By Nick Adamopoulos –
Football season is finally back, and the New England Patriots are set to hold training camp beginning July 26th. The Pats looked good during Mac Jones’s rookie season under center, and expectations are high in New England. Without any preseason games played yet or any film to review, here is my first roster projection going into camp:
Mac Jones & Bailey Zappe
Jones is the starter and won’t be competing with either Brian Hoyer or Bailey Zappe during camp. Hoyer will be a final day cut, but won’t be off the roster for long. Similar to last season, the Patriots will initially cut Hoyer so that another player can make the active roster before being placed on IR, and then Hoyer will be signed either to the practice squad or active roster. Hoyer is too valuable within the QB Room to not keep around and may be the de facto QB coach this season. Rookie Zappe makes the roster in this projection but, like Hoyer,may be a late cut with the hopes to stash him on the practice squad.
RUNNING BACKS (4)
Damien Harris, Rhamondre Stevenson, Pierre Strong Jr, Kevin Harris
PUP : James White
Harris enters camp as the number one RB for the Patriots but should be supplanted during the season by Stevenson. Stevenson demonstrated last season that he is a secure ball handler that can withstand punishment. Stevenson is also a better pass catcher than Harris. If a team calls the Patriots with a good enough offer, do not be surprised if Harris is traded. In this projection rookies Strong and Harris make the roster over JJ Taylor. Strong can offer the same intangibles as Taylor to start the year and can split third down duties with Harris until White is physically able to take the field.
WIDE RECEIVERS (6)
DeVante Parker, Jakobi Meyers, Nelson Agholar, Tyquan Thornton, Kendrick Bourne, Kristian Wilkerson
If there is one position that needs to improve from last season it is certainly the receiver room. Parker, Bourne and Meyers are the clear top three choices going into the season. Agholar will make the roster due to his current salary situation but could be dealt if a team is in need of a receiver. Rookie Thornton makes the roster and brings a new speed option down the outside, along with Parker. Wilkerson makes the team over Tre Nixon, but if Agholar struggles or is dealt, look for Nixon to sneak himself onto the roster.
TIGHT END (3)
Hunter Henry, Jonnu Smith, Dalton Keene
Devin Asiasi’s time with the team comes to an end this preseason. Keene offers more versatility due to his ability to play H-Back and fullback if necessary. Henry and Smith are clearly the top two options at tight end. The Patriots hope that Smith drastically improves over a disappointing 2021 season.
OFFENSIVE LINE (8)
Trent Brown, Cole Strange, David Andrews, Michael Onwenu, Isaiah Wynn, Justin Herron, Yodny Cajuste, James Ferentz.
Protection for Jones will be an important battle throughout camp. Rookie first round pick Strange will be given every opportunity to be the week 1 starter at left guard. The backend of the depth chart may change if a player with experience becomes available. With injury concerns for both Brown and Wynn, finding a durable and reliable swing tackle would be an important find.
DEFENSIVE TACKLE (6)
Christian Barmore, Lawrence Guy, Davon Godchaux, Deatrich Wise, Henry Anderson, Sam Roberts
Defensive Tackle is likely the deepest group going into camp. Barmore and Guy provide stability in the middle, and Anderson brings versatility. Barmore was disruptive during his rookie season and continued improvement could cement him as a three down player. The amount of quality bodies the Patriots have in camp at Defensive Tackle will allow them to stash one or two on the practice squad.
Matthew Judon, Josh Uche, Ronnie Perkins, Mack Wilson, Raekwon McMillan, Cameron McGrone, Ja’Whaun Bentley,
Judon looks to improve off of an incredible first year for the Patriots. If Donte Hightower doesn’t return, Mack Wilson and Bentley may be looked at to fill the middle linebacker spot. For the first time in a long time, the Patriots bring in some youth to the linebacker room and hope that these young players can contribute right away. One has to assume that the longer Hightower and Tre Flowers remain free agents, that one of them finds their way to New England.
Devin McCourty, Kyle Dugger, Adrian Phillips, Jabriel Peppers
Peppers is the new addition to the safety corps, along with veterans McCourty, Dugger, and Phillips. These four safeties are built around athleticism and the ability to match up with the speed and strength of Tight Ends in the current NFL. Continued improvement by Dugger is essential, as he will be tasked not only with coverage duties, but blitz packages off of the edge.
Malcolm Butler, Jalen Mills, Jack Jones, Marcus Jones, Myles Bryant, Jonathan Jones, Terrance Mitchell
Super Bowl hero Butler returns to the Patriots and will look to fill some of the void left by the loss of JC Jackson. While Butler brings name recognition, he struggled in his last two seasons with the Titans and found himself taking most of 2021 off. Jack Jones and Marcus Jones, both rookies, will go into the season with the opportunity to start. Both bring speed and range to the position and could push Mills and Butler for playing time. Mills may find himself back to the jack-of-all-trades role that he had in Philadelphia lining up on the outside, inside, and at safety depending on the week’s matchup.
SPECIAL TEAMS (6)
Matthew Slater, Cody Davis, Jake Bailey, Joe Cardona, Nick Folk, Justin Bethel
No surprises here. All six are fundamental pieces for the Patriots. Folk is finally being compensated for being one of the most reliable kickers in the league over the last two seasons, while Bailey looks to rebound from a down year. Slater returns for at least one more season.