The New England Patriots chose to wrap up their offseason program a few days early, canceling their final two organized team activities and setting players free for the summer Tuesday afternoon.
While roster spots are not won and lost in May and June, these spring practices gave us an early preview of the positional battles that will heat up once the team reconvenes for training camp in late July.
Here’s our evaluation of the Patriots’ current depth chart:
Starter: Tom Brady
Reserves: Brian Hoyer, Danny Etling
Etling has been a pleasant surprise thus far, but we won’t know until the preseason whether he’s a legit challenger to Hoyer for the top backup job. Both are miles behind Brady, who looked like his usual self in minicamp.
Starter: Rex Burkhead
Reserves: James White (third-down back), James Develin (fullback), Sony Michel, Jeremy Hill, Mike Gillislee, Brandon Bolden, Ralph Webb
Burkhead and White have taken the majority of first-team reps this spring, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see Michel, the 31st overall pick in this year’s draft, rise to the top of this group by the time the season starts. Hill and Gillislee both were left off the roster entirely in our latest 53-man roster projection.
Starters: Chris Hogan, Jordan Matthews, Kenny Britt
Reserves: Cordarrelle Patterson, Phillip Dorsett, Riley McCarron, Braxton Berrios, Malcolm Mitchell, Cody Hollister, Matthew Slater
We’re operating under the assumption that: 1) Julian Edelman loses his appeal and is suspended for the first four games, and 2) the hamstring injury Britt suffered in minicamp isn’t serious. Hogan is a surefire starter, and Matthews and Britt both have put together productive seasons in the past. Regardless, wide receiver should be one of the most hotly contested roster battles this summer, as every player in this group save for Hollister has a legitimate chance of making the team and contributing.
Starter: Rob Gronkowski
Reserves: Jacob Hollister, Will Tye, Dwayne Allen, Troy Niklas, Ryan Izzo, Shane Wimann
Tight end is another position that should be highly competitive in training camp. Hollister and Tye have outplayed Allen and Niklas thus far.
Starters: LT Trent Brown, LG Joe Thuney, C David Andrews, RG Shaq Mason, RT Marcus Cannon
Reserves: T/G Isaiah Wynn, OT LaAdrian Waddle, G/C Ted Karras, OT Cole Croston, OT Matt Tobin, C James Ferentz, OL Luke Bowanko, OT Ulrick John, OT Andrew Jelks, G Jason King
Projecting the Patriots’ starting O-line will be tricky until Brown, Wynn, Thuney and Cannon return to full health, which won’t be until training camp. Wynn, New England’s top 2018 draft pick, could begin the season as the starting left tackle, starting left guard or backup for both spots.
Starters: Malcom Brown, Danny Shelton
Reserves: Lawrence Guy, Adam Butler, Vincent Valentine, John Atkins, Frank Herron
Shelton and Guy have played on the first team this spring with Brown limited. Butler and Valentine could find themselves battling for one of the final roster spots.
Starters: Trey Flowers, Adrian Clayborn
Reserves: Derek Rivers, Deatrich Wise, Eric Lee, Geneo Grissom, Keionta Davis, Trent Harris
Clayborn, the former Atlanta Falcon, was one of the Patriots’ most important offseason signings. He and Flowers have lined up on the right and left edges, respectively, in the first-team defense this spring.
Starters: Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy
Reserves: Elandon Roberts, Marquis Flowers, Harvey Langi, Ja’Whaun Bentley, Christian Sam, Nicholas Grigsby
Hightower has been a full participant in OTAs and minicamp after suffering a season-ending torn pectoral muscle last November. Having him back will be a huge boost to a linebacking corps that struggled at times last season. Langi, who also is coming off a season-ending injury sustained in a car crash, can play on the edge, as well.
Starters: Stephon Gilmore, J.C. Jackson
Reserves: Jason McCourty, Duke Dawson, Eric Rowe, Jonathan Jones, Ryan Lewis, Keion Crossen, Cyrus Jones, Jomal Wiltz, A.J. Moore
Sure, it’s probably premature to pencil Jackson, an undrafted rookie, in as a starter. But he’s been part of the first-team defense for most of the spring, and he’s played well thus far. Of course, this easily could change once McCourty gets over whatever’s been keeping him out of team drills. Rowe, last year’s No. 3 corner behind Gilmore and Malcolm Butler and a candidate to contend for a starting job, has been relegated to the second team. Crossen flashed early in OTAs but since has been limited with an injury. Both Joneses also have been limited.
Starters: Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon
Reserves: Damarius Travis, Jordan Richards, Nate Ebner, David Jones
Travis has looked better than Richards this spring, but he’s still a long shot to make the roster. Our latest projection has the Patriots keeping just four safeties: McCourty, Chung, Harmon and special teams star Ebner. There also are several talented safeties still floating around in free agency, so New England could look to add to this group before camp.