With the Patriots finally set to put on full pads on Saturday, separation between the haves and have nots on the 90-man roster will be underway.
Almost half of the names on the roster will be gone by cutdown day on Aug. 31, the majority of which you’ll never hear from or think of again. That said, getting down to 53 players for the regular season won’t come without at least a few surprises or painstaking cuts.
Here’s a look at where everyone in training camp today stands in terms of job security with over a month to go before doomsday, separated into four categories: "locks," players who are guaranteed to be on hand for the Steelers in Week 1; "should be in," players who may still have to flash a bit in training camp to feel better; "bubble," players who are roughly 50-50 to be on the roster in September; and "longshots," players who hopefully rented instead of bought property in the greater Foxboro area.
Bold denotes a player projected to make 53-man roster
Lock: Tom Brady
Should be in: Jarrett Stidham
Bubble: Brian Hoyer
This does not imply that Stidham is a better option at quarterback than Hoyer; rather, you don’t draft a quarterback in the fourth round to merely to cut him loose four months later. Even Kevin O’Connell, a third-round pick, got two training camps with the Patriots. Look for New England to keep three quarterbacks on the roster for just the third time since 2009, when Brady returned from a torn ACL.
Locks: Sony Michel, James White, Damien Harris, Rex Burkhead
Should be in: None
Bubble: Brandon Bolden
Longshots: Nick Brossette
The way Michel’s knee progresses throughout training camp is crucial for New England, which figures to rely on the running game in a similar manner to last year. It wouldn’t be the most stunning thing in the world to see the Patriots look across the league for another body at running back throughout the preseason, particularly if there’s a hold-up with Michel.
Lock: James Develin
Should be in: None
The Patriots didn’t even bother bringing in practice squad fodder as competition for Develin this year, who just may go down as the NFL’s best fullback of the 2010s.
Locks: Julian Edelman, N’Keal Harry
Should be in: Philip Dorsett
Bubble: Braxton Berrios, Dontrelle Inman, Maurice Harris
Longshots: Damoun Patterson, Gunner Olszewski, Jakobi Meyers, Ryan Davis, Danny Etling
Injured: Demaryius Thomas
TBD: Josh Gordon
Dorsett’s two years in the system unquestionably give him a leg up on free agent imports Inman and Harris. The most intriguing name here is Berrios. Is he ready, after essentially red-shirting in 2018, to become New England’s next great slot machine? He only played one preseason game last August, so if there’s one reason to tune into the exhibitions this year, it’s to watch the former Miami Hurricane try and stick on the roster.
Gordon, it should be noted, isn’t listed on New England’s 90-man roster at the moment as his status for the season and beyond remains in the hands of the NFL. Thomas is almost certain to open the season on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list as he recovers from a torn Achilles, keeping him out for the first six weeks of the regular season at a minimum. And that’s if he doesn’t become the latest member of the Eric Decker All-Stars first.
Should be in: Matt LaCosse
Bubble: Lance Kendricks, Stephen Anderson, Ryan Izzo
Longshots: Jakob Johnson, Andrew Beck
Suspended: Ben Watson
Welcome to life AG (After Gronk), where you can see a scenario in which just about any tight end on the depth chart is the Week 1 starter or selling insurance after cutdown day. Watson, back for his second tour of duty with the Patriots after a nine-year absence, is eligible to return for New England’s Week 5 game at Washington on Oct. 6.
Locks: Isaiah Wynn, Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Marcus Cannon, Yondy Cajuste
Should be in: Ted Karras, Hjalte Froholdt
Bubble: Cole Croston, James Ferentz, Cedrick Lang
Longshots: Dan Skipper, Tyler Gauthier, Tyree St. Louis
All eyes are on Wynn as he attempts to fill the void created by Trent Brown’s departure at left tackle, just as Brown filled the void left by Nate Solder the season prior. If healthy, New England’s top draft choice in 2018 will get every opportunity to protect Tom Brady’s blindside. If not... should we read anything into Thuney sliding over to left tackle during practice? Given how steady Thuney – as well as Andrews and Mason – have been in the interior of the line for the Patriots over the last three seasons, that seems like more trouble than it’s worth. New England would be wise to carry an additional lineman at the outset just in case.
Locks: Lawrence Guy, Deatrich Wise Jr., Michael Bennett, Chase Winovich
Should be in: John Simon, Adam Butler, Mike Pennel Jr.
Bubble: Derek Rivers, Danny Shelton, Keionta Davis
Longshots: Trent Harris, Nick Thurman, Byron Cowart, David Parry, Ufomba Kamalu
There isn’t much in the way of star power up front at the moment, but let’s see how the rookie Winovich flashes over the course of the preseason. Rivers gets the nod over Shelton for now, who is somewhat surprisingly back in Foxboro after being a healthy scratch down the stretch in the regular season, as well as the AFC Championship Game. Then again, it could come down to a bigger need on the interior of the line that ultimately works in Shelton’s favor – especially if Rivers, who’s played in just six games over two seasons, fails to stand out in camp.
Locks: Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy
Should be in: Ja’Whaun Bentley
Bubble: Jamie Collins, Elandon Roberts, Christian Sam
Longshots: Calvin Munson, Shilique Calhoun, Terez Hall
Perpetually on the bubble, it was Roberts who benefited most in terms of snaps from the shocking exile of Collins to the Browns in 2016. Now reunited, there should be enough room for both of them at a position which is big on playmakers but short on depth.
Locks: Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon
Should be in: None
Bubble: Obi Melifonwu
Longshots: Malik Gant, A.J. Howard, Terrence Brooks
Combined, McCourty, Chung and Harmon have played 25 seasons in the NFL – 24 of them with the Patriots. This group runs themselves. But it’s high time for a younger player to develop back there, so Melifonwu – the Grafton, Massachusetts native who can also play some special teams – will get every opportunity to make the roster.
Locks: Stephon Gilmore, J.C. Jackson, Jason McCourty, Joejuan Williams
Should be in: Jonathan Jones, Duke Dawson
Bubble: Keion Crossen
Longshots: Ken Webster, D’Angelo Ross
Don’t mince words, the Patriots are loaded at cornerback. It’s anyone’s guess as to who will lineup across from Gilmore in a base defense with two corners, but with four and five-receiver sets becoming commonplace in the NFL, there will be snaps aplenty for everyone up and down the depth chart.
New England can’t give up on last year’s second-round pick, Duke Dawson, after just one injury-riddle season, right? The immortal Ras-I Dowling, also a second-round pick, got two cracks at it. Ditto for Cyrus Jones…yet another second-round pick. Here’s hoping this year’s second rounder, Williams, avoids a similar trajectory. Perhaps Dawson could slide back to safety to carve out a niche on the roster.
Locks: Matthew Slater, Nate Ebner, Brandon King, Stephen Gostkowski, Joe Cardona
Should be in: None
Bubble: Jake Bailey, Ryan Allen
Was Ryan Allen robbed in Super Bowl LIII MVP voting? Possibly. Is he about to lose his job to a (gasp) right-footed punter? Probably. Why else would Belichick have traded up to grab a punter? Has he decided since the Patriots play only one game outside the Eastern time zone in the regular season, that a punt off the right foot will be more necessary?