With final roster cutdown day quickly approaching (August 31st at 4 p.m. ET), the clock is winding down for any New England Patriot players still on the roster bubble. The last opportunity to earn a roster spot will be this upcoming week when New England both practices and plays against the New York Giants.
Making a final roster projection for the Patriots is no easy task. A few positions, such as running back and defensive tackle, are so loaded with talent that a couple of very promising players may end up being cut. With that in mind, here’s my first crack at a 2021 Patriots final 53-man roster projection.
New England Patriots’ 53-man roster projection
Making the Team: Cam Newton, Mac Jones
Cut: Brian Hoyer
PUP: Jarrett Stidham
Analysis: New England keeping Brian Hoyer on the final roster wouldn’t be shocking, but with so much talent at other positions, the Patriots should opt to cut Hoyer and use his spot elsewhere.
Keep in mind, Hoyer is practice squad eligible. If Hoyer is open to the idea of being on the practice squad, it would allow the Patriots to save a roster spot while also keeping him for depth.
Running Back (Including Fullback) (6)
Making the Team: Damien Harris, Rhamondre Stevenson, James White, Sony Michel, J.J. Taylor, Jakob Johnson
Cut: Brandon Bolden
Analysis: The running back position was by far and away the hardest to predict. Each and every player at the position has an argument to make as to why they deserve a spot on the final roster. Damien Harris, Rhamondre Stevenson, and James White are roster locks, but after that it gets tricky.
Sony Michel has looked more elusive than ever this offseason. J.J. Taylor has flashed a ton of potential in preseason action. Brandon Bolden, meanwhile, is a Bill Belichick favorite and a special teams ace.
In this projection, I opted to keep Michel and Taylor while cutting Bolden. The reason being, Michel has been too good this offseason to simply cut him. If New England does move off Michel it would be through a trade. As for keeping Taylor over Bolden, it was a tough call, but it comes down to keeping the younger player with higher upside.
Wide Receiver (5)
Making the Team: Jakobi Meyers, Kendrick Bourne, Nelson Agholor, Gunner Olszewski, N’Keal Harry*
Cut: Kristian Wilkerson, Tre Nixon, Devin Ross, Isaiah Zuber
IR: Marvin Hall
Analysis: According to a report from Ian Rapoport, N’Keal Harry is expected to be out with a shoulder injury for four weeks. If that timeframe is correct, that means Harry would be out for the start of the regular season. Even so, I expect him to make the initial 53-man roster and then be placed on the IR (injured reserve).
Doing so would allow the Patriots to use Harry’s roster spot for someone else, while he gets back healthy. Harry would then be eligible to return after missing three games.
The only other wideout listed with a real chance to make the final roster is Kristian Wilkerson. Wilkerson started training camp off hot but has really struggled with drops as of late. He’ll need to eliminate those issues quickly if he hopes to increase his chances at making the team.
Tight End (3)
Making the Team: Jonnu Smith, Hunter Henry, Devin Asiasi
Cut: Matt LaCosse
IR: Dalton Keene, Troy Fumagalli
Analysis: If healthy, the tight end group is pretty straightforward. Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry will lead the group with Devin Asiasi serving as depth. Fullback, Jakob Johnson can also play some tight end if needed.
Offensive Line (8)
Making the Team: Michael Onwenu, Isaiah Wynn, Trent Brown, Shaq Mason, David Andrews, Ted Karras, Justin Herron, James Ferentz
Cut: Yodny Cajuste, Korey Cunningham, Will Sherman, Alex Redmond, Marcus Martin, R.J. Prince
Analysis: Throughout training camp and the preseason it’s been clear that Ted Karras, Justin Herron, and James Ferentz have been the best backup linemen.
The only question is: Would the Patriots rather keep two backup tackles or two backup interior linemen? In this projection, Herron is the only depth piece with tackle experience. Karras and Ferentz both solely play on the interior.
Because starting tackles Isaiah Wynn and Trent Brown have an injury history, the Patriots could decide to keep Yodny Cajuste or Korey Cunningham as tackle depth over Ferentz.
However, Ferentz is the pick here because he’s been the better player and because Michael Onwenu can flip to the tackle spot if needed. The positional versatility of Onwenu means New England can feel comfortable about keeping only one backup tackle.
Defensive Line (6)
Making the Team: Lawrence Guy, Davon Godchaux, Christian Barmore, Deatrich Wise Jr., Henry Anderson, Carl Davis
Cut: Akeem Spence, Nick Thurman, Bill Murray, Montravius Adams
PUP: Byron Cowart
Analysis: Last season the Patriots’ interior defensive line was a major weakness, but with the offseason additions it now looks like a strength. In fact, the position is so strong that six interior defensive linemen have a legitimate case for making the roster.
Keeping six defensive tackles may sound like a lot, but Carl Davis has played extremely well as of late. His ability as a run-stuffer has been his greatest strength throughout his NFL career. After struggling against the run all last season, Davis is exactly what the Patriots need.
That said, if New England opts to keep only five on the interior, Davis will likely be the guy that’s left on the outside looking.
Making the Team: Matthew Judon, Kyle Van Noy, Chase Winovich, Ronnie Perkins, Josh Uche
Cut: Tashawn Bower
Analysis: There are no surprises at the edge position. All five edge players are solidly on the roster. Chase Winovich is the only one of the five with a question mark. Winovich could potentially be traded if New England needs a roster spot for another position, but as of now, he still looks to have a good shot to be on the final roster.
The pass-rushing capabilities of this group are off the charts, which is something we haven’t seen in New England in the past couple of years. The mix of veterans and young players with potential is very intriguing.
Making the Team: Dont’a Hightower, Ja’Whaun Bentley, Harvey Langi
Cut: Cassh Maluia, Anfernee Jennings
PUP: Terez Hall
NFI: Cameron McGrone
IR: Raekwon McMillan
Analysis: Dont’a Hightower and Ja’Whaun Bentley are roster locks, but the third spot is up for grabs. In this projection, Harvey Langi earns the final spot. Langi has been outstanding in the preseason. Against the Philadelphia Eagles, he was flying around the field making tackles, breaking up passes, and even getting an interception. Plus, he’s a good special teamer, which is a very important skill set to have if you want to make the Patriots roster.
Meanwhile, Anfernee Jennings has yet to play this preseason. Because of his inaction, it’s hard to say where he’s at development-wise. Instead of being cut, it’s more likely Jennings winds up on the IR. Either way, it’s just hard to envision a spot for him on this year’s roster.
Three linebackers may seem light, but keep in mind Kyle Van Noy, Josh Uche, Adrian Phillips, and Kyle Dugger can all play an off-ball linebacker role.
Making the Team: Stephon Gilmore, J.C. Jackson, Jonathan Jones, Jalen Mills, Joejuan Williams
Cut: Michael Jackson Sr., Dee Virgin, D’Angelo Ross
Analysis: The Patriots desperately need Stephon Gilmore back for the regular season. Jalen Mills and Joejuan Williams won’t cut it as fill-ins for Gilmore at outside corner. That said, both will make the 53-man roster.
It wouldn’t be shocking to see the Patriots acquire another outside corner to compete for Williams’ roster spot. Unlike previous seasons, the depth at corner is a concern. How the Patriots go about strengthening the position should be interesting to watch. For now though, this is the best five corners they have on the roster.
Making the Team: Devin McCourty, Kyle Dugger, Myles Bryant, Adrian Phillips
Cut: Malik Gant, Adrian Colbert
NFI: Joshuah Bledsoe
Analysis: Like the edge position, there are no surprises here at safety. The safety group for the Patriots is talented and versatile. As previously mentioned, Kyle Dugger and Adrian Phillips can play a safety/linebacker hybrid role, while Myles Bryant can play safety and slot corner. The group, led by Devin McCourty, has a tremendous 2021 outlook.
Special Teams (6)
Making the Team: Nick Folk, Joe Cardona, Jake Bailey, Matthew Slater, Justin Bethel, Cody Davis
Cut: Quinn Nordin, Brandon King, Brian Khoury
Analysis: Quinn Nordin had a hot start to training camp, but has fallen upon some hard times. His preseason game against the Eagles was an extremely bad outing. Nick Folk provides a more reliable option.
Matthew Slater, Justin Bethel, and Cody Davis are elite special teamers and feel like roster locks. Unfortunately, Brandon King’s time in New England looks to be coming to end. There just aren’t enough roster spots for King to make the team.
Toughest Cuts: Brandon Bolden, Anfernee Jennings, Kristian Wilkerson, Brandon King