Just one more game separates the Patriots from their window to cut down this roster to just 53 players. For some players, this game against the Tennessee Titans could very well be the end of their football journey, for others, one last shot to either crack the 53-man unit or nail down a practice squad spot. Even then, the large bulk of this roster has been set in stone for some time now, and with one game left before things become official, here's how I have things shaking out.
New England Patriots Offense
Quarterbacks (3) - Mac Jones, Bailey Zappe, Malik Cunningham
Cut - Trace McSorley
Now that we got a chance to see Cunningham play some quarterback against the Texans, I'd feel confident enough making him the Patriots' emergency QB while running the risk of McSorley getting poached off the practice squad. In theory, you know he's capable enough to run this offense with the necessary wrinkles added in should the need ever arise, but also, this would allow New England to carry their six best wide receivers. More than worth it if you ask me.
Running Backs (3) - Rhamondre Stevenson, Ezekiel Elliott, Pierre Strong
Cut - J.J. Taylor, Kevin Harris, Ty Montgomery, C.J. Marabel
It's been a long time since the Patriots have gone with less than four running backs, but Bill O'Brien typically has relied on only a few backs at most, looking at his final two years with the Texans and the Alabama Crimson Tide. This interaction of the Patriots may be able to skate by with 'Mondre, Zeke, and Pierre Strong, given the role each guy is likely to play. If they carry four backs, that final spot is J.J. Taylor's, in all likelihood.
Wide Reciever (6) - DeVante Parker, Kendrick Bourne, Juju Smith-Schuster, Tyquan Thornton, Demario Douglas, Kayshon Boutte
IR/PUP - Tre Nixon
Cut - Raliegh Webb, Thyrick Pitts
Cunningham effectively becoming the No. 3 QB is the best news possible for Kayshon Boutte, who has been dynamite in both practice and game action the further we've gone along this preseason. At this point, I'd be stunned if he doesn't make this roster outright. A lot has been made of this group this summer, with Mike Giardi saying the now immortal phrase "Stink, Stank, and Stunk" to describe things, but I genuinely think this is a more than fine group. Not anywhere near teams like the Dolphins, Jaguars, Bengals, or Chargers with all-around talent and depth, but you can get by with these six, no problem.
Tight Ends (2) - Hunter Henry, Mike Gesicki,
Cut - Anthony Firkser, Matt Sokol, Scotty Washington, Johnny Lumpkin
This wouldn't be the first time the Patriots entered the year with just two active tight ends, they did so all of two years ago with Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith. The thinking here is that if you can skate by with Firkser and Sokol on the practice squad the entire year, you can elevate either to the active roster as needed. They'll surely need a third guy who can block, but this could be a workaround to open the season.
Offensive Tackles (4) - Trent Brown, Riley Reiff, Connor McDermott, Sidy Sow
IR/PUP - Calvin Anderson
Cut - Anthony Stueber, Micah Vanterpool
In our first live look at the Patriots offensive tackle starters, it was Trent Brown and Sidy Sow leading things against the Packers, with Reiff kicking inside to right guard. Said this on Twitter recently, but I would not swap Reiff and Mike Onwenu unless you are supremely confident in Onwenu's ability on the outside. Remember that he graded out well in 2021 when he played tackle, but he only started in 8-of-16 games he appeared in. Sow or Reiff should be the top options to go opposite of Brown. Additionally, with Calvin Anderson still on the NFI list, McDermott feels like the most natural candidate to slot in as a backup until he's ready to go.
Interior Offensive Lineman (5) - David Andrews, Mike Onwenu, Cole Strange, Jake Andrews, Atonio Mafi
Cut - Chasen Hines, Kody Russey, James Ferentz, Bill Murray
With an extra spot here with a couple less skill position guys, the added fifth man in this equation is fifth-rounder Atonio Mafi, who started against the Packers and played the entire first half. It wasn't a clean game for the UCLA product with that said. I had him down for a few pressures allowed, including a sack, but the fact Mafi stood in for Strange and held his own for the most part was a good sign. Another good sign is that Mike Onwenu is back practicing and off PUP.
Circling back to rookies now, I saw enough out of Jake Andrews to feel good moving forward. I wasn't too high on that selection in the moment or weeks afterward, but he made some nice blocks out in space and held his own up the middle.
New England Patriots Special Teams
Specialist (3) - Chad Ryland, Bryce Baringer, Joe Cardona
Cut - Nick Folk, Corliss Waitman
Although Chad Ryland has had a rough start to this week and hasn't gotten the chance to attempt any field goals yet, I have a hard time seeing him not win this kicker job based on Nick Folk's age and performance last year, specifically on kickoffs. Also, the fact that the Patriots used a top-120 pick on Ryland probably helps his cause.
The real star of this unit has been Michigan's Bryce Baringer. He only has six punts to his name, but here are some numbers that show how good Barringer has been so far this preseason. He ranks fourth in average yards per and third in net yards per (53.3 and 47.3), and four of his punts have landed inside of the 20, yielding just three total kick returns for 16 total yards. So yeah, I'd say that Belichick has found his man.
Core Special Teamers (3) - Matthew Slater, Chris Board, Brendan Schooler
IR/PUP - Cody Davis
Still feel great about these three, but I wonder if Cody Davis' days in New England are numbered. There will be some good players not on the active roster to begin the year, which knocks him further down the totem pole of priority activations.
New England Patriots Defense
Interior Defensive Line (6) – Christian Barmore, Davon Godchaux, Deatrich Wise, Daniel Ekuale, Carl Davis, Lawrence Guy
Cut - Sam Roberts, Justus Tavai, Jeremiah Pharms Jr.
No changes up front defensively from 1.0, but wanted to note that this group got run on a bit by the Packers last Saturday, which was somewhat alarming. No large chunk plays, but consistently giving up 4-6 yards on every carry won't win you many games. This leads me to this overarching point.
Earlier this week, the Patriots also picked up former Panthers UDFA Marquan McCall, and we set to practice for the first time earlier today. Well, he was, then his medicals revealed a red flag, specifically a knee injury. I bring this up because had he not reverted to the waiver wire, would McCall have taken Lawrence Guy's spot on this team? It's been mum on his contract situation since he returned, and why else would you try and get another interior guy (granted, someone who predominately lines up as a nose tackle) this late in the game? Some food for thought.
EDGE (4) – Matt Judon, Josh Uche, Keion White, Anfernee Jennings
IR/PUP - Trey Flowers
Cut - Ronnie Perkins
Although the pass rush was blanked against Green Bay, I'm ultimately not concerned with this group long-term. We know what Judon and Uche bring to the table and saw enough out of White against Houston to feel more than good. Gotta feel for Ronnie Perkins, though. He never was able to get on the field after getting picked in the third round in 2021. I'd have to imagine there's a spot on the practice squad for him. Meanwhile, Trey Flowers will likely start the year on PUP due to a foot injury last season with Miami. He is another option to take the roster spot currently occupied by Lawrence Guy, given his inside-out versatility and long-term experience in Belichick/Belichick adjacent defenses. I fully believe Flowers is staying put on the active roster once he's cleared.
Linebackers (3) – JaWhaun Bentley, Jahlani Tavai, Mack Wilson
Cut - Joe Giles-Harris, Diego Fagot, Calvin Munson
I don't anticipate any major curveballs with this linebacker core. One name to keep in mind, however, if Belichick wants to carry four LBs is Calvin Munson is a name to keep in mind, simply for special teams value. I really like the main pairing of Bentley and Tavai, and you could probably add Marte Mapu and Kyle Dugger into that mix if you want.
Cornerbacks (6) – Christian Gonzalez, Jonathan Jones, Jack Jones, Marcus Jones, Myles Bryant, Ameer Speed
PUP/IR - Isaiah Bolden
Cut - Rodney Randle, Shaun Wade
Christian Gonzalez going down with an ankle/leg injury earlier today certainly puts a damper on things, but this is as good a cornerback room in the NFL. I already know people will look at Myles Bryant and roll their eyes, which, in fairness, isn't entirely unwarranted given how much he has been successfully picked on, but you also have to consider this. Given that he has notable experience as a slot corner and as a STAR, it's hard to find an immediate plug-and-play replacement. Whether or not you believe he's good is up to you, but that's the reality. (Just outside the hashes on the top side, btw)
Now, getting to Bolden, it's worth noting that he got a very similar amount of snaps as Gonzalez and Jalen Mills did against Green Bay, his 29 to their 34 a pop. Given the snap count, I guess this was to see if he could hang for 60 minutes. Thoughts that were echoed by Ted Johnson on the NBCSB postgame show. I would say Bolden did pretty well for himself if this was a test, even if that Romeo Doubs catch counted. Bolden did a good job recovering, and it took Romeo Doubs every microblade of grass to stay in. You don't find guys with Bolden's athletic profile too often, and if he reverts to the practice squad once he gets out of concussion protocol, he 100% will get poached. For now, Ameer Speed feels like a logical sixth corner that can give you value on special teams, as well, until either Bolden is fully ready to go. There's zero reason to rush him back to anything, and I'm simply glad he was good enough to fly back to Foxborough with the team.
Relating to Jack Jones, Sportico's Legal Expert Michael McCann, who also teaches law at UNH and as a visiting professor at Harvard, noted that his recently moved hearing date of September 15 could indicate a plea deal is on the way. Whether or not that removes jail time from the equation remains to be seen, but a potentially huge development for the second-year corner.
Safeties (5) – Kyle Dugger, Adrian Phillips, Jalen Mills, Marte Mapu, Jabrill Peppers
Cut - Josh Bledsoe, Brad Hawkins
Another position group where there should be no surprises. Elite, elite, elite group of guys here, and one guy to note in this group is Jalen Mills. In the leadership vacuum left by Devin McCourty, the veteran has talked, acted, and played like a leader so far in what can only be described as a great development.
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