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Way-Too-Early Roster Prediction: Patriots Are Ironing Out A Deep Team

After an active free agency process and a draft with a whopping 12 picks, the Patriots are ready to switch their focus forward. As it was last year, trimming down a deep group of players to 53 is going to be an exceptionally difficult task. Inspired by the great Phil Perry, I will take my stab at what the roster could look like heading into week one.

Patriots 53-Man Roster Prediction

Quarterbacks (3): Mac Jones, Bailey Zappe, Malik Cunningham

Belichick likes going with three quarterbacks, and I don’t see this year being an exception to that for the Patriots. Jones and Zappe are obvious inclusions, so the question was really between the undrafted free agent Cunningham and free agent signing Trace McSorley.

McSorley does have a clear edge in experience and has even started NFL games. However, in Cunningham, they get a dual-threat weapon that can not only function as a third-string quarterback but also be rotated in as a situational quarterback and in packages where he can take advantage of his dual threat. Between a camp arm and a player that could potentially add an interesting new layer to the offense, the choice should be clear.

Running Backs (4): Rhamondre Stevenson, Ty Montgomery, James Robinson, Pierre Strong Jr.

Stevenson is an obvious choice here as the feature back in New England. None of the rest felt like locks, nor was it easy to omit JJ Taylor or Kevin Harris. Montgomery showed flashes of brilliance last preseason and caught Mac Jones’ first TD pass of the 2022 season before getting injured for the season. If he can manage his health, he can help fill a James White-esque role in the offense.

Robinson’s most recent season was less than ideal, with him averaging under three yards a carry after joining the Jets with no touchdowns, and even including his play with Jacksonville, having his worst statistical season. The Patriots clearly noted this and gave him a guarantee-less contract for a reason. 2022 was an aberration, however, and Robinson showed enormous promise in 2020 (1000-yard rusher as a rookie) and 2021, both on the ground and as a pass catcher.

Strong was the fastest RB in his draft class and struggled to find his footing in a poorly-run Matt Patricia offense. Being a fourth-round pick and having considerable potential, Strong deserves a chance to prove that he can contribute. Harris and Taylor are both reliable backs, but their ceiling doesn’t seem to be much higher than their current level, and the Patriots should prioritize elsewhere for additional roster inclusions.

Wide Receivers (5): JuJu Smith-Schuster, Kendrick Bourne, Devante Parker, Tyquan Thornton, Kayshon Boutte

Tight Ends (2): Mike Gesicki, Hunter Henry

This is a rather simple one. Gesicki immediately comes in and exceeds the role of Jonnu Smith that he’s replacing. Henry showed enough promise in 2021 and 2022 that he’s capable of flourishing with good offensive leadership. This has the potential to be an excellent TE duo for the Patriots. Matt Sokol and Scotty Washington are simply not NFL roster-caliber players, and the Patriots have too much depth elsewhere to burn space on them.

Offensive Tackle (4): Riley Reiff, Trent Brown, Sidy Sow, Conor McDermott

I expect fourth-round pick Sidy Sow, who did play at tackle in 2018 at Eastern Michigan, to convert back to the position. Trent Brown struggled with holds, among other issues last year, but his potential speaks for itself. Reiff made an instant improvement to the tackle group upon joining and is a consistently starting-caliber tackle with loads of experience. McDermott showed improvement while playing in relief of Wynn and Cannon, and will make a good depth piece at the position.

While Calvin Anderson was a useful signing at the time, he has been a career backup for the most part, and I see it as somewhat likely that he will be on the outside looking into the 53-man roster. However, he has an entire summer to prove me wrong, and beating out McDermott isn’t the tallest of tasks – if he even needs to do that to be rostered.

Interior Offensive Line (5): Michael Onwenu, David Andrews, Cole Strange, Jake Andrews, Antonio Mafi

Onwenu and David Andrews were near the top of their positions and will be extremely important pieces of the Patriots’ offensive line next year. The 2022 first-round pick Strange was promising, and while there were some inconsistent stretches, he will elevate considerably with real offensive line coaching. Jake Andrews is a solid backup to David, as well as a potential guard option who has solid fundamentals and the physicality to make the most out of them.

Mafi is more of a project, he may not see much regular season time in 2023, but the former defensive player with only 18 collegiate offensive starts has an incredibly high ceiling that Adrian Klemm can hopefully bring out of him for the Patriots. Outside of these, it’s hard to see anyone else being roster-quality. James Ferentz has been quite awful when he has taken the field, including in 2023 when David Andrews was injured. This preseason will be a good opportunity to see 2022 draft pick Chasen Hines, who could compete for a spot in the summer, in more detail.

Cornerbacks (5): Jonathan Jones, Christian Gonzalez, Jack Jones, Marcus Jones, Myles Bryant

The Jones trio and 2023 first-round steal should form the backbone of the unit. Gonzalez could see himself taking the number one cornerback spot if he has a flying start. For now, though, I see the more experienced – and coming off an excellent season – Jonathan Jones being the leader of the group. Those four are locks, and Marcus will likely see himself being used on offense and as a kick returner as well.

The Patriots do like to roster a lot of corners, so Myles will likely have a spot as a depth piece. It’s hard to see Wade making the cut, however – Bryant saw the field a lot more in 2022, and Wade doesn’t have significant special teams experience that could create another role for him.

The Patriots’ sixth-round draft pick Ameer Speed has improved drastically in the last couple of years as a corner, but his strongest skill set is as a special teamer. The depth at special teams could make a roster spot for him challenging Isaiah Bolden could also contend for a roster spot, especially as a special teamer. However, while he is an excellent returner, the stellar season that Marcus Jones had last year could create an issue for him issue making the 53-man unit.

Safety (5): Kyle Dugger, Adrian Phillips, Jabrill Peppers, Jalen Mills, Marte Mapu

Dugger, Phillips, and Peppers will be looking to build off of strong 2022 campaigns. Peppers in particular will have a much bigger role this year, and all three will intimidate with their strong coverage ability combined with their linebacker-like tackling ability. Mills will provide the pure coverage safety presence, and while he faces a tough transition from cornerback to safety.

While the 2023 third-rounder, Mapu, fills a niche that is already occupied by the Patriots with a combined LB/S skillset, can add depth to the position and potentially develop into a core player, and will also be a key piece on special teams. This unfortunately doesn’t leave space for Joshua Bledsoe, as promising as he is. Ultimately, the former sixth-rounder hasn’t delivered enough at the NFL level to warrant a roster spot.

Linebacker (5): JaWhaun Bentley, Josh Uche, Anfernee Jennings, Mack Wilson, Raekwon McMillan

Assuming that Marte Mapu primarily plays as a safety, the Patriots don’t really need to make changes at linebacker. It was an extremely well-functioning unit last year. Bentley provides leadership, exceptional hitting ability, and occasional coverage ability. Uche is an explosive presence who can get to the passer and disrupt the pocket. Wilson provides the coverage linebacker presence that the team needs, adding to a large list of players who have hybrid coverage/tackling ability.

Jennings and McMillan are finally starting to unleash his potential and have shown the ability to function in a multitude of roles, even occasionally on the edge. While they will mostly be in backup roles, they should be expected to still get considerable playing time. The same is true for Tavai, who, even though he barely made the roster last year, was a consistent contributor, particularly against the run. I am leaving Tavai off this roster projection, primarily because of the depth of the unit, and because, unlike McMillan and Jennings, I’m not sure Tavai’s ceiling is much higher than his current level.

The position gets much more constrained when considering the option of Mapu at linebacker, as well as special teamer Chris Board, who can also be a serviceable depth piece at LB for the Patriots.

Edge Rushers (3): Matt Judon, Deatrich Wise, Keion White

Second-round steal Keion White adds to an excellent pair of edges. Judon and Wise made life extremely difficult for quarterbacks all of 2022 and will look to build on that success. While he will probably be backing up Deatrich Wise, he could be extremely useful in matchups where his power can take over. Furthermore, while Judon produced all season, Wise was up-and-down, and White could absolutely play in his relief. Being an edge rusher is a bruising position, it never hurts to have depth, and with his abilities, White is much more than just any depth piece for the Patriots.

Interior Defensive Line (5): Lawrence Guy, Davon Godchaux, Christian Barmore, Daniel Ekuale, Carl Davis

The interior line lacks the star power that the edge group has, which is why I’m surprised the Patriots didn’t target any interior DLs. However, their interior group is still extremely promising. Guy has been a fixture for quite some time now, Godchaux showed why his elevated contract last year was worth it, and while injury prevented him from fully showcasing it, Barmore is going to be a menace in this league.

Ekuale and Davis are going to be in and out of the unit, but have been extremely solid when they do enter, and add to the depth of the defense. Sam Roberts, Jeremiah Pharms, and Damarcus Mitchell will contend for roster spots too, but it’s hard to see the Patriots taking them over anyone in my current 53-man group.

Special Teams (7): Bryce Baringer, Joe Cardona, Nick Folk, Brenden Schooler, Matthew Slater, Chris Board, Cody Davis

Baringer will bring a tremendous improvement to the punting game, which was awful in 2022. He has hangtime, range, placement, and consistency, ALL of which were missing last year. As such, it’s hard to see Corliss Waitman keeping a spot. Cardona feels like a permanent fixture at long snapper, and the fact that his name is called so infrequently just goes to show how reliable he is.

Schooler and Slater were an intimidatingly good punt/kick coverage duo, and it will be interesting to see if their abilities can be even more drawn out by a punter that gives them more time and space to work with. Board will add even more depth at linebacker while being an adept special teamer with excellent field sense and tackling ability.

The omission of fourth-round pick Chad Ryland may come as a surprise, but I was never a fan of the pick, even though I do think he is a good kicker. For the Patriots, I am envisioning the following scenario: Bryce Baringer shows an aptitude for kickoffs, Nick Folk wins a camp battle between himself and Ryland with an entire offseason to heal his plant leg. The Patriots could conceivably roster two kickers, Ryland for his range, and Folk for his accuracy, but Ryland also struggles beyond 50, so his main purpose would be kickoffs. However, given the depth of this roster, it’s hard to see the Patriots using two picks for kickers.

Davis has been a perennial special teamer for the Patriots, and I don’t see that changing this year. With the unit needing to improve as much as they do, they need their best contributors from 2022.

The Bottom Line

It wasn’t easy at all to narrow this down to 53, and there’s an entire summer of preseason activities ahead of us. The Patriots may not be top-heavy in every position, but they have depth and a well-rounded group that could produce at a high level if the expected improvements in coaching materialize.

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