On Friday night, the Patriots showed the results of fruitful practices in training camp and joint practices, culminating in a convincing 20-10 win over the Panthers.
While the well-rounded performance gives a really good sign as to the state of the team, it makes picking 53 members very difficult. Here is my prediction of where the roster picture stands after two preseason games.
Quarterbacks On The Patriots’ Roster: Mac Jones, Bailey Zappe
Mac Jones is an obvious lock here, and unlike last year, the Patriots won’t be undergoing a quarterback competition. While he missed some early connections, he nailed some big throws down the stretch.
While Brian Hoyer has been serviceable in two preseason games, I only see the Patriots rostering two quarterbacks, and Bailey Zappe’s play solidified that more. He made some difficult throws, showed poise, distributed the ball well, and improved greatly from week one.
Running Backs On The Patriots’ Roster: Damien Harris, Rhamondre Stevenson, Ty Montgomery, JJ Taylor, Pierre Strong
Harris and Stevenson are expected to be a two-headed monster. While they didn’t make a significant impact against Carolina, when the regular season comes, they will be heavily involved in the offense. In addition, Ty Montgomery has changed from a player on the roster bubble to a virtual lock. His ability to line up both as a back and a receiver can help replace the dual-threat ability of the retired James White. He showed his speed and agility against Carolina and was even able to get into the end zone.
While JJ Taylor is still somewhat on the bubble, he certainly made a strong case for himself tonight. He had some explosive runs, and his 33 yards off six carries didn’t even include a 13-yard run taken back because of a hold on the opposite side of the play. He even picked up a blitz and had a very nice block, which could be a handy ability.
Rookie Pierre Strong, the fastest back in the draft, improved from last week and had a couple of impressive runs, and he showed off his speed while still showing room for improvement in getting the tough yards. He also showed some potential in the kick-returning department.
Kevin Harris showed some flashes of talent in the running and passing games. However, while the sixth-round pick showed promise, the Patriots may not have the room to roster him, and of the rookies, Strong is the more likely one to get onto the field.
Wide Receivers On The Patriots’ Roster: Jakobi Meyers, Kendrick Bourne, Devante Parker, Tyquan Thornton, Nelson Agholor, Lil’Jordan Humphrey
While Bourne not playing today was certainly a surprise, his reliability will assure him ample playing time. Jakobi and Devante also have too much talent not to have a significant role for the Patriots. While they took some time to get going, they both had impressive catches against Carolina and should get even better as camp and preseason roll along. Thorntons’ Injury should have no effect on whether he makes the roster or not.
Nelson Agholor was a player I had off the roster a few days ago because I thought his skillsets were covered, but he has had a good camp, and his two catches, one in a short-yardage situation to get a first down and the other off a deep ball from Mac, were impressive.
This summer, he has shown the speed, agility, and coordination with the quarterbacks to establish himself as a deep threat and hopefully put last season’s disappointment in the past. As a result, he should make the roster.
Lil’Jordan Humphrey could genuinely be what N’Keal Harry should have been for the Patriots, a receiver with size and reliable catching ability. He has vaulted into a guy who could get some significant playing time. He was someone Bailey Zappe could lean on, made several impressive catches, and led the Patriots with five receptions for 71 yards. While doing so, he showed his game speed and ability to change direction.
Wilkerson and Nixon have been impressive, too and could very well be considered. I have them off, and Nixon drops worry me a bit, but his back shoulder catches and Wilkerson’s explosive ability are not to be messed with, and they certainly would be tremendous additions to the practice squad. Unfortunately, Josh Hammond will not contend for a roster spot with no catches off seven targets this preseason.
Offensive Line On The Patriots’ Roster: Cole Strange, Trent Brown, Michael Onwenu, David Andrews, Isaiah Wynn, Yodney Cajuste, Arlington Hambright
Cole Strange has looked solid in his limited workload so far in both preseason games and camp, and he is on track to start week one. Isaiah Wynn is a lock but needs to show some improvement to justify his contract. Andrews, Onwenu, and Brown are locked and have been rock-solid so far. The starting unit has been somewhat porous but the Carolina game showed some signs of improvement.
Cajuste has been reliable and has even won reps against guys like Christian Barmore. While it’s uncertain how much playing time he will get, he should make the roster. Hambright has come out of nowhere to be an intimidating presence in practice and game action, and his college tape shows his ability to plant his feet and hold steady for a block but also advance and create holes for running.
Herron was initially on my pre-camp roster, but his poor play during camp and his contribution to offensive line struggles in 11-on-11 practices has taken him off. James Ferentz, already on the bubble, had a poor game against Carolina, had a couple of missed blocks (one where he allowed a sack on Mac Jones), and obvious penalties. Both have promise, but things need to be tighter in the trenches.
Tight Ends On The Patriots’ Roster: Hunter Henry, Jonnu Smith, Devin Asiasi
Hunter and Jonnu are certain locks for roster spots and have the potential to be the best tight-end duo in New England since 2012. For that, though, the playcalling will have to be innovative to make the best of Jonnu’s varied skill set, and we haven’t seen them use him much in preseason.
Initially, I didn’t have a third tight end on my roster. However, yesterday’s consecutive connections between Devin Asiasi and Bailey Zappe changed my mind. Asiasi ran some good routes, made difficult catches, and made life easy for Bailey Zappe against Carolina. That should be just enough to keep him on the roster.
I don’t see Dalton Keene keeping a spot. He has been a nonfactor in preseason and training camp, and while his build could suit a fullback role, Nick Caley seems to be going towards eliminating the fullback position.
Defensive Line On The Patriots’ Roster: Lawrence Guy, Devon Godchaux, Deatrich Wise, Christian Barmore, Sam Roberts, LaBryan Ray
The entire unit took a big step up against Carolina. Deatrich Wise has been steadily improving and was able to get into the offensive backfield with a sack of PJ Walker. Godchaux also had a couple of impressive tackles. With much to prove with that contract extension, he’s on the way to doing just that. Barmore has been the camp star and looked great in head-to-head matchups against the Patriots’ offensive line.
LaBryan Ray, while he was undrafted, has played well above that and has been impressive in camp and preseason. He can get in the backfield, shed blocks vertically, and track the runner in short yardage situations. He has made a solid case to make the 53. Late-rounder Sam Roberts has had a slower start to camp but has been settling in nicely and had impressive moments stopping the run and getting pressure. He should make the roster.
Daniel Ekuale and Henry Anderson have shown potential but haven’t been disruptive enough to make the roster this year.
Linebackers On The Patriots’ Roster: Matthew Judon, Juwan Bentley, Mack Wilson, Anfernee Jennings, Josh Uche, Raekwon McMillan, Cam McGrone, Ronnie Perkins
Judon will look to build on his success last season and can hopefully keep it going in the second half this time around. Emerging as a locker room leader, Bentley got some impressive pressure. Mack Wilson has been an emerging player in camp. 2020 third-round pick Jennings was lined up with the first-team and has been impressive in pass rush and run situations. He should make the roster and show improvement from his first two seasons.
Uche and McMillan were on the border but have seen their roles slowly increase and both have been impressive preseason, recording important tackles and sacks in both games. McGrone’s speed and awareness make up for his missed tackle problem and warrant a place on the roster. I had Ronnie Perkins off my roster last week, but I’ll put him in there now because he has been impressive against multiple packages, recording pass deflections and sacks, and showing his quickness and agility.
Jahlani Tavai just barely misses the cut. He has been impressive in camp and against Carolina but rostering nine linebackers at the expense of other positions is not worth it.
Cornerbacks On The Patriots’ Roster: Jalen Mills, Jonathan Jones, Terrance Mitchell, Jack Jones, Marcus Jones, Shaun Wade
Jalen Mills has really started to settle into the top CB role and has done well against the best of the Patriots’ receiver core in camp. Jonathan Jones is showing himself to be potent on the outside and had a good game against Carolina. If he can stay healthy, he should be a solid second option. Terrance Mitchell still hasn’t found his 2017 form, but his experience will make him a useful veteran in this group.
Marcus Jones has been excellent during camp. Jack has shown his skills as a ball hawk and deflected a pass last week, and nearly picked one off against the Panthers. They will likely start in the slot but with experience, can be effective outside with their excellent speed.
I didn’t have Shaun Wade on the Patriots’ roster after game one. But he has been improving in practice, and as he adjusts to the offense, is getting better and better at reading offenses. His interception against Carolina was an impressive read and an even more athletic catch. He should make it. Myles Bryant has been impressive returning punts, but he will likely be left off because the corners group contains an even more potent returner for the Patriots in Marcus Jones.
Safeties On The Patriots’ Roster: Kyle Dugger, Devin McCourty, Adrian Phillips, Jabrill Peppers, Josh Bledsoe
Dugger, McCourty, Phillips, and Peppers are a very solid core and have been developing more and more chemistry in camp. They’re a good core four for the group and contribute different skillsets that complement each other. Bledsoe, however, has emerged on the scene, having an impressive training camp. The 2021 sixth-rounder has had some great tackles that have saved yards and his forced fumble against Carolina showed his ability to get after the ball.
Special Teams On The Patriots’ Roster: Matthew Slater, Nick Folk, Jake Bailey, Joe Cardona, Brenden Schooler
Folk, Bailey, and Cardona have been a rock-solid trio for the Patriots’ kicking and punting game. Folk doesn’t miss inside 40 and Bailey’s punts have had hangtime and distance. Tristain Viscaino is barely left off. He’d be a useful reserve for the practice squad.
All-time great special teamer Slater is aging, but not waning and the perennial Pro Bowler looks to continue to do big things for the Patriots. Schooler is showing shades of that kind of play as well. His experience as a receiver and safety bode well for his awareness of both sides of the ball. Against the Giants, at one point, he blocked three players at once, and against Carolina, he nearly ran down a punt and prevented a touchback. His interception yesterday helped solidify his potential spot on the roster. Justin Bethel is a good special teamer, but there simply isn’t room for him on the 53 this year.
The Bottom Line
It was incredibly hard to pick a 53, and that’s a testament to how deep the Patriots are in a number of position groups. Furthermore, this group could change, with another week of joint practices and another game still to come. However, right now, this roster looks like a good, deep group, and while it lacks serious star power, they can get some good things done provided that the coaching makes the most out of them.
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