For all 32 NFL teams, roster building is a difficult process, each and every year. The added complexities of the tumultuous year that has been 2020, have made this one of the most challenging offseasons in recent memory. For the New England Patriots, the post-Tom Brady era is about to begin. However, by 4:00pm on Saturday, September 5th, the team must trim its roster to the 53 members, with which they choose to march into the upcoming season.
With the Pats’ depth chart beginning to come into focus, here is an attempted gaze into the ‘Belichickian Crystal Ball’ at the Patriots’ projected final product:
Cam Newton, Jarrett Stidham, Brian Hoyer
For the first time in nearly 20 years, the Patriots found themselves battling uncertainty at their starting quarterback position. As Training Camp progressed, Cam Newton continued to emerge as the front runner with each passing day. Although the job appears to be Cam’s for the taking, there is still a prominent place for Jarrett Stidham on this team. Stidham will once again serve as the team’s primary back-up, and his ailing lower body makes Brian Hoyer a necessary addition on the depth chart.
Running Back/Fullback (5)
James White, Sony Michel, Rex Burkhead, Damien Harris, Jakob Johnson
The running back corps is arguably the deepest position on the Patriots offense in 2020. Damien Harris was among the camp standouts. Not only did he secure a roster spot, but he may also challenge Sony Michel for the majority of the team’s snaps. Taylor was a difficult cut. His ability to play bigger than his 5-foot-5inch frame, as well the the exciting style he brings to the position, present a risk to losing him en route to the practice squad. In fact, Patriots’ running backs coach Ivan Fears has already nicknamed him “Little Dion” (as in, Lewis). Jakob Johnson had a strong camp, proving that he did not inherit the fullback position by default. He earned his spot.
Tight End (3)
Ryan Izzo, Devin Asiasi, Dalton Keene
Despite recently being slowed by an ankle injury, Asiasi has displayed the necessary prowess as both a pass catcher and run blocker to earn the TE1 spot. Dalton Keene will emerge as a versatile asset as the season progresses. His ability to line up in the H-back (or even FB) role will become more evident as Keene is able to adapt to New England’s offensive schemes. Ryan Izzo has displayed significant growth as a blocker; enough to earn him the third spot at the position.
Wide Receiver (6)
Julian Edelman, N’Keal Harry, Mohamed Sanu, Damiere Byrd, Gunner Olszewski, Jeff Thomas
While Edelman and Harry have long been considered the only 2020 roster locks at wideout, several Patriots’ receivers parlayed a strong camp into roster spots. This is especially true of Gunner Olszewski, who has looked significantly quicker and stronger than he did last season. Damiere Byrd has impressed the Pats with his speed and experience. In a surprise, the Patriots decide to roster undrafted rookie free agent Jeff Thomas. Despite a limited camp resume, Thomas’ speed and explosive play-making ability give him the nod, here. 2019 training camp standout, Jakobi Meyers, has been battling an ailment throughout camp, which could have him landing on IR (most likely with a designation to return) to begin the season.
Offensive Line (9)
Joe Thuney, Isaiah Wynn, Shaq Mason, David Andrews, Jermaine Eluemunor, Hijalte Froholdt, Justin Herron, Yodny Cajuste, Michael Onwenu
Nine players on the offensive line’s depth chart might seem excessive. However, the Patriots are facing a number of transitions on offense in 2020, in addition to navigating through a global pandemic. Following Marcus Cannon’s decision to opt out, Jermaine Eluemunor has emerged as his likely successor. After a stellar start to camp, Cunningham’s production noticeably cooled. As a result, he becomes the odd man out. Rookies Michael Onwenu and Justin Herron will add solid depth at both tackle and guard, as will second year lineman Yodny Cajuste. In his return from an injury-plagued 2019, Hijalte Froholdt should be New England’s top interior backup.
Defensive Line (6)
Lawrence Guy, Byron Cowart, Deatrich Wise, Adam Butler, John Simon, Derek Rivers
IR – Beau Allen
Deatrich Wise seemingly entered training camp with the realization that he was on the roster bubble. However, Wise has all but solidified his spot, having one of the strongest camps of anyone on the Patriots roster. In the absence of Beau Allen, Byron Cowart seized his opportunities to make an impact, both as a run stopper and pass rusher in the interior of the defensive line. Speaking of Allen, his lack of time on the field makes him a possible candidate to start the season on injured reserve. Derek Rivers made a late-camp surge and ultimately showed about prowess to earn a spot on the roster.
Ja’Whaun Bentley, Chase Winovich, Brandon Copeland, Josh Uche, Anfernee Jennings, Cassh Maluia
After losing four of their most prolific players from 2019, there are plenty of new faces on this corps. There will be plenty of opportunity for Uche, Jennings and Maluia to make an impact as rookies. Brandon Copeland earns a spot, providing some much needed veteran depth. Chase Winovich will be in a greater position this year to display that ‘high motor’ for which he is so well-known. His burst off of his stance, coupled with his ability to bend and turn the corner tightly, make him difficult to block.
Stephon Gilmore, J.C. Jackson, Jason McCourty, Jonathan Jones, Joejuan Williams, Justin Bethel
By consensus, this is the strongest and deepest position on the roster. Stephon Gilmore and J.C. Jackson arguably comprise the most potent one-two cornerback combination in the NFL. While technically listed as a corner, 2019 second-round draft selection JoeJuan Williams is likely to see significant time at the safety position. Despite a solid showing during training camp, Michael Jackson, Sr. was a difficult final cut, due to the position’s collective depth.
Devin McCourty, Terrence Brooks, Adrian Phillips, Kyle Dugger, Cody Davis
Following Patrick Chung’s decision to opt out, there was much speculation on who might emerge opposite Devin McCourty in the defensive backfield. Rookie Kyle Dugger has emerged a potential (and immediate) difference maker. Terrance Brooks has proved his value, as well. Though Adrian Phillips has struggled to stay on the field in camp, his versatility and special teams prowess earn him a spot. Rounding out the safety corps is newcomer Cody Davis, who is looking like the next incarnation of Nate Ebner.
Jake Bailey, Joe Cardona, Nick Folk, Matthew Slater
The Patriots spent a fifth round selection in the 2020 NFL Draft on Marshall kicker Justin Rohrwasser. Following the release of Stephen Gostkowski, it appeared that the rookie had been handed the starting boot. However, an erratic start to training camp, and conflicting reports on a possible injury, led to the team re-signing Nick Folk. Since his return, Folk has been the most consistent of the two kickers. White it is hard to imagine the Pats cutting ties with Rohrwasser so quickly, he could be a candidate for injured reserve; especially if the injury rumors prove to be more serious than originally thought.
-Mike D’Abate is a Managing Editor and Columnist for Full Press Coverage. He covers the New England Patriots and provides NFL editorial content. He is also the host of the Locked On Patriots podcast. Follow him on Twitter @mdabateFPC