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Patriots Roster Projection 2.0: Who’s on the Bubble?

Some difficult roster decisions are on the horizon for Bill Belichick and Co.

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We’re halfway through the preseason, and as far as preseasons go, it’s been a great one for the Patriots.

For the first time in a long time, young talent is popping all across the roster as the team prepares for the all-important third game of the exhibition season on Thursday vs. the Carolina Panthers.

Of course, the strength of this team still lies within its veteran core that’s been to four of the last five Super Bowls. It’s exciting to see the new pieces mesh with the old, but in the process, some difficult roster decisions are on the horizon for Bill Belichick and Co. as the team prepares to whittle down to 53 players by Sept. 1.

Here’s how New England’s roster is taking shape with 19 days to go until the regular season opener. See what’s changed between now and the second day of training camp, when roster projection 1.0 was released.

Bold denotes a player projected to make 53-man roster

Quarterbacks

Locks: Tom Brady, Jarrett Stidham

Should be in: None

Bubble: Brian Hoyer

Longshots: None

Through two exhibitions, Stidham is right in line with where Jimmy Garoppolo was as a rookie in 2014. The Patriots wound up dealing Ryan Mallett, leaving Garoppolo as Brady’s lone backup. Could history repeat itself with Stidham and Hoyer? One holdup may be Hoyer’s $1.7 million dead cap hit if he’s cut. Should the Patriots find a trade partner for Hoyer, things could get interesting, but for now, three quarterbacks in Foxboro still feels like the safest bet.

Running Backs

Locks: James White, Sony Michel, Damien Harris, Rex Burkhead

Should be in: Brandon Bolden

Bubble: None

Longshots: Nick Brossette

Nothing new to see here. Harris, a third-round pick in April, debuted to rave reviews in preseason game No. 2 last weekend, racking up 103 yards from scrimmage. You may never feel 100 percent certain about Michel’s knees, but you can feel confident in what’s behind him.

Fullback

Locks: James Develin

Should be in: None

Bubble: None

Longshots: Jakob Johnson

Develin is arguably the best fullback in the game today. Johnson, who had a phenomenal lead block on Bolden’s touchdown vs. Tennessee, has automatic eligibility as an 11th member on the practice squad this year under the International Player Pathway Program.

Wide Receiver

Locks: Julian Edelman, N’Keal Harry

Should be in: Jakobi Meyers, Phillip Dorsett

Bubble: Demaryius Thomas, Braxton Berrios, Maurice Harris

Longshots: Damoun Patterson, Gunner Olszewski, Ryan Davis

NFI: Josh Gordon

PUP: Cameron Meredith

While still not a true position of strength, the Patriots suddenly find themselves with more than enough warm bodies on the receivers front.

Keeping six may sound extreme – after all, only five could ever be on the field at the same time – but consider the following:

  • Can you trust Demaryius Thomas to stay healthy following his activation from the PUP, at 31 years old, less than a year removed from a devastating Achilles injury?
  • Who is going to return punts? Julian Edelman is 33 and has enough on his plate; this is where Braxton Berrios should come in.
  • Josh Gordon’s return, while potentially a nice story, should not come at the expense of a promising young receiver like Jakobi Meyers – good luck sneaking him through waivers on to the practice squad, if that’s what it ever comes to.

There is so much still unknown about Gordon, who’s on the non-football injury list currently. Will he even be ready to begin the regular season? If there was ever a year to keep an extra body around at receiver, it’s this one, especially when you consider the depth chart listed below.

Tight End

Locks: None

Should be in: None

Bubble: Matt LaCosse, Eric Saubert, Lance Kendricks, Stephen Anderson, Ryan Izzo

Longshots: Andrew Beck

Suspended: Ben Watson

No one has pulled away from the pack during training camp, to the point that the Patriots brought in even more competition in the form of Saubert from the Atlanta Falcons. Seeing who lines up with the starters vs. Carolina this week will be an indication of who’s leading the race, but by no means does it determine the winner of the competition. As soon as Watson gets back, it’s likely the team will move on from whoever winds up No. 2 on the tight end depth chart – if New England even keeps two in the first place.

Offensive Line

Locks: Isaiah Wynn, Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Marcus Cannon

Should be in: Ted Karras, Hjalte Froholdt

Bubble: Dan Skipper, James Ferentz, Cole Croston, Cedrick Lang

Longshots: Martez Ivey, Tyler Gauthier, Tyree St. Louis

NFI: Yondy Cajuste

Wynn played three series vs. Tennessee last weekend without issue, a sign that the Patriots may have solved their only question mark along the offensive line.

New England went with seven offensive linemen to begin last season as well, though one of them was swing tackle LaAdrian Waddle. Karras and Froholdt are both interior linemen. Without a candidate truly warranting a spot on the 53-man roster at the moment, however, the Patriots can turn to Croston or Lang – each of whom has practice squad eligibility – should they truly need to break the glass in case of an emergency.

Defensive Line

Locks: Michael Bennett, Deatrich Wise Jr., Lawrence Guy, Chase Winovich, Adam Butler, John Simon

Should be in: Mike Pennell Jr.

Bubble: Byron Cowart, Derek Rivers, Danny Shelton, Keionta Davis

Longshots: Trent Harris, Nick Thurman, David Parry, Ufomba Kamalu

Rivers is a tough cut here, as he’s had a nice training camp, but he’s been M.I.A. at practice since an injury forced him out of the game vs. Tennessee. Cowart, meanwhile, has played his way into the mix along the interior after back-to-back strong preseason games and could force out Shelton, who was a healthy scratch for three games last December as well as for the AFC Championship Game.

Linebacker

Locks: Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Ja’Whaun Bentley, Jamie Collins

Should be in: None

Bubble: Elandon Roberts, Shilique Calhoun

Longshots: Christian Sam, Terez Hall, Calvin Munson

Jamie Collins was hardly assured a roster spot when he returned to Foxboro as a free agent, but his night off on Saturday shows he’s likely earned one.

Roberts has likely done enough to fend off any challengers as well, as he also sat out Saturday’s win over the Titans. But with only a $25,000 charge against the cap if he’s cut, the Patriots could decide that Calhoun – if he’s healthy – did enough prior to his injury to warrant a closer look as a bottom of the roster player over Roberts, who has likely reached his ceiling.

Safety

Locks: Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon

Should be in: None

Bubble: Terrence Brooks, Obi Melifonwu

Longshots: Malik Gant, A.J. Howard

Brooks gets the nod over Melifonwu as his special teams pedigree comes into focus, but what if Melifonwu can make a late charge with contributions there over the final two weeks of the preseason? Cutting Brooks would cost the Patriots roughly $1.3 million against the cap.

Cornerback

Locks: Stephon Gilmore, Joejuan Williams, Jason McCourty, Jonathan Jones, J.C. Jackson

Should be in: None

Bubble: Keion Crossen, Duke Dawson

Longshots: Ken Webster

Much like the group at wide receiver, the case could be made that the Patriots don’t need six or seven players at cornerback. Unlike the receiving corps, however, there are virtually no question marks with the top five players on the depth chart, which leaves us Crossen and Dawson. Will New England really move on from Dawson just a year after taking him in the second round, without him ever playing a snap in the regular season? Again, unlike the receiving corps, moving on from a young player is unlikely to haunt this year’s team. Crossen proved himself a force on special teams a season ago, giving him an edge on that front as well over Dawson.

Specialists

Locks: Stephen Gostkowski, Jake Bailey, Joe Cardona, Matthew Slater, Brandon King, Nate Ebner

Should be in: None

Bubble: None

Longshots: None

As soon as Bailey demonstrated he could perform kickoffs in addition to punting duties, that was curtains for Ryan Allen, who certainly won’t be out of work for long. The only question left seems to be if Bailey will also handle holding duties on Gostkowski’s kicks; he was on the scene when Gostkowski shanked a 40-yard attempt last Saturday. 

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