while I can’t see him taking over for David Andrews just yet, I do think that another team (like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who have no healthy centers) would jump at the chance to claim him off waivers. Arlington Hambright gives them the flexibility to play both guard and tackle, and William Sherman and Yodny Cajuste have been the most consistent backups at guard and tackle, respectively.

Rookie Chasen Hines has shown some promise, but I’m banking on him clearing waivers and making it to the practice squad.

Defensive Line

In (8): Christian Barmore, Lawrence Guy, Davon Godchaux, Deatrich Wise Jr., Matthew Judon, Josh Uche, Anfernee Jennings, DaMarcus Mitchell

Suspension (1): Daniel Ekuale

Out (5): Henry Anderson, Carl Davis Jr., Sam Roberts, LaBryan Ray, Jeremiah Pharms Jr.

This was the toughest position group to project for me, because the Patriots have a ton of young talent here. Anfernee “Penny” Jennings has been a revelation, making a huge impact this camp and preseason after a quiet rookie season and then not playing at all last year.

Ultimately, I decided to keep just eight guys here, and hope that one or both of Sam Roberts and LaBryan Ray find their way back onto the practice squad. The top seven are pretty solid, and Mitchell has given the Patriots a ton on special teams while also showing some good promise at rotational outside linebacker.

Daniel Ekuale gets pretty lucky here, because he’s suspended for the first two games and therefore doesn’t count against the initial roster. The Patriots will have an extra few weeks to figure out what they want to do with him.

Linebacker

In (4): Ja’Whaun Bentley, Raekwon McMillan, Mack Wilson Sr., Cameron McGrone

Out (3): Jahlani Tavai, Harvey Langi, Nate Wieland

The Patriots have revamped their linebacker room and are much faster and athletic at the position this year. That doesn’t mean they are going to be pushovers, though, as we have seen these guys hit hard and play the run well in camp and the preseason as well. I’m excited about this is going to look once the games start to matter.

Cameron McGrone is one of the last roster spots for me, if the Patriots feel like it’s more likely that he clears waivers than someone else, like Ray or Roberts, he might spend this season on the practice squad instead of the active roster. He has a ton of athleticism, but he is definitely a raw player who could use some more polishing after missing virtually all of 2021 while recovering from a torn ACL.

Cornerback

In (6): Jalen Mills, Jonathan Jones, Marcus Jones, Jack Jones, Shaun Wade, Myles Bryant

Out (1): Terrance Mitchell

Another position that has been totally switched up in the course of one offseason. Only half of New England’s cornerbacks played a game for the team last season, and Jonathan Jones spent the better part of 2021 on injured reserve. I do think that the rookies and sophomore Shaun Wade are very intriguing, and could help keep this unit solid this year.

Terrance Mitchell fought hard, but I think that Wade has a little bit of a higher upside than he does, which is why I ultimately chose him over the veteran. Myles Bryant, like Cameron McGrone, is near the bottom of the roster, and I could see the Patriots cutting him to start the season to try to get a different player onto the team if they think there is a better chance of Bryant clearing waivers.

Obviously, the Patriots do not have a player close to free agency departee JC Jackson, but, collectively, they have a good amount of talent.

Safety

In (5): Devin McCourty, Kyle Dugger, Adrian Phillips, Jabrill Peppers, Joshuah Bledsoe

Out (1): Brad Hawkins

This unit is absolutely loaded, and it seems all five of the safeties kept on the 53-man squad can contribute on the field this season. Joshuah Bledsoe has really popped on the field, and has been one of the top special teams guys as well. Expect this group to make a big impact this year, especially given the lack of high-end talent at cornerback.

Specialists

In (6): Nick Faulk, Jake Bailey, Joe Cardona, Brenden Schooler, Justin Bethel, Matthew Slater

Out (2): Tristan Vizcaino, Cody Davis

The only surprise here is that core special teamer Cody Davis is off the team. I replaced him with undrafted rookie Brenden Schooler, who looks like he might be New England’s next super special teamer. Some people think that both Davis and Schooler can make it, and, while I think that’s possible, I felt that there was too much talent elsewhere to keep one of the two around.

So, there you have it. The totally correct and not at all completely wrong and irrelevant final 53-man roster projection. This means that the preseason is now officially over, and the regular season is just around the corner. Just think about it: In only two weeks from today, you will be reading my breakdown of the Patriots’ opening game in Miami.

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