Patriots 53-man roster projection: Why WR is the toughest position to predict this summer


Offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt said the New England Patriots got what they needed from the spring practices. They went through the new schemes taught by new coaches twice — at organized team activities and minicamp. That, he hinted, should set up the team to be ready to go from the start of training camp.

But those spring practices also offered a first glimpse at how the depth chart might look, even if head coach Jerod Mayo insisted there’s no such thing this early in the process.

Still, that doesn’t stop us from looking ahead.

So with the Patriots having wrapped up their offseason program with last week’s minicamp and looking ahead to the quietest six weeks on the NFL calendar (with nothing planned until training camp in late July), let’s project what the 53-man roster could look like come cutdown day.

Quarterbacks

In: Jacoby Brissett, Drake Maye, Joe Milton

Out: Bailey Zappe

No surprises here. Even Zappe must know his days with the Patriots are probably limited. Mayo said he’s fine bringing four quarterbacks to training camp, but it might be hard for the Pats to get Milton onto the practice squad, so Zappe is probably the odd man out. Also, while Maye had some fine moments in spring practices, Brissett is clearly the starter entering camp. It seems like it would take an outstanding training camp performance for Maye to overtake him to become the starter in Week 1.

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Running backs

In: Rhamondre Stevenson, Antonio Gibson, Kevin Harris, JaMycal Hasty

Out: DeShaun Fenwick, Terrell Jennings

Stevenson seems poised for a monster year if he can stay healthy. He and DeMario Douglas consistently seem like the best offensive players on the field, and this new scheme often sticks with the running game, so look for big numbers from Stevenson. Gibson should have more of a third-down role, while Harris, Hasty, Fenwick and Jennings battle for bottom-of-the-roster jobs.

Wide receivers

In: Kendrick Bourne, Ja’Lynn Polk, DeMario Douglas, Javon Baker, K.J. Osborn, JuJu Smith-Schuster

Out: Jalen Reagor, Tyquan Thornton, Kayshon Boutte, T.J. Luther, Kawaan Baker, David Wallis

This is where we’ll see the most intriguing roster competition of training camp. The first four listed will all safely make the team. Osborn is probably safe, too. Some teams are content carrying five receivers, but my guess is the Pats will take six. So do you go with Smith-Schuster’s veteran savvy? Reagor’s ability on kickoff returns amid the rule changes? Thornton’s speed? Boutte’s upside (he caught three touchdowns at Wednesday’s final minicamp session)? Or will one of the young players show out in camp? For now, we’ll give the slightest of nods to Smith-Schuster over Reagor only because several other players (including Polk) looked good as kickoff returners in practice — and if Reagor isn’t returning kicks, he probably won’t have a spot on the roster.

Tight ends

In: Hunter Henry, Austin Hooper, Mitchell Wilcox

Out: Jaheim Bell, La’Michael Pettway, Jacob Warren

There will be a wide-open competition for the Patriots’ No. 3 tight end job in an offense that should use heavy formations more than other teams. We’ve only seen a few practices, but Wilcox has made the most of them with some impressive grabs in traffic, including one during minicamp in the back of the end zone that led to a unit-wide celebration. He gets the nod for now.

Offensive line

In: Chukwuma Okorafor, Cole Strange, David Andrews, Sidy Sow, Mike Onwenu, Caedan Wallace, Layden Robinson, Calvin Anderson, Atonio Mafi

Out: Michael Jordan, Jake Andrews, Vederian Lowe, Tyrone Wheatley, Nick Leverett, Zuri Henry, Charles Turner, Ryan Johnson

Strange’s injury could mean the Patriots will carry an extra interior lineman — either Jordan or Jake Andrews. But for now, we’ll bank on him being healthy by Week 1. The Patriots have tried a few combinations on the offensive line, including one with Onwenu at guard while Robinson and Wallace play tackle. That doesn’t seem like a long-term move, but it’s noteworthy nonetheless. Sow and David Andrews seem to have locked down two of the interior line spots, but who knows what’ll happen if Strange isn’t healthy by September. And it’s been difficult to evaluate the competition at left tackle between Okorafor and Wallace since players don’t wear pads during spring practices.

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Defensive line

In: Matthew Judon, Joshua Uche, Keion White, Deatrich Wise Jr., Davon Godchaux, Christian Barmore, Armon Watts, Anfernee Jennings, Daniel Ekuale

Out: Sam Roberts, Trysten Hill, Jeremiah Pharms Jr., John Morgan III, Jotham Russell

The New England defense was consistently better than the offense this spring (again no surprise), and that started up front — though, again, it’s hard to put too much stock into the trenches when neither side is wearing pads. Still, Barmore looked great, while White seems to have improved from his rookie season. Judon’s status will be one to follow after he skipped OTAs amid a perceived desire to redo his contract. The same goes for Godchaux who was absent for on-field work and wants a re-worked contract, according to Mayo.

Linebackers

In: Ja’Whaun Bentley, Jahlani Tavai, Marte Mapu, Sione Takitaki, Christian Elliss, Raekwon McMillan

Out: Joe Giles-Harris, Jontrey Hunter, Jett Bush, Oshane Ximines, Steele Chambers

This is more linebackers than you’d typically want to keep in this matchup-based defense, but the thinking here is that linebackers could be especially valuable in the new kickoff format. It wouldn’t be a surprise either if Giles-Harris played his way onto the roster (especially since Takitaki was absent from a few spring practices). For now, this has turned into a position of strength for the Patriots.

Cornerbacks

In: Christian Gonzalez, Jonathan Jones, Marcus Jones, Alex Austin, Marcellas Dial, Isaiah Bolden

Out: Shaun Wade, Azizi Hearn, Marco Wilson, Mikey Victor, Kaleb Ford-Dement

There are two ways of looking at the spring from the Patriots’ perspective. The negative outlook is that Gonzalez and Jonathan Jones didn’t participate much, which is potentially worrying given Gonzalez’s recovery from shoulder surgery and Jones’ return from an ankle procedure. On the other hand, that gave more opportunities to players like Austin and Bolden, who both made strong impressions. Bolden lined up at multiple spots and “should be a demon on special teams,” Mayo said.

Safeties

In: Kyle Dugger, Jabrill Peppers, Joshua Bledsoe

Out: Jaylinn Hawkins, Dell Pettus

The downside to keeping all those linebackers and cornerbacks is only keeping three safeties. But with the position flexibility of Mapu and Bolden, that isn’t concerning. Dugger and Peppers are very good and should form one of the better safety duos in the league. But the Pats need them to stay healthy because the depth here isn’t great.

Specialists

In: Chad Ryland, Bryce Baringer, Joe Cardona, Brenden Schooler

Out: Joey Slye

At the spring practices open to reporters, there weren’t many field goal attempts, which makes this kind of a coin flip between Ryland and Slye at kicker. For now, we’ll go with Ryland, a fourth-round pick last year, after the compliments he received from new special teams coach Jeremy Springer, who worked out Ryland before the draft.

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(Photo of JuJu Smith-Schuster: Eric Canha / USA Today)





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