Ranking Patriots’ Most Competitive Training Camp Roster Battles To Watch

Rejoice: The New England Patriots finally are set to reconvene this week after a much-needed month-plus off from football activities.

The Patriots didn’t have much of a break between winning the Super Bowl in February and reuniting at Gillette Stadium in April for spring workouts, so hopefully they received some rest and relaxation while away from Foxboro, Mass., this past month.

Some players are entering training camp, which begins Thursday and is free and open to the public, with their jobs or starting roles on the line.

Let’s rank the Patriots’ most competitive roster battles to watch in camp.

1. LINEBACKERS
The Patriots mostly stayed quiet while off from June to late July, but they did make waves by signing New York Jets castoff linebacker David Harris.

The Jets are very, very bad, but that doesn’t mean the players they cut ties with this offseason also are bad. Harris is 33 years old and could just as well be Terrance Knighton as he could be Alan Branch in terms of aging free-agent additions for the Patriots go, but he was more than solid in New York in 2016. The former All-Pro is consistent, durable and still has some versatility left in his 6-foot-2, 250-pound frame.

He hasn’t played a game he didn’t start since 2007, but that might not be the case in New England. Harris will compete with Kyle Van Noy, Elandon Roberts, Shea McClellin and less so Jonathan Freeny, Harvey Langi, Trevor Bates and Brooks Ellis for a starting role next to Dont’a Hightower in the Patriots’ defense.

He’s also competing for a job on the Patriots’ roster with those players. While Harris, Van Noy, Roberts and McClellin are likely to earn roster spots, no linebacker other than Dont’a Hightower is a stone-cold lock to make the 53-man come September.

Our guess is Harris will start next to Hightower, but only time will tell.

2. RUNNING BACKS
This heavily depends on how many running backs the Patriots are willing to carry in 2017. Brandon Bolden, Rex Burkhead, D.J. Foster, Mike Gillislee, Dion Lewis and James White all have proved worthy of making the 53-man roster. It’s highly unlikely, however, the Patriots would carry six running backs.

Burkhead, Gillislee and White are locks, leaving Lewis, Bolden and Foster fighting for what could be one, two or no remaining spots on the roster. Lewis is the most likely player to still be here in September. Bolden provides special teams prowess while Foster’s speed, versatility and pass-catching ability give him major upside.

3. CORNERBACK
The Patriots simply don’t have an obvious choice to stick in the slot when they choose to deploy three cornerbacks rather than three safeties in their base nickel defense. Malcolm Butler and Stephon Gilmore will start at cornerback, leaving Eric Rowe, Jonathan Jones, Cyrus Jones and less so Justin Coleman, D.J. Killings, William Likely, Kenny Moore and Dwayne Thomas to compete for snaps, roles and jobs.

Rowe is a lock and clearly the best player among that group, but at 6-foot-1, he doesn’t have prototypical slot size. The Patriots did show a willingness to try him in that role this spring, however. Jones, Jones and Coleman also received opportunities.

4. TIGHT ENDS
James O’Shaughnessy, Matt Lengel, Jacob Hollister and Sam Cotton are fighting for the Patriots’ third tight end role. O’Shaughnessy, given his NFL experience, has the best odds to make the 53-man roster, though Hollister might provide higher upside as a pass-catcher.

Thumbnail photo via William Hauser/USA TODAY Sports Images

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