Football is back in Foxboro, Massachusetts. The defending Super Bowl LIII Champions, the New England Patriots, are set to report to training camp on Wednesday. The first team organized practice will follow on Thursday. At that time, all memories of celebratory confetti, parades and ring ceremonies will be put aside in favor of focusing solely on creating a successful 2019 season.
As this year’s Patriots take the practice fields adjacent to Gillette Stadium, all eyes will be on position battles and individual performances as this year’s Patriots take the practice fields adjacent to Gillette Stadium. Team practice will give way to preseason games. Of course, the ultimate goal for each training camp attendee is to procure a spot on the 53-man roster. While we are still a few weeks away from the final roster being set, here is a pre-camp prediction of what the New England Patriots roster might look like when the team opens the regular season on Sunday September 8, versus the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer, Jarrett Stidham
While Jarrett Stidham performed admirably during spring practices, the Pats will likely opt to carry three quarterbacks in 2019. For starters, the rookie’s minicamp showing was not quite good enough for the Patriots to consider carrying only two quarterbacks. Hoyer’s scouting acumen and professional game experience will likely keep him in a Pats uniform this season. It should also be noted that Hoyer would be owed the guaranteed $1.51 million portion of his contract, if released. Drafting Stidham likely means the end for Danny Etling, who did little to help his cause for a roster spot during spring camps. Look for Etling to be a possible addition to the practice squad.
RUNNING BACK (5)
Brandon Bolden, Rex Burkhead, Damien Harris, Sony Michel, James White
It may seem like a crowded backfield. However, it makes sense to keep five running backs on the roster. While some (including myself) have speculated that Burkhead might be a roster casualty, the health of Michel heading into camp makes Burkhead’s return more likely. Rookie Damien Harris could be a camp standout. During minicamp, he demonstrated the necessary intangibles to be an effective option in both situational runs, or even as a feature back. In addition to his special teams prowess, Bolden should be a viable option on third down, to help alleviate the workload of James White.
Develin’s worth to the Patriots roster needs no elaboration. He is a lock to make the team, with good reason. Develin rushed for four touchdowns in 2018, proving to be a viable threat at the goal line. With the tight end position in a state of transition, Develin might also be used in a hybrid role in some packages this season.
WIDE RECEIVER (6)
Braxton Berrios, Phillip Dorsett, Julian Edelman, N’Keal Harry, Maurice Harris, Matthew Slater
PUP (Physically Unable to Perform): Demaryius Thomas
Suspended (indefinitely): Josh Gordon
Despite some prognostications to the contrary, this could be one of the most competitive groups of wide receivers which the Pats have fielded in quite some time. Perhaps devoid of a notable name such as Jones, Brown or Beckham, the Pats current corps is not short on talent. Maurice Harris might have done enough during minicamp to ‘make his bones’ with the Patriots coaching staff. (Thank you for humoring my gratuitous reference to The Godfather) With Julian Edelman sidelined for at least the first three weeks of camp, Harris, Berrios, and Dorsett will see increased time working with Tom Brady. Both Berrios and Jakobi Meyers showed promise during minicamp. If they continue to shine in training camp, this roster decision could become very difficult. Berrios’ knowledge of the Pats playbook gives him the very slight edge here, for now. Thomas will begin training camp on the PUP list, and is a possibility to remain there through the start of the 2019 regular season.
TIGHT END (2)
Matt LaCosse, Ryan Izzo
Suspended (four games): Ben Watson
With the retirement of Rob Gronkowski, the Patriots tight end-depth faces its toughest test in quite some time. Until Benjamin Watson returns from his four-game suspension, it is likely that they will look to get by with two tight ends. Despite the preseason buzz surrounding Andrew Beck, Izzo looks to be the more logical choice. The Pats may look to add veteran depth here prior to the start of the season.
OFFENSIVE LINE (8)
David Andrews, Yodny Cajuste, Marcus Cannon, Hjalte Froholdt, Ted Karras, Shaq Mason, Joe Thuney, Isaiah Wynn
Brian Schwenke was another difficult cut, as capable offensive linemen are usually at a premium. Should the Pats suffer an injury on the o-line, Schwenke would likely be a prime candidate to fill that spot. However, if the Pats maintain a healthy line come early September, rookies Yodny Cajuste and Hjalte Froholdt will like be included in that group. Given the size and unique ability of each lineman (both rookies and veterans), Dante Scarnecchia could field one of the most versatile lines of his long and storied career.
DEFENSIVE LINE (8)
Michael Bennett, Adam Butler, Lawrence Guy, Mike Pennel, John Simon, Danny Shelton, Chase Winovich, Deatrich Wise, Jr.
When the Patriots drafted Derek Rivers in 2017, many considered it to be a steal. However, the talented (but oft-injured) defensive lineman has seemingly been unable to find his niche in New England. With an average-at-best showing during minicamp, Rivers will be a likely-cut heading into 2019. Despite drafting Byron Cowart with the 159th pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, the Pats will likely go with Shelton to increase depth at nose tackle. Bennett, Winovich, Wise and Simon complete the depth chart at defensive end, with Cowart and Keionta Davis being the likely casualties.
Ja’Whaun Bentley, Jamie Collins, Dont’a Hightower, Brandon King, Kyle Van Noy
With no disrespect intended to Elandon Roberts, (who has played well during his tenure in Foxboro) the wealth of talent at other key positions on defense made him a difficult cut. Collins had a very impressive minicamp. His knowledge of the Patriots defensive schemes make him a much more likely roster candidate than Terez Hall, Calvin Munson and Christian Sam. Each of those three could be in line for spots on the practice squad. However, it is likely that at least one, or more, will be signed by a team in need of depth at linebacker.
Keion Crossen, Duke Dawson, Stephon Gilmore, JC Jackson, Jonathan Jones, Jason McCourty, Joejuan Williams
It seems improbable that the Patriots would entertain the idea of carrying seven players at the cornerback position. However, when considering the depth of talent at the position, it is more feasible than originally thought. It is possible that the Patriots could elect to move one via trade. Gilmore, McCourty, Jackson and Williams are all but assured a roster spot. Rookie Ken Webster could spend 2019 on Injured Reserve (IR), as his injury history is well documented. Crossen, Jones and Dawson were all impressive during spring practices. Dawson showed great potential, while Jones and Crossen provide valuable contribution on special teams. Completing the cornerback depth chart might just have Bill Belichick and the Pats coaching staff singing a chorus of The Clash’s 1982-hit, “Should I Stay or Should I Go?”
Terrence Brooks, Patrick Chung, Nate Ebner, Duron Harmon, Devin McCourty
Despite also having great talent at safety, the Pats will likely make a few tough roster cuts at the position. Malik Gant and A.J. Howard face an uphill battle to unseat Terrence Brooks for the final spot on the depth chart. Obi Melifonwu has very impressive athleticism, but has had health struggles through his career. Unless Melifonwu has an outstanding camp, Brooks will likely get the nod for 2019.
SPECIAL TEAMS (3)
P Jake Bailey, LS Joe Cardona, K Stephen Gostkowski
It is not often that a special teams positional battle is one that commands significant attention. However, the battle appears to be on between the rookie Bailey, and the incumbent, Ryan Allen. The Patriots invested a fifth-round pick in the Stanford punter. While many an eyebrow was raised at the team’s decision to choose a punter after re-signing Allen (especially after his stellar Super Bowl performance), Bailey possesses the ability to make things interesting. On the other hand (or foot, to be more appropriate) Allen is no stranger to competition. In 2018, the Patriots also brought in a punter with a big leg (Corey Bojorquez) to compete for the job during training camp. Allen rose to the occasion and safely secured the job, after proving to be the superior talent. It is possible that this could happen again this year. However, Bailey brings a bit more pedigree to the position, than did Bojorquez. His performance in minicamp proves that he will certainly have every opportunity to vie for the roster spot. Seeing that the Pats used valuable draft capital to select him, this could end up being the most intriguing positional battle of the summer.
–Mike D’Abate is a Managing Editor and National Columnist for Full Press Coverage Sports Media. He covers the New England Patriots and provides NFL editorial content. Follow him on Twitter @mdabateFPC