The New England Patriots have reached the halfway point of their 2018 preseason. With victories over the Washington Redsklins and Philadelphia Eagles (respectively), the structure of the 2018 Pats has begun to take shape. However, there is still much to be learned as the team marches through the remainder of the preseason slate.
Some circumstances have changed since my last attempt at predicting the 2018 Patriots 53-man roster. Wide receivers Jordan Matthews and Malcolm Mitchell are no longer with the team. Eric Decker and Devin Lucien have been added to the fold. Rookie guard Isaiah Wynn has been lost for the season after suffering an Achilles injury. Most importantly, we have had the chance to evaluate the performance of the players on the practice field, as well as during in-game action.
With two games in the books, and two to be played, here is the second of three preseason projections for the 53-man roster of the New England Patriots.
QUARTERBACK (2): Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer
Rookie Danny Etling had his ups and downs during training camp. As a result, it is looking likely that the Patriots will carry two quarterbacks on the primary roster, with Etling being relegated to the practice squad. He has looked better recently, as he gets more comfortable with the system. However, that will not be enough for Etling to displace the number two spot, held by Brian Hoyer. Despite mixed reviews for Hoyer, it still appears that he will continue to be Tom Brady’s backup for the 2018 season.
RUNNING BACK (5): James White, Rex Burkhead, Sony Michel, Jeremy Hill, Brandon Bolden
With Rex Burkhead’s return to the field this week, it appears that he will be ready for Week 1 against the Houston Texans. While the team remains quiet on the progress of Sony Michel, everything seems to point to him being ready for the regular season. Jeremy Hill has opened enough eyes to be a viable addition to this corps of running backs. On the contrary, Mike Gillislee has not done enough to overtake those with whom he is competing. The Patriots could look to trade Gillislee before the opening of the regular season. If they don’t, he is a likely candidate for the cutting room floor. The Pats would love to stash rookie Ralph Webb on the practice squad. However, his performance against Washington might earn him a spot on a team in need of running back depth.
TIGHT END (3): Rob Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen, Jacob Hollister
With Troy Niklas having been jettisoned, it seems likely that Dwayne Allen will remain with the team for 2018. Will Tye has been serviceable, but not impressive enough to overtake Allen or Jacob Hollister for a roster spot. Hollister seems primed for a breakout year. He has worked closely with Tom Brady on developing their chemistry, both during after practice. That, combined with earning the public praise of head coach Bill Belichick, bodes well for the young tight end.
FULLBACK (1): James Develin
While Develin is most likely to make the team as a running back, he is more than capable of lining up at tight end, if need be. Make no mistake. Develin is a roster lock. However, it will be interesting to see if the Patriots list him on the depth chart as a tight end, should they choose to carry an additional running back.
WIDE RECEIVER (6): Kenny Britt, Chris Hogan, Eric Decker, Phillip Dorsett, Cordarrelle Patterson, Matthew Slater (Julian Edelman, suspended)
With Julian Edelman not eligible to return until Week 5 against the Indianapolis Colts, the Pats will look to maintain a veteran presence to open the 2018 season. Riley McCarron, Braxton Berrios, and Devin Lucien have both talent and potential. However, the Patriots will likely carry Eric Decker for his veteran savvy and experience, instead. That being said, he needs to address his drop issues…quickly! The team continues to express high hopes for Kenny Britt, despite him having seen little-to-no time on the field. Cordarrelle Patterson should be considered a roster lock. Having been on the fortunate side of an injury scare in practice last week, Phillip Dorsett’s speed and experience make him a likely retention, as well.
OFFENSIVE LINE (8): Trent Brown, Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Marcus Cannon, LaAdrian Waddle, Ted Karras, Cole Croston
With Wynn out for the season, Ted Karras should take his spot on the offensive line. Karras has knowledge in the Pats offense, which makes him a more likely retention than Matt Tobin or Jason King. The versatile Cole Croston retains his slot based on his being able to play both tackle and on the interior. However, this could be a competition that lasts until the final cutdown. Performance in the remaining two preseason games will undoubtedly determine the last man standing on the 2018 Patriots offensive line.
DEFENSIVE LINE (9): Trey Flowers, Lawrence Guy, Danny Shelton, Malcom Brown, Adrian Clayborn, Deatrich Wise, Derek Rivers, Vincent Valentine, Adam Butler
This one might raise some eyebrows. The Patriots are deep on the defensive line, which is a nice problem to have. However, it does mean that the team will have to part with talent. Keionta Davis is a tough cut here, despite playing well with the first-teamers for an extended period of time. However, the intangibles that Vincent Valentine can provide should give him the nod on a much improved defensive line. It would not be shocking to see the Pats choose Davis over Valentine. However, Valentine gets the nod here based on potential and knowledge of the Pats’ defensive system.
LINEBACKER (6): Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Ja’Whaun Bentley, Marquis Flowers, Christian Sam, Brandon King
Although the Patriots would ideally like to carry seven linebackers, they should use the extra roster spot to retain talent on the defensive line. Ja’Whaun Bentley has been really impressive in the first two preseason games. He looks to have earned the attention of Bill Belichick and the Pats’ defensive brain trust. As a result, veteran Elandon Roberts seems to be the odd man out, here. Many consider rookie Christian Sam to be a more likely candidate for the practice squad. However, Sam should get a roster nod, along with Brandon King.
CORNERBACK (6): Stephon Gilmore, Eric Rowe, Jason McCourty, Jonathan Jones, Cyrus Jones, Duke Dawson
As indicated by Ryan Hannable of WEEI.com, an undrafted rookie has made the 53-man roster for 14 straight years. J.C. Jackson has certainly done enough to continue that streak. However, it is hard to envision a scenario for the Pats to carry seven cornerbacks, despite the obvious talent at the position. Jonathan Jones looks to be on his way to starting the season healthy. As a result, Jackson will be a very difficult cut here. The talent he has shown will make him a likely pickup for a team in need of depth in the secondary.
SAFETY (4): Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon, Patrick Chung, Nate Ebner
As was the case in the previous projection, Jordan Richards remains off the Patriots’ 2018 53-man roster. While Richards typically earns a roster spot (due in large part to his special teams’ contributions) this appears to be the year in which the Pats part ways with the former second-round pick. Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, and Duron Harmon will continue to provide toughness and field savvy. While Ebner’s contributions are most notably on special teams, he will once again be a lock at safety.
SPECIALISTS (3): Ryan Allen, Joe Cardona, Stephen Gostkowski
As training camp opened, many expected a tight battle at the punter position. However, undrafted rookie Corey Bojorquez has not appeared in any of the two preseason games. Ryan Allen has performed well enough to make the team. Stephen Gostkowski and Joe Cardona remain two of the leagues best specialists and thus are locks to make the 2018 New England Patriots.
–Mike D’Abate is a Managing Editor and National Columnist for Full Press Coverage Sports Media. He covers the New England Patriots and the NFL. Follow him on Twitter @mdabateFPC