Goodbye Malcolm Butler, hello J.C. Jackson?
Firmly on the roster bubble heading into Thursday night's fourth preseason game vs. the New York Giants, no one on the roster for the New England Patriots helped their cause more than Jackson, who just might be the latest undrafted free agent to crack the 53-man roster in Foxboro.
The cornerback had a pair of interceptions in the 17-12 New England win, stating his case loud and clear to Bill Belichick and the rest of the coaching staff that he should be in uniform come Sept. 9 vs. the Houston Texans.
Though he left the game in the third quarter due to dehydration, the former Maryland Terrapin feels like a relatively safe bit to stick around at this juncture.
As for the rest of the players who suited up Thursday vs. the G-Men? Here's a look at a few other notable performances as it pertains to who will still be standing after cutdowns at 4 p.m. on Saturday.
•Is the dream of the McCourty twins playing together going to wind up being a mirage? It wasn't a great sign that Jason McCourty was in action Thursday night, although one way to look at it is that he needs all the reps he can get if he'll be transitioning to safety. While the Patriots are stacked atop their depth chart at safety with Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung and Duron Harmon, there's a Grand Canyon of a drop-off after that (we're not counting core special teamers Nate Ebner or Brandon King, who are technically safeties). After Eddie Pleasant was cut, does it come down to Jordan Richards vs. Jason McCourty? It's possible neither survive cutdown day, but there's almost zero chance there's enough room for the both of them. The guess: Jason McCourty sticks around, but not before restructuring his contract. The Richards experiment comes to a close.
•Adam Butler, who made the team as an undrafted free agent a season ago, got the start at defensive tackle. Not exactly a vote of confidence for a player in his position in preseason game No. 4 ... then again, it's hard to dispute New England's depth at the position. For what it's worth, Butler had a nice pressure on New York quarterback Kyle Lauletta that led to an incompletion, as well as three more tackles. Butler, who can also play along the edge of the line, is battling it out with the likes of Vincent Valentine, Eric Lee, Keionta Davis and Geneo Grissom for a spot on the roster. At most, two of those players will still be standing on Saturday. The guess: Butler makes the 53, while the Patriots try to get Valentine, Davis and Lee on to the practice squad. Grissom, entering his fourth NFL season, no longer has eligibility.
•Marquis Flowers joined New England right around this time last year via trade from the Cincinnati Bengals and emerged as a core special teamer. He also had a fury of sacks late in the regular season and into the playoffs while sliding in at linebacker for the undermanned Patriots, recording 4.5 sacks in a five-game span. He's seen a lot of playing time this preseason at linebacker, and that's not necessarily a good thing. He entered concussion protocol Thursday night, as well. Should he check out OK from that, however, Flowers has value for a still-thin linebacking corps. And Belichick loves him some special teamers. The guess: Flowers is on the roster come next week.
•When the Indianapolis Colts acquired Jacoby Brissett last summer, one of the things they included in the press release was Brissett's performance in New England's fourth preseason game vs. the Giants. One year later, Danny Etling didn't quite match Brissett's lofty mark, completing 18 of his 32 passes for 158 yards, throwing a touchdown pass and two interceptions. Etling looked better in the second half, for sure – that 86-yard touchdown run on a read option was legendary – but still not nearly enough to secure himself a roster spot. Then again, even if he did go all Brissett, the odds against him were astronomical. The guess: Etling makes it through waives and on to the practice squad.
•Neither Riley McCarron nor Braxton Berrios got a shot to prove themselves in this game at wide receiver, registering no stats, while Will Tye (two catches, six yards) did the bare minimum at tight end. On the team broadcast, analyst Scott Zolak guessed that the Patriots will be bringing in a wide receiver from the outside to help Tom Brady outside. Who is that receiver, other than probably not Dez Bryant? Who knows. The guess: the Patriots go with Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett and Cordarrelle Patterson at receiver, along with a mystery player via trade or free agency following cutdowns. Both McCarron and Berrios have practice squad eligibility.
•Corey Bojorquez, we hardly knew ye. The Patriots punted 22 times this preseason, and it was Ryan Allen showing off his left leg in all 22 cases. It was a phony battle at punter all along. While highly unlikely New England would use a practice squad slot on a specialist, Allen is set to hit free agency at the end of the season.