Grading Each Patriots’ Position Group Following Initial Roster Cuts

The Patriots will continue to make roster moves in the upcoming days, but for now, the 2020 New England Patriots initial 53-man roster is set. Before we turn our attention to the Week 1 matchup against the Miami Dolphins, we decided it would be a good idea to evaluate each postion on the Patriots roster.

  • A+ is awarded to the best postion group on offense and defense
  • A = High-level starters with high-quality depth
  • B = Good starters, but questionable depth
  • C = Not sure what to expect, little to no depth, and several questions
  • D = No talent at the position

Quarterback (3)

Cam Newton, Jarrett Stidham, Brian Hoyer

Before we jump into our reasoning behind the quarterback grade, we first want to acknowledge the week Cam Newton had last week. Not only was Newton announced as the starting quarterback, but he also was named a team captain. That’s an impressive feat for anyone, but even more so from a guy that was just signed in late June. Newton has been a great leader since stepping foot in New England.

Newton is a good starting quarterback and should help the team move towards a different style of offense, but what pushes the position to an A grade is the depth. The Patriots have a solid starter and two capable backup quarterbacks in Jarrett Stidham and Brian Hoyer. That kind of depth is extremely valuable at the quarterback position.

Grade: A

Running Back (Including Fullback) (5)

James White, J.J. Taylor, Rex Burkhead, Sony Michel, Jakob Johnson

IR: Damien Harris

The running back group is the deepest and most talented skill postion on the Patriots. When evaluating this group, the one thing that continually pops up is versatility. James White is an incredible pass-catching back, Rex Burkhead can contribute in the pass and run game, Sony Michel is your early-down runner, and Damien Harris projects as another early-down back. Speaking of Harris, he had a strong training camp and looked destined to earn himself a large role. Unfortunately, Harris suffered a recent injury and was put on injured reserve for the time being. J.J. Taylor was called up to the 53-man roster in his place. As for Jakob Johnson, he showed last season he’s more than capable at the fullback spot.

Grade: A

Wide Receiver (6)

Julian Edelman, N’Keal Harry, Jakobi Meyers, Damiere Byrd, Gunner Olszewski, Matthew Slater

Is this the ideal wide receiver group? No. The lack of proven commodities behind Julian Edelman is obvious. Damiere Byrd is the most experienced pass catcher behind Edelman. He has 44 career catches for 488 yards. Byrd should add a nice element of speed, but is he a top option? Probably not. With that being said, it’s not all doom and gloom for the Patriots’ wideouts. The group is young and has a lot of room to grow. N’Keal Harry, Jakobi Meyers, and Gunner Olszewski are all entering their second seasons. It would be nice if Meyers and Olszewski took big jumps forward, but N’Keal Harry is the key to this whole group. If Harry can be the player the Patriots envisioned when they drafted him in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft, then the wide receiver group will be alright. Ideally, Harry would be the number two option this season.

Unfortunately, that’s the thing with this group, it’s a lot of “ifs”, there are no sure things outside of Edelman. The wide receiver group will be a position the Patriots look to upgrade via free agency or trade.

Grade: C

Tight End (3)

Devin Asiasi, Dalton Keene, Ryan Izzo

Relying on two rookie tight ends and Ryan Izzo likely won’t lead to a ton of production for the Patriots at tight end. Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene looked good in training camp, but remember they are rookies playing at a position historically not kind to rookies. Tight end is another postion, like the wide receivers, with a ton of uncertainty. Don’t be surprised if the Patriots try and get an upgrade here. 

Grade: C

Interior Offensive Line (5)

David Andrews, Joe Thuney, Shaq Mason, Hjalte Froholdt, Michael Onwenu

The interior offensive line is the best position group on the offense. Joe Thuney and Shaq Mason are among the best guard tandems in the NFL, while David Andrews is among the top tier centers in the NFL. The backups are young, but we like the group, especially Michael Onwenu.

An underrated aspect of the guards specifically is their durability. Mason rarely misses games with an injury, while Thuney never does. Thuney hasn’t missed a game in four years in the NFL. Durability is a huge asset in the NFL and the Patriots guards have it.

Grade: A+

Offensive Tackles (5)

Isaiah Wynn, Yodny Cajuste, Korey Cunningham, Jermaine Eluemunor, Justin Herron

If not for the potential of Isaiah Wynn, this group would drop to a C grade. If Wynn stays healthy, he’s going to be a top tackle in the NFL sooner rather than later.

The big question is obvious, the right tackle spot. Jermaine Eluemunor won the job and while his training camp performance was encouraging, he’s only started three games in his career. We do think Eluemunor can hold up at right tackle, but what makes the position worrisome is the depth behind an already inexperienced Eluemunor. Korey Cunningham started six games in 2018, but second-year man Yodny Cajuste and rookie Justin Herron have zero NFL experience. Cajuste had a tough training camp, while Herron reportedly looked more promising. The Patriots can’t afford any injuries at either tackle spots.

Grade: B

Interior Defensive Line (4)

Lawrence Guy, Adam Butler, Byron Cowart, Deatrich Wise Jr.

IR: Beau Allen

The biggest concern along the defensive line remains the run-stopping void left by Danny Shelton. Beau Allen was brought in to fill Shelton’s role, but he has yet to practice. Allen made the initial 53-man roster, but was later moved to the injury reserve. He’ll likely return later in the season. If the Patriots don’t have Allen for a few weeks, they could get by, but anything more than that and the Patriots should be hitting the free agency market.

The guy to watch on the defensive line is Byron Cowart. Cowart didn’t play much last season, only 43 snaps, but in year two he’ll get more action, maybe even in that Shelton role. We also expect Adam Butler to get a little more action on run defense too. A breakout year for Butler could very well be on the horizon.

Grade: B

EDGE (5)

John Simon, Anfernee Jennings, Chase Winovich, Shilique Calhoun, Derek Rivers

The edge spot may be filled with young guys and we may be higher on the position than most, but we tend to think they’ll be a little better than some think.

John Simon, an underrated veteran, will lead the group. He’ll be a key cog in setting the edge on run plays. Rookie, Anfernee Jennings will also contribute to the run defense. The pass-rushing will fall more onto Chase Winovich, Derek Rivers, and hybrid linebacker Josh Uche. There will be some regression from 2019, but the edge spot has more promising potential than some of the other inexperienced positions.

Grade: B

Linebackers (4)

Ja’Whaun Bentley, Brandon Copeland (hybrid), Josh Uche (hybrid), Cassh Maluia

PUP: Brandon King

After losing all of their starting linebackers from a season ago, the Patriots are bound to have some serious regression at the postion. Team captain, Ja’Whaun Bentley will have a big year, but beyond that, there isn’t a ton to offer at inside linebacker. Yes, Brandon Copeland can be solid, and Josh Uche has big-time potential but the group is incredibly shallow, especially when you take into account Copeland being more of an edge player.As for Cassh Maluia, he impressed at camp and will have an immediate role on special teams.

If you want to feel better about the postion just remember that safeties, Adrian Phillips, Terrence Brooks, and Kyle Dugger can all play some degree of a hybrid linebacker/safety role. Phillips specifically has done a lot of it with the Chargers in the past, we did a full film breakdown on it here. A free agency signing at linebacker will also be something to monitor.

Grade: C

Corner (6)

Stephon Gilmore, J.C. Jackson, Jonathan Jones, Jason McCourty, Joejuan Williams, Justin Bethel

The cornerbacks, led by Stephon Gilmore, are very clearly the best postion group on the 2020 Patriots. The starters are great and the depth is great. What’s not to like? When you can say Gilmore, reigning Defensive Player of the Year, and J.C. Jackon, who allowed a league-low 35.6 passer rating when targeted in 2019, are your top corners than you’re doing pretty well. It’s important to note, that’s not even taking into account a very solid veteran in Jason McCourty and a good young slot corner in Jonathan Jones. The group is stacked.

Grade: A+

Safety (5)

Terrence Brooks, Devin McCourty, Adrian Phillips, Kyle Dugger, Cody Davis

Before we talk about the depth, let’s take a minute to recognize Devin McCourty. McCourty had another great season last year at the age of 32. McCourty will once again anchor this group. At strong safety, snaps will be split between Brooks and Phillips and possibly Dugger. Dugger can also play behind McCourty in a deep safety role, so it will be interesting to see where they end up playing Dugger. Regardless, the position will once again help make up the best secondary in the NFL.

Even after losing Patrick Chung, the safety group still earns an A grade. Much like the quarterbacks, the safety group earns an A because of the depth of the position.

Grade: A

Special Teams (2)

 P Jake Bailey, LS Joe Cardona, K None Yet

We can’t fully grade the special teams unit until the Patriots officially have a kicker. Nick Folk was released on Saturday, along with rookie Justin Rohrwasser. If we had to take a guess, Folk resigning after New England places a current roster member on the injured reserve would be our best bet. Of course, the Patriots could also opt to sign a new kicker.

Grade: Incomplete

Let us know in the comment section your thoughts on the initial 53-man roster.

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