The NFL training camp season is upon us, and with it the inevitable truth that only 1,696 of the 2,880 players currently on an NFL roster will still be around in September.
If there’s anything the years have taught me, it’s that anything that involves trying to predict Bill Belichick’s roster decisions is a futile exercise. However, each year the unfortunate few tasked with doing so must make an attempt. This projection is an especially difficult one to make, as training camp has just started. Let’s take a look at what the Patriots’ 53-man roster might look like in early September.
Quarterback (3)- Tom Brady, Jimmy Garoppolo, Jacoby Brissett
No ambiguity here. There’s exactly a zero percent chance that the quarterback depth chart doesn’t look exactly like this. Tom Brady is still Tom Brady, the Pats held on to Garoppolo despite reportedly being offered multiple first-round picks for his services, and the team clearly loves what it has seen from Brissett.
Running back (5)- Mike Gillislee, James White, Rex Burkhead, D.J. Foster, James Develin
Dion Lewis was a tough cut, but he’s a bit redundant with Super Bowl hero and fellow scat-back James White fresh off a contract extension. The Patriots would rather keep the younger and cheaper Foster, who has impressed in limited action in a role similar to that of Lewis. Brandon Bolden also misses the cut, as Burkhead can cover his special teams role while contributing more on offense.
Wide receiver (7)- Brandin Cooks, Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Danny Amendola, Malcolm Mitchell, Austin Carr, Matthew Slater
The only surprise here is Carr, an undrafted rookie from Northwestern who is already making his presence felt in training camp. The retirement of Patriots legend Andrew Hawkins has cleared the way for the youngster to snag a roster spot. He probably won’t see much playing time due to the deep and talented corps ahead of him, but he might be Garoppolo’s Edelman some day. Slater should probably be listed with the specialists since he’s strictly a special teams guy, but he technically has caught a single 46-yard bomb from Brady in his career. So here he is.
Tight end (3)- Rob Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen, Matt Lengel
Allen is at least the team’s fourth attempt to find a suitable partner in crime to Rob Gronkowski. He is an excellent blocker and red zone threat, and the team parted with a valuable draft pick to bring him in, so look for him to make an impact in training camp. No, I’m not just including Lengel because he was a member of the very last Northeastern University football team. No, I’m not including him because I witnessed his very first NFL touchdown either. Ok, maybe I have a little bit of a personal affinity for Matt Lengel, but he’s also a tremendous blocker and a towering red zone target. And a former Husky. What’s not to love?
Offensive Line (8)- Nate Solder, Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Marcus Cannon, Tony Garcia, Ted Karras, Cameron Fleming
Of the three non-starters, Garcia certainly has the most potential. The talented but raw rookie is likely in for a redshirt season, but he could be the next starting left tackle for this team. Karras sticks around because of his ability to play anywhere between the tackles, and Fleming has been utilized often as an extra lineman in power formations during his time in New England. Sixth-round rookie Conor McDermott just misses the cut, as there is sufficient tackle depth already.
Defensive Line (8)- Trey Flowers, Kony Ealy, Malcolm Brown, Vincent Valentine, Alan Branch, Lawrence Guy, Derek Rivers, Deatrich Wise
This group offers good versatility and depth on the defensive line for coordinator Matt Patricia. Brown, Valentine, and Branch represent a ton of run-stuffing ability. No, literally. Those three players combined probably weigh close to a ton. Flowers and Rivers can get after the passer, and Guy, Ealy, and Wise can play both inside and outside. The one tough cut was Geneo Grissom, a third-round pick in 2015 who has failed to make an impact through two seasons.
Linebacker (6)- Dont’a Hightower, David Harris, Elandon Roberts, Kyle Van Noy, Shea McClellin, Harvey Langi
The only tough decision here was whether or not to include Rob Ninkovich, who is reportedly considering retirement. I’m not sure there’s even a spot for Ninkovich with all the depth and versatility the Patriots already have at linebacker. Perhaps he sees this and would rather retire than play for another team. Such is the Patriot way.
Cornerback (5)- Stephon Gilmore, Malcolm Butler, Eric Rowe, Jonathan Jones, Cyrus Jones
The Joneses both make the team and figure to play similar roles, splitting time between nickelback duties and special teams. The odd man out is Justin Coleman, who simply isn’t a good player in any sense of the term. With Gilmore, Butler, and Rowe, the Patriots should have one of the top starting cornerback groups in the entire league.
Safety (5)- Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon, Brandon King, Nate Ebner
McCourty and Chung are locked in as the starters, and Harmon plays enough to be lumped with the other two. King and Ebner are here for their special teams prowess, though both can fill in at either safety spot if needed. Notably, former second-round pick Jordan Richards misses the cut, in another loss for the 2015 draft class.
Specialist (3)- Stephen Gostkowski (K), Ryan Allen (P), Joe Cardona (LS)
Again, there is absolutely no chance that anyone but these three players makes the roster for their respective positions.
What do you think of my projected roster? Do you disagree with any of my decisions? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below and, as always, Roll Armchair.