Most 53-man roster projections take place after all the mess and chaos that is training camp and the preseason. With so much going on all at one time, evaluation, implementation of gameplan and strategy, and overall forming a team identity.
Everything about training camp and preseason comes with layers of mystery. A lot is unknown during this time, a lot is left to sort through, a lot is rather new. Especially when following a team like the New England Patriots and head coach, Bill Belichick.
With 90 players vying for a limited amount of spots, some will earn opportunities of a lifetime. Some will be spending their Sundays couch-dwelling, watching Belichick and his players emerge from an inflatable tunnel to crowd roars barely heard through a CBS broadcast on a home sound system.
Point being, some of the players you’ll see in the first preseason game against the Washington Football Team will not be there next week. If they’re lucky, maybe they survive another week or the week after that. Yet, many will not be here when wins and losses start to count. To survive, one must impress through this training camp period now. One must demonstrate the ability to make plays consistently as possible, understand what the staff is asking for, and show mental toughness and acuity that can last 60 minutes.
So, why do a roster projection when the preseason hasn’t even begun?
The simple answer is to help form an idea of where and what to look for over these next three weeks. There’s always going to be the roster “locks”, along with the guys who should make the roster. Yet, when one can narrow down a roster to about seven remaining spots, things start to become more clear.
With maybe 15 guys worthy of a spot and a good sense of where the depth lies, deductions can begin. The focal point can shift to these individuals and just by watching, you can determine who might be the last few to make the team.
Patriots’ roster locks and those fighting for spots:
Note– Players who could nab a final spot on the team are mentioned in red
Not sure what else to say here. Belichick is on record saying that Newton will be the QB1 to start the year. We also know that the team’s first-round pick in Jones is going nowhere anytime soon. With Brian Hoyer left, New England has shown no reservation to cut him in the past. With his age and his only in-game play last year vs. the Kansas City Chiefs, Hoyer can’t hang with Jones and Newton.
With Harris poised for big things this season, Michel looking the part in camp, and White looking to bounce back this season, these three vets will easily snag roster spots. While this is unbelievable to say, the way Michel has been running, it almost seems like White’s job security could be more in question than his own. Yet, with passing game value and an incredibly cheap contract, rest assured that all three will be on the roster for Week 1.
As for Taylor, he’s shown enough in just regular season action alone to merit a spot. Yet, if he really had true ability and was ready to take on a bigger role, it’s unlikely that the Patriots would have re-signed White and then also drafted another runningback in Rhomadre Stevenson to crowd the backfield some more. Taylor’s preseason will be important to his future with the team.
After a strong year last season, filling the big shoes of James Develin, Johnson has faced little pressure this offseason. With second-year tight end/fullback Dalton Keene now on IR, Johnson stands alone.
A much improved tight end core features Smith, Henry, and Keene’s partner-in-crime (if you will) in Asiasi. All three will make the roster, especially with big money contracts at the top two spots. Asiasi, who put together impressive practice reps during the spring sessions, is just trying to get back on the field now. After being derailed from the Covid-19 virus, Asiasi is now back at practice and should be active in the preseason contests.
Asiasi will be a name to watch throughout, as contribution from him would be key. While the top of the depth chart looks great and improved, Henry has already been day-to-day and earned a few nicks and bruises this offseason. If Asiasi shows that he can’t provide reliable depth at that third spot, New England might need a fourth guy in this room. More specifically, a veteran who can be solid both in the run and pass game. Which is where a guy like Fumagalli could come in, as he has flashed at times during camp.
Agholor has had one of the best training camps of recent memory for a Patriots’ receiver, Bourne and Meyers have both encouraged on more shallow and horizontal patterns. Those guys are your three starting receivers for the 2021 season. Meyers projecting as the slot, Julian Edelman replacement, and Agholor looking like the X, Bourne the Z. With heavy run sets, these three will hold up. Lastly, Olszewski has demonstrated through camp that he is uncuttable. The special teams All-Pro has flashed in the slot at camp an his speed is apparent on this team. Count on these guys being there.
Harry and Wilkerson, both highlighted in red, are in two very different boats. A world could exist in which both make the roster. For Wilkerson, making the roster will entail proving himself as an NFL-caliber receiver with his practice squad days behind him. With that, Wilkerson should be an exciting watch this preseason. For Harry, making the roster pretty much means not getting traded. Both have been flashing this summer, and just based off current trends, that world where they both make the roster could very well become a reality. At the very least, it’s extremely likely that at least Harry sticks around.
Brown and Wynn are obvious locks, unless Belichick gets a wacky idea to trade Wynn before he heads onto his fifth-year option with the team. That was more of a discussion before the draft, and while it would seem ludacris at this point, we all remember Logan Mankins. Don’t worry too much about that though.
As for Herron, he impressed enough last year to potentially even merit a look at a starting tackle spot. Obviously with Wynn and Brown, that’s not a consideration. However, the depth provides on a rookie deal is extremely valuable. He is a candidate to be New England’s go-to swing tackle.
Lastly, with Cajuste, his case is far more mysterious. With now two full seasons of being sidelined, yet to see in-game action, Cajuste will need a very impressive preseason to even be allowed on the sideline anymore. While he hasn’t exactly shown off what made him a third-round selection in 2019, here’s to hope he can. Yet, so far, the outlook is not good here. Especially with veteran Korey Cunningham and 2021 sixth-rounder Will Sherman also in the mix.
It should be exciting to see Onwenu make the move to full time guard after the tremendous rookie season he had at a more unnatural position. Both him and his compadre in Mason will be absolute bulldozers, maulers in the middle of that line. Along with them, a familiar face in Karras, who can serve as the top backup at both guard and center. As Karras was likely on pace to start another season for the Patriots at center before the unexpected return of captain Andrews. Those three you can write down in sharpie.
As for Martin and the aforementioned Sherman, their preseasons will dictate the role they play. With this starting offensive line having had it’s fair share of injuries in the past, holding onto depth along the line will be important. While neither Martin or Sherman have exactly flashed thus far, it helps that both have position versatility. Whether it be guard or center for Martin, or tackle or guard for Sherman. Undersized tackle/guard prospects can generally have value inside against strong pass-rush along the interior defensive line. Sherman might be able to boast that value in order to stand a chance.
Captain Andrews being an obvious lock to make the roster at center, leaving us with Ferentz. While Sherman and Martin might stand better chances to make the roster in the end, Ferentz can play both center or guard, along with has prior experience in New England. We will see how experience with the team factors in when trying to differentiate from a player like Martin. Both have an uphill battle on their hands.
With Godchaux on a good-sized deal, Guy being arguably the team’s most valuable defensive lineman, and second-round pick Barmore already being disruptive and passing the early eye tests, these three are on the roster.
As for Davis, he’s a guy that when it’s all set and done will more than likely be in the same boat as those other three. He’s been a disruptive force in camp thus far, has some (yet limited) experience in the system, and has made a strong case as the team’s best interior defensive lineman behind these three. Akeem Spence and Byron Cowart should give Davis a run for his money, however, in the end it will likely be Davis with his name up there in black.
It’s looking more and more likely that Wise and Anderson will be big run-stopping presences on the edge, but before you flip at the name in red, please take a moment to put Wise on your watch list for breakout candidates. He seems to be getting better each year in the league and just signed an extension that would indicate a heavy role.
Ok, so for Winovich in red. With an overabundance of outside linebackers and some inconsistent play last year, Winovich has been a somewhat quiet subject of trade talks. While he’s more of a backer than an end, his true fit with the squad may not be ideal. Winovich is a player who could easily bring solid compensation in return and go to a defense more his style to have a true breakout year. While it might be something that could benefit both parties, he will still more than likely be on this team. Just a lot of pieces might have to come into place before New England can figure out the true plan for him. He’ll be someone to key on in any potential preseason action.
Kyle Van Noy
The only guy out of this group to really watch during the preseason will be the rookie Perkins. Van Noy comes back into a scheme that he created a career out of, Judon projects as the team’s top pass-rusher, and Uche is balling out in camp as he heads into year two. There are high expectations for this foursome that should wreak havoc on opposing offenses. This is a position with no shortage of job security by any means. Forget a sharpie and break out your paint brush instead.
Speaking of job security, there might not be a player on defense with more of it than Hightower. Boy, it should be real refreshing to see #54 in the middle of the defense again. However, with lots of action in camp and experience calling plays, Bentley will be on this team too. After the recent season-ending ACL injury to Raekwon McMillan, it became all but final that Bentley will be there as the guy behind Hightower.
As for the bubble boys here, Jennings is listed at ILB after seeing some work inside recently. Jennings was thought of more as an outside backer when getting drafted back in 2020, however, after a rough outing last season in limited action, he needs to find any way in which he can contribute to stay alive. While it might be a little premature to cut Jennings loose after his struggles as a rookie in the Covid season, crazier things have happened before. Keep an eye on Jennings, as any sort of positive contributions from him would be big for depth.
Also keep a lookout for Maulia, who could also provide depth and special teams value. While no one is exactly losing sleep if he’s on the roster or not, he could take Brandon King’s spot away (who last appeared in the 2019 preseason).
Where is Waldo? How about where is Stephon? The Gilmore contract situation continues to loom into the first preseason game. He’s a player that gets bolded as he should be on this roster, no question. Anything short of it would quite frankly be a shame on behalf of the organization. Gilmore is the team’s best player, even off injury. Without him, plans change for this squad drastically.
Jackson looks the part of someone ready to impress and improve even more, as he and Gilmore both race to their paydays at the end of this season. Jones stands as another key piece here. A lock on defense that will be critical for handling guys like Cole Beasley, Jamison Crowder the dynamic Jaylen Waddle, and another rookie in the New York Jets’ Elijah Moore.
Surprised at the willingness to designate Bryant as a lock? You shouldn’t be, as Bryant can play some cornerback and safety. He’ll be a solid depth piece for this defense as he continues in his development.
Yet, there’s always that one guy that isn’t like the rest. That is 2019 second-round pick in Williams. While he has the tools and the prototypical measurables to be an impact player at outside corner for the Patriots, it hasn’t unfolded that way just yet. There have been ups and downs for Williams through his road to simply just get on the field. Yet, if he keeps getting shown up by Harry in practice and can’t impress this preseason, his ambitions to get on the field in a regular season game will be most assuredly shattered. Williams is as on the bubble, on the fence as one can get.
With McCourty and Phillips, breakout candidate Dugger, and the ever-so-versatile Mills, they not only have four guys that all could argue their way onto the field on a given snap, they also have position versatility just oozing out of this group. This group here is one to be very excited about, and those four guys will have heavy involvement in the defensive weekly gameplan.
As for Davis and Colbert, this will be a fun battle to see if either can find their way onto the squad. Both have good cases and can contribute on special teams. One of these guys has a good chance to squeak onto the roster as one the final guys to make it.
Then we’ve got Slater and Bethel, who should be considered inseparable at this point. They could be one of the better special teams duos the league has ever seen, as they just get to the ball so quickly.
Bailey needs his own paragraph as a mistake was made earlier calling Gilmore the team’s best player. Bailey’s big boot dictates field position and his value to the team as one of the league’s top punters is massive. Think he’ll be on the team? You better count it.
However, two guys not to count on right now are Nick Folk and his long-snapper in Cardona. Both could potentially see their jobs taken up from under them by youngsters. Folk by the emerging UDFA from Michigan in Nordin. Cardona by a recently signed Brian Khoury, out of Carnegie Mellon. With Nordin’s range exceeding the aging Folk’s, rank his chances of staging an upset much higher.
The final players to watch and who of them makes it:
J.J Taylor Troy Fumagalli
Kristian Wilkerson Yodny Cajuste Marcus Martin