Cut day in the NFL was yesterday, as now all 32 clubs have their initial 53-man rosters set. The New England Patriots ended up making a few surprise moves before 4:00 pm to set themselves up for Week 1. Here we look at who made it, along with some general thoughts and notes as all eyes shift to south Florida and the Miami Dolphins for a season-opening showdown.
Quarterback (3) – Mac Jones, Brian Hoyer, Bailey Zappe
Belichick has shown often over the last decade that he isn’t afraid to use three roster spots on quarterbacks. That again is the case in 2022 with Hoyer and Zappe officially making the cut behind one Michael McCorkle Jones. Zappe had some good moments in the preseason but didn’t do enough to make Hoyer an expendable commodity. Not to mention that Hoyer recently inked a two-year extension back in March. Had he been cut, it would have put New England right on the edge of the salary cap. Additionally, he wouldn’t be the worst guy to help Zappe get further acclimated to the NFL during the seasonal grind.
As for Jones, this is an interesting spot to be in for a second-year quarterback. After making the playoffs as a rookie, he has a brand-new offense, play caller, and quarterback coach all at once. The closest situation this comes to is Andrew Luck with the Indianapolis Colts from 2012 into 2013, who only kept his QB coach. How the relationship with Jones, Matt Patricia, and Joe Judge goes will be most interesting in the opening few games. Against some 2s and 3s out in Las Vegas with the starting offense, they didn’t exactly make a good impression to put it lightly.
Running Back (4) – Damien Harris, Rhamondre Stevenson, Ty Montgomery, Pierre Strong Jr
Harris and Stevenson once again top the running back depth chart and should be one of the best running back duos in the league. However, Montgomery is the most interesting name of this group. The veteran receiver/running back hybrid made a great impression in the receiving back role a couple of weeks back against the Carolina Panthers. Sadly, Montgomery went down and on the cart against the Raiders, but he may have dodged a big injury. Belichick told the media on Monday that he is “doing all right” but didn’t practice later in the day.
Regarding Strong, he could see some playing time depending on how things shake out with Montgomery. The South Dakota State product wasn’t much of a receiving back in college but spent noticeable time in that role during camp. It is worth mentioning, however, that the cuts of sixth-round pick Kevin Harris, along with J.J. Taylor could be a tell about Montgomery's health as well.
Wide Receiver (5) – Devante Parker, Jakobi Meyers, Kendrick Bourne, Nelson Agholor, Tyquan Thornton
Although the Patriots did upgrade their receiver situation, they will be missing a key piece for a while in the form of Thornton. The rookie out of Baylor is on a six-to-eight-week recovery timeline, but it wouldn’t shock me in the slightest if they end up holding him out until after the bye. With that said, Thornton impressed in camp and in his opening preseason tilt, so there’s a reason for optimism in the long run.
For now, the combo of Parker, Meyers, Bourne, and Agholor will be leading the way. One thing to note about Parker, his best season of 1202, and nine touchdowns came in 2019. His offensive coordinator; one time Patriots receivers coach Chad O’Shea. Granted this is a new-look Patriots offense, but if Parker can stay upright, which has been an issue in the past, he should be a solid contributor.
Somewhat of a surprising pair of players who didn’t make the cut were Lil’Jordan Humphrey and Kristian Wilkerson. Humphrey more so due to his great run in the preseason. Without question, the one-time Texas Longhorn should be priority one for the practice squad roster. Belichick seemed pleased with Humphrey, calling him a “tight end-ish player” which could potentially get him back on the active roster. Speaking of which.
Tight End (2) – Hunter Henry, Jonnu Smith
Not just one, but both Patriots’ tight end draft picks in 2020, Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene, are gone after just two seasons. That leaves just Henry and Smith as the lone two on the roster as of now. Henry has missed some time during camp, but he should be good to go for the season opener in Miami. Only Meyers was targeted more than him a season ago, and his nine receiving scores led the team.
Now onto Smith, who didn’t impress in his first go in Foxborough, but wasn't put in a great position to succeed either. Josh McDaniels went on the record in the second half of the season saying, “I need to do a better job getting [Smith] the ball”. Safe to say he didn’t follow his own advice. From Week 11 on, he had just 11 targets and four carries. Not great considering the Patriots signed him the moment free agency opened in 2021. A move that I was very much in favor of for what it is worth. Patricia would be smart to get 81 involved in the early portion of the season. No reason not to with his versatility.
Offensive Tackle (4) – Trent Brown, Isaiah Wynn, Yodney Cajuste, Justin Herron
What felt like a strength of this team several ago may now be their biggest concern. The Patriots ended up swapping Brown and Wynn on the offensive front and it has not been a good start. Some of that can be attributed to the new zone running scheme, which doesn't necessarily play to either guy's strength. With that said, this is a gigantic year for Wynn. He is in the final year of his rookie deal and has a chance to build himself a free-agent market for next off-season. Right tackle money isn’t as big as left tackle money, but Wynn now has to deal with the hand he has been dealt.
Brown going back to left tackle isn’t a concern, what would be is his ability to stay on the field. After making the Pro Bowl with the Raiders in 2019, he has played in just 16 regular season games. When he is out there, however, Brown has been more than fine. Should anything happen to either starter at tackle, Cajuste and Herron are waiting in the wings.
Interior Offensive Line (4) – Cole Strange, David Andrews, Michael Onwenu, Chasen Hines
In total, just eight offensive linemen made the initial 53-man cut. At some point, that should get up to nine, as the Patriots have typically rolled with three guards and two centers. Kody Russey would have fit the bill for that backup center spot but ended up getting cut. Granted, there is a chance he ends up on the practice squad and gets elevated later.
Although I wasn't a particularly huge fan of Shaq Mason being traded, nor the return the Patriots got for him, Onwenu should be fine over at right guard in his place. Strange, this year's first-round pick, has quietly had himself a solid camp and has been the consensus starting left guard for a while now. Not all the way there yet, but along with Andrews, the middle of this Patriots line should be in solid shape.
Defensive Line (6) – Lawrence Guy, Deatrich Wise, Sam Roberts, Christian Barmore, Davon Godchaux, Carl Davis
Now for the big boys on the other side of the ball. Safe to say Guy, Barmore, Wise, and Godchaux are ultimately the four best of this group, but Roberts, a sixth-round pick earlier this year out of Northwest Missouri State, is easily the best story. With a 6.5 sack, 18 tackle-for-loss campaign, Roberts won the Cliff Harris Award, given to the best small college (Division II, III, and NAIA schools) defender. Patriots’ safety Kyle Dugger won this award as well in his final year at Lenoir-Rhyne. Not only that, but Roberts also grew up a Patriots fan despite growing up in Missouri. He along with Davis should both be quality depth options.
EDGE (4) – Matt Judon, Josh Uche, Anfernee Jennings, DeMarcus Mitchell
The Patriots' streak of undrafted rookie free agents making the roster lives on with Mitchell making the cut. Although he will most likely be primarily a special teams contributor, he was a solid pass rusher a Purdue and could hypothetically be a reserve option. Judon led the team last season with 12.5 sacks, but even he would tell you that he didn’t light it up down the stretch. If that can be rectified, he should be one of the league’s premier pass rushers again.
The feel-good story behind Judon is Jennings, who missed his entire second season with an undisclosed issue. Just days ago out in Sin City, he was starting with the 1s opposite of Judon against the Raiders. On top of a notably good camp, Jennings could be ready to make the leap in year three. Uche meanwhile, while still a quality pass rusher, could be relegated to more of a situational role.
Linebacker (4) – Raekwon McMillan, Ja’Whaun Bentley, Mack Wilson, Jahlani Tavai
The Patriots finally got made some upgrades in the speed and youth department of this off-ball linebacking unit. That mainly comes in the form of Wilson, who came over in the trade that sent Chase Winovich to the Cleveland Browns. He showed some good speed and range when was on the field in the preseason and is a breath of fresh air in that regard. You need some fast linebackers that are proficient in coverage for today’s NFL.
McMillan is now poised for his first regular-season action since 2020 on the heels of a great preseason. While perhaps not as good a coverage linebacker as Wilson, he did show some solid coverage ability these last few weeks. De-facto defensive coordinator Steve Belichick relayed to Patriots.com that he is happy to have both. Then of course there is Bentley, who quietly had the best season of his career in 2021. Putting up career highs in forced fumbles, tackles, tackles for loss, and quarterback hits.
Safety (5) – Devin McCourty, Kyle Dugger, Adrian Phillips, Jabrill Peppers, Joshua Bledsoe
There’s an argument to be made that the Patriots’ safety group is one of the best outright position groups in the league. A great thing too, considering you’ll likely be seeing a lot of three-safety looks on defense again. However, it could technically end up being four when you factor in Peppers, who has mind-numbing range as a defender. His versatility has been noted since his days at Michigan, but can play deep, in the box, slot, out wide, or off the edge. Did I mention Peppers can return kicks as well? He has been slowly worked in as he tore his ACL six weeks into last season but could play a massive role on this defense. Easily the ‘safety’ I’m most interested in.
Moving onto the ‘Big 3’ if you will, this is year three of the McCourty, Dugger, and Phillips trio leading the charge for this group. Phillips signed a three-year extension late last season, and hard to imagine Dugger going anywhere for awhile, both good things for this defense. As for DMac, he is on a one-year deal at 35 years old. If this is his last go, he would be an extremely hard player to replace. Not many better Patriots over the last 25 years on or off the field.
Cornerback (6) – Jalen Mills, Jonathan Jones, Marcus Jones, Jack Jones, Shaun Wade, Myles Bryant
The trade-off that the Patriots have made at cornerback is most interesting. They have sacrificed having a true No. 1 guy (J.C. Jackson) and have committed to more quality depth instead. That starts with Mills and the Jones’s. First up is Jack, whose play during training camp may be the reason why veteran Terrance Mitchell got cut. He showed some flashes but the Arizona State/USC product will be a depth piece in year one baring anything substantial.
Moving on now to Jonathan and Marcus, who will likely factor into the starting trio, if not right away, at some point this year for certain. Jonathan, one of the NFL’s best in the slot at his best, will be moving to the outside opposite Mills, with Marcus Jones/Bryant taking up the slot corner responsibilities. Wade also makes the cut, after being traded a year ago by Baltimore during the preseason.
Special Teams (6) – Nick Folk, Jake Bailey, Joe Cardona, Matthew Slater, Brenden Schooler, Cody Davis
The surprise of Tuesday may have ultimately been special teams ace Justin Bethel getting cut. Much of that can be attributed to Schooler, who gives the Patriots a younger option in the return coverage game. One Taylor Kyles (give him a follow on Twitter, he does excellent film breakdowns) likened him to a “possible Nate Ebner clone” just over a week ago.
As for Bethel, it doesn’t sound like he will be signing back with the Patriots once he clears waivers. Sad to see him go, but he should have no problem finding a new home. Outside of Slater, he might be one of the best in the business in kick coverage. As for the kicking game, it is once again Cardona doing the long snapping, Bailey with the punting and kickoff duties, and Folk doing the placekicking.
Although the Patriots have their initial roster set, that doesn’t mean they are going to head into Week 1 with these exact 53 players. Trades of course are on the table, as we saw on Tuesday with the New Orleans Saints sending Chauncey Gardner-Johnson to the Philadelphia Eagles for some mid-to-late round picks (excellent move for the Eagles while we’re on the subject). There’s also a slew of new free agents now with everyone else trimming down their rosters.
If the Patriots want to get another body at wideout, for the time being, one interesting option is potentially available. That being now former Tampa Bay Buccaneer Tyler Johnson. His release was mainly due to the star-studded receiver room Tampa already has, and he just happened to be the odd man out. Assuming he gets to the Patriots in the waiver order, Johnson would be worth the flyer. Tom Brady gave him two fourth-quarter looks on third and long during Tampa’s 2020 Super Bowl run. Two catches, 31 yards, and two first downs. Again, no guarantee he makes it to New England on the waiver order, but he would be worth a look.