Tuesday, the New England Patriots announced two moves to get down to the required 80-man roster. The Patriots will face Josh McDaniels’ Las Vegas Raiders on Friday night in Vegas, and it will be the last true test for players on the roster bubble.
This will be my final iteration of the 53-man roster projection, and it will be a forecast for what we could see Week 1 against Miami—and not about what the roster will look like on August 31.
Keep in mind, teams typically will cut players before the 53-man roster deadline on August 30, with hopes of retaining them once they clear waivers. A prime example of this was with Brian Hoyer last season. He was cut, signed to the practice squad and then elevated.
Teams do this to avoid adding injured players to IR before the deadline, as that will end their season. However, adding them post August 30 will allow that player to return during the season.
Without further ado, let’s get into who I think will be on the opening day 53-man roster.
Quarterbacks (3): Mac Jones, Bailey Zappe, Brian Hoyer
Nothing changes for me here. All three have essentially been roster locks all summer, as New England hasn’t brought any competition in for quarterbacks, outside rookie Bailey Zappe.
Running Backs (4): Damien Harris, Rhamondre Stevenson, Ty Montgomery, Pierre Strong Jr.
I still have the same running back room as I did last time, unless Damien Harris’ injury suffered Wednesday in the final joint practice is anything major. I have Kevin Harris getting the infamous Foxborough Flu and being placed on the injured reserve, ending his season.
I also have JJ Taylor being cut, and if he clears waivers, which he likely will, he can be signed to the practice squad for depth. I like Kevin Harris, but at this point, it’s a crowded room with Harris, Stevenson, Montgomery and Strong.
Cuts: Kevin Harris (Injured Reserve), JJ Taylor (Practice Squad)
Wide Receivers (6): Devante Parker, Nelson Agholor, Kendrick Bourne, Jakobi Meyers, Tre Nixon, and Lil'Jordan Humphrey
That’s right, “LJ” has won over the hearts of New England Fans, especially me. His size allows him to pinch hit at tight end in case of an emergency, and the special teams upside is too good to pass up. Bill Belichick loves players that can play multiple facets of the game, and Humphrey has also produced as a receiver this camp. Humphrey’s age and contract make it intriguing for the Patriots to keep him on the roster, especially due to injuries to Kristian Wilkerson and Tyquan Thornton. I originally had a trade for Nelson Agholor, but he has continued to improve day after day. With the depth depleting, it makes sense to let him play out his contract here.
With Wilkerson, New England could outright release him, and his current injury would deter teams from claiming him, allowing him to be signed to the practice squad. Then he could be placed on PUP to allow time to heal. Thornton will be on the initial roster and will be placed on IR immediately, so that he would be eligible to return later this season. If New England places him on IR now for his collarbone injury, then he will be out for the season.
Cuts: Josh Hammond, Tyquan Thornton (IR), and Kristian Wilkerson (Practice Squad)
Tight Ends (3): Hunter Henry, Jonnu Smith, Devin Asiasi
New England likes the versatility guys like Humphrey has where he could fill in at TE for a snap when needed. Asiasi was extremely close for me here, as relying on Humphrey would be nice, but it’s not his primary position. And Asiasi has the upside worth keeping for one more go.
Sokol has looked as good as Asiasi, but with the capital spent on the latter and Dalton Keene, who has since been cut, New England will probably opt for Asiasi, knowing both Sokol and Wydermyer would clear waivers and make the practice squad, eventually replacing Asiasi after this season.
Cuts: Matt Sokol (Practice Squad), Jalen Wydermyer (Practice Squad)
Offensive Line (8): Trent Brown, Isaiah Wynn, Justin Herron, Cole Strange, Mike Onwenu, David Andrews, Kody Russey, and Chasen Hines
Although there have been issues along the line, it is more to do with the scheme than talent. On paper, New England has one of the better offensive lines in the league, but football isn’t played on paper.
My starting line here is Trent Brown, Cole Strange, David Andrews, Mike Onwenu and Isaiah Wynn, with Kody Russey beating out James Ferentz for the Ted Karras swing IOL role. I also think Chasen Hines makes the roster along with Justin Herron, as that group has looked the most solid thus far and has the versatility needed.
Cuts: James Ferentz, Drew Desjarlais, Bill Murray (Practice Squad), Yasir Durant (Practice Squad), Yodny Cajuste (Practice Squad), Arlington Hambright (Practice Squad)
Defensive Line (5): Lawrence Guy, Deatrich Wise, Christian Barmore, LaBryan Ray, Sam Roberts
I think LaBryan Ray’s upside trumps Henry Anderson’s steadiness, however, unfortunately for Anderson, the cap hit is too high for someone who will give you what Ray is giving you. And that’s not a slight on Ray. It’s just pointing out that the cheaper option is what’s best for the team both roster management-wise—and on the field talent-wise as well.
Sam Roberts poses run-stuffing ability, pass rush upside and was selected in the sixth round of the NFL draft with hopes of competing. That and his knack for special teams with blocking kicks and punts gets him on this roster, even over Anderson
Cuts: DaMarcus Mitchell (Practice Squad), Jeremiah Pharms Jr. (Practice Squad), Henry Anderson
Defensive Tackle (2): Davon Godchaux, Carl Davis
The Patriots will go with some surefire nose tackle play, going with the reliable options of both Godchaux and Davis here. With Daniel Ekuale pending suspension, New England could cut him with hopes of adding him to the practice squad.
Cuts: Daniel Ekuale (Practice Squad)
Linebackers (7): Matthew Judon, Josh Uche, Anfernee Jennings, Ja'Whaun Bentley, Raekwon McMillan, Mack Wilson, Jahlani Tavai
I originally had Ronnie Perkins to IR, which wound up being the case. However, McGrone is a new switch for me, as I had high hopes for the 2021 draft selection. However, he hasn’t impressed and shown why he outright deserves the spot over other guys here. But there’s still hope for him as a practice squad player to take over due to injury and capitalize later on down the road. It just wasn’t his time this year. Nate Weiland would be the lone cut, as Langi would be released and placed to practice squad for depth.
I think Jahlani Tavai has played much better as of late and has special teams worth and serves as the true backup to Bentley in that downhill linebacker role on rushing downs.
Cuts: Harvey Langi (Practice Squad), Cam McGrone (Practice Squad) Nate Weiland, Ronnie Perkins (IR)
CB (5) Jalen Mills, Jonathan Jones, Marcus Jones, Jack Jones, Myles Bryant
Since the last roster predictions, we saw Malcolm Butler and Joejuan Williams placed on IR, ending their seasons. So the majority of the predictions remain. I still have Shaun Wade missing the mark, but by just a bit. Myles Bryant and Marcus Jones have returner upside, and Jack Jones has flashed his skills and his raw potential. Terrance Mitchell had a fast start but has since slowed down. In this scenario, I envision New England takes advantage of the cheaper contracts and opts to use a roster spot elsewhere.
Cuts: Shaun Wade (Practice Squad), Devin Hafford (Practice Squad), and Terrance Mitchell
Safeties (5): Devin McCourty, Joshua Bledsoe, Adrian Phillips, Kyle Dugger, Jabril Peppers
Devin McCourty and Kyle Dugger are your starting safeties with Phillips and Peppers operating in that box safety/linebacker role we have seen increase in popularity across the league. Bledsoe has done enough to earn a shot on the roster and will benefit from Devin McCourty’s teaching throughout the year. Hawkins looked decent, but not enough to make the roster. He should be signed right to the practice squad as he is still a young project for the team to keep in the building for depth.
Cuts: Brad Hawkins (Practice Squad)
Specialists (5): Joe Cardona, Matthew Slater, Brenden Schooler, Nick Folk, Jake Bailey
Your usual trio of snapper, punter and kicker are always roster locks in New England, and Joe Cardona, Nick Folk, and Jake Bailey have all won their respective battles and will lead the specialists. As for true specialists, Matthew Slater, the soon-to-be NFL Hall of Famer is a lock.
But Brenden Schooler has really exploded onto the scene and nudges out the older and more expensive Justin Bethel and Cody Davis. Schooler is the next in line to Matthew Slater for that true special teamer role but also has safety and wide receiver experience, which is invaluable at roster cut time.
Cuts: Cody Davis and Justin Bethel