Patriots 53-Man Roster Projection 3.0 and Possible Practice Squaders

There’s nothing not to like about an offseason coming off a Super Bowl win. There’s also nothing not to like about when the team that won the Super Bowl goes out and trades for a top tier wide receiver (Brandin Cooks) and signs a top tier corner (Stephon Gilmore).

The offseason ended over a month ago, but a week from Thursday the Patriots will officially begin their title defense against the Kansas City Chiefs.

28-3, and Super Bowl LI, mean nothing. It’s a new season with a lot of new faces.

We have now seen the Patriots play three preseason games leading up to the 2017 season, and the roster, especially after the third preseason game, has begun to take shape.

Here’s my latest Patriots 53-man roster projection. I will also include what I think is a realistic practice squad after that.

Offense (26)

Quarterback: Tom Brady, Jimmy Garoppolo, Jacoby Brissett (3)

Nothing to see here. The QB room stays the same.

Backfield: Mike Gillislee, Rex Burkhead, James White, Dion Lewis, James Develin (5)

Many that are around the team more than I will speak to the importance of Brandon Bolden both as a special teamer and as a teammate. That kind of stuff cannot be underestimated, but on a roster loaded from top to bottom it becomes very difficult to include a special teams only player at a loaded position. I would not be shocked at all to see Bolden make the cut, but it will cost the Patriots elsewhere. Another tough cut is DJ Foster, who to his credit, has performed very well this preseason. Foster will be on a 53-man roster somewhere in the NFL this season, whether it’s in New England or elsewhere. I wouldn’t rule out a trade to a RB-needy team with Foster.

Wide Receiver: Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell, Danny Amendola, Matthew Slater, Austin Carr (6)

I will not sugar coat it. The injury to Julian Edelman is a swift kick in the nuts. It limits this teams ceiling, and forces others all across the roster to step up. Most notably, Brandin Cooks will have to be the guy they traded a first round pick for. Prior to the Edelman injury, Cooks was just one of many mouths to feed in this offense, but now he needs to play like the guy they think he is, and that’s a lot of pressure. The injury to Edelman opens the door to Austin Carr, who will be the reserve slot receiver behind Danny Amendola. I expect to see the Patriots in a lot of 11 (1 RB, 1 TE) and 12 personnel this season (1 RB, 2 TE). My guess is in three wide receiver sets you’ll get the trio of Cooks (z), Hogan (x), and Amendola (slot) given they’re all healthy.

Tight End: Rob Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen, James O’Shaughnessy (3)

You want to give a spot to training camp hero Jacob Hollister, but it’s clear that O’Shaughnessy has a leg up on the rookie. As soon as the former Chief was healthy, he was inserted into the lineup, and saw the field in both the second and third preseason games well before Hollister. It appears that O’Shaughnessy is part of the team’s plan as a third tight end based on his usage in the last two preseason games.

Offensive Line: Nate Solder, Marcus Cannon, Joe Thuney, Shaq Mason, David Andrews, Cameron Fleming, Antonio Garcia, Ted Karras, Conor McDermott (9)

Nine offensive lineman is a lot, and I think there’s a good possibility that one of the rookies (Garcia, McDermott) is placed on IR to free up a spot. McDermott could possibly get cut outright, but I don’t think that’s wise given the size of the Patriots 2017 draft class. Maybe the hardest decision in this exercise is deciding between Ted Karras and Jamil Douglas. Douglas, has been impressive in all three preseason games, and has probably played better than Karras, but he’s a year behind, and doesn’t play center. Karras’ ability to play all three interior line positions gets him on the 53.

Defense (24)

Defensive Line: Trey Flowers, Alan Branch, Malcom Brown, Lawrence Guy, Vincent Valentine, Geneo Grissom, Deatrich Wise, Adam Butler (8)

The most talked about position during the preseason has been the defensive line. There have been a number of moving parts and injuries to this group. The release of Kony Ealy came as a surprise, as did the injury to top draft pick Derek Rivers, and it bumped one bubble player (Grissom) and one long-shot (Butler) onto the roster. To combat the lack of true defensive ends or edge rushers, expect the Patriots to go with a three-man defensive line when possible. The Patriots five-man front currently serves as their go-to, with the two edge players being outside linebackers such as Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy. That’s the front that they went to in the Super Bowl during the comeback. I would expect to see guys you typically think of as defensive tackles, such as Lawrence Guy and Malcom Brown, playing as either three or four-technique defensive ends.

Linebacker: Dont’a Hightower, David Harris, Shea McClellin, Elandon Roberts, Kyle Van Noy, Harvey Langi (6)

The injury to Derek Rivers makes it really difficult to cut McClellin. I’ll agree with anyone that says McClellin stunk last year, because he did, but he can fill that role on the edge if need be. Roberts survives, barely, due to his performance at different points of the 2016 season. There was enough there to keep him around to see if he can fix the other flaws in his game. Even during the preseason he still showed the ability to stop the run, and be a real factor in the run game. Langi makes the roster, but don’t expect him to play much on defense, he’ll mainly play on special teams. He looked good at times during the preseason, and you can see him morphing into that Rob Ninkovich role eventually, but he’s far away from that right now. He’ll have to get much stronger if he wants to play the Ninkovich spot. I would not be surprised at all to see a trade at this position.

Cornerback: Stephon Gilmore, Malcolm Butler, Eric Rowe, Cyrus Jones, Jonathan Jones (5)

For all the crap that we have given Cyrus Jones in his short time with the Patriots the guy has really turned it around in the last two preseason games, and good for him. Regardless of draft capital invested, you never like to see a player completely fall apart like Jones did last season. He makes the team mainly as a returner, and although he’s made some questionable decisions fielding punts, like fair catching on the five-yard line, he has had some of his best moments as a pro in the lat two preseason games, and knock on wood, he hasn’t fumbled. The Pats will be able to stash some interesting cornerback prospects on the practice squad, but don’t be surprised if another addition comes here. After the top three, they don’t have anyone that they can trust to cover consistently, unless you want to throw Cyrus Jones out there in a meaningful game (I don’t). If healthy, they shouldn’t need it, as they have McCourty and Chung as options in man-coverage as well, but you’d like to see better depth.

Safety: Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon, Nate Ebner, Brandon King (5)

The Patriots give up on 2015 second round pick Jordan Richards. Richards isn’t athletic enough to be an NFL defensive back, period. Ebner and King keep their roster spots for their contributions on special teams.

Special Teams (3): Stephen Gostkowski (kicker), Ryan Allen (punter), Joe Cardona (long snapper)

No surprises here. Stephen Gostkowski’s performance will be worth watching throughout the season after his rocky 2016. Although it was just a preseason game, it was nice to see him make the game-winner against the Lions. Those are confidence boosters for any kicker. His performance in 2017 will be something to monitor, as the Pats may have to address the kicker position next offseason if he continues to struggle.

10-man Practice Squad (if they clear waivers)

  • CB D.J. Killings
  • WR Devin Lucien
  • LB Trevor Bates
  • CB Justin Coleman
  • TE Jacob Hollister
  • IOL Jamil Douglas
  • CB Kenny Moore
  • S Jordan Richards
  • S Damarius Travis
  • DT Woodrow Hamilton