Patriots 53-Man Roster Projection 2.0: Can Eric Decker Crack Receiver Corps?

It’s been a couple weeks since our last 53-man roster projection, and since then the New England Patriots have held many more practices and played a preseason game. So, we should have a better sense of the team’s roster.

With that in mind, let’s take a crack at another 53-man roster projection.

QUARTERBACK (2)
In: Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer
Out: Danny Etling
Hoyer played so poorly Thursday in the Patriots’ preseason opener and in practice Sunday that the competition for the No. 2 quarterback role could become interesting in the next few weeks. I mean, it probably won’t. But it could.

RUNNING BACK (5)
In: Rex Burkhead, Sony Michel, James White, Jeremy Hill, Brandon Bolden
Out: Mike Gillislee, Ralph Webb
I know Patriots fans are clamoring for Webb to make the roster after his 16-point performance Thursday, but Burkhead, Michel and White are locks, and Hill played better than the rookie in New England’s preseason opener. The Patriots’ like Bolden’s special teams abilities, and it’s worth at least trying to get Webb onto the practice squad. If they can’t slip him through waivers, it’s not the end of the world. OK, Webbheads?

WIDE RECEIVER (5)
In: Chris Hogan, Kenny Britt, Phillip Dorsett, Cordarrelle Patterson, Matthew Slater
Out: Braxton Berrios, Eric Decker, Devin Lucien, Riley McCarron, Paul Turner
Suspended: Julian Edelman
We thought the Patriots had a deep group of wide receivers. We might have thought wrong.

We definitely overrated Dorsett based on how heavily the Patriots were utilizing him early in camp. We still think he makes the roster, but we’ll see how big of an impact he makes.

Decker hasn’t been impressive early in camp. It turns out there was a reason he was still a free agent a week into training camp.

Neither Berrios nor McCarron has stood out enough to make the roster, but their punt return ability could let them slip on.

This sounds crazy, but Lucien was one of the most difficult players to leave off the roster. He’s been really good in training camp, and he was the star of the Patriots’ passing game Thursday night.

TIGHT END (4)
In: Rob Gronkowski, Jacob Hollister, Dwayne Allen, James Develin
Out: Ryan Izzo, Will Tye, Henry Poggi
Izzo and Tye have potential but not enough to knock Hollister or Allen off the roster.

OFFENSIVE LINE (9)
In: Trent Brown, Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Marcus Cannon, Isaiah Wynn, LaAdrian Waddle, Ted Karras, Cole Croston
Out: Luke Bowanko, James Ferentz, Ulrick John, Jason King, Brian Schwenke, Matt Tobin
We like the depth the Patriots built along their offensive line, but no one has played well enough to knock off Karras or Croston.

DEFENSIVE TACKLE (4)
In: Lawrence Guy, Danny Shelton, Malcom Brown, Adam Butler
Out: John Atkins, Frank Herron, Vincent Valentine
It feels like Valentine will make the roster, right? The Patriots could choose to waive Butler and keep defensive end Keionta Davis as their big interior pass rusher. But for now, Butler stays on and Valentine and Davis are out.

EDGE DEFENDERS (4)
In: Trey Flowers, Deatrich Wise, Adrian Clayborn, Derek Rivers
Out: Keionta Davis, Geneo Grissom, Trent Harris, Eric Lee
Davis, Grissom, Harris and Lee all have a chance to make the roster. Davis has played as a top-team interior pass rusher. Grissom is a solid special teams player, and Harris and Lee both had sacks Thursday.

LINEBACKERS (7)
In: Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Ja’Whaun Bentley, Elandon Roberts, Marquis Flowers, Brandon King, Nicholas Grigsby
Out: Christian Sam
Injured Reserve: Harvey Langi
Bentley took first-team reps over Roberts Sunday in practice. That’s notable after how well Bentley played Thursday. Does that make Roberts expendable? Maybe. Not for now, though.

CORNERBACKS (5)
In: Stephon Gilmore, Eric Rowe, Jason McCourty, Jonathan Jones, Duke Dawson
Out: Keion Crossen, J.C. Jackson, Cyrus Jones, Ryan Lewis, Jomal Wiltz
We like Crossen, Jackson, Lewis and Wiltz, but none of those young cornerbacks have outplayed McCourty. Jackson has had the strongest training camp, but he was having trouble tackling Thursday.

SAFETY (5)
In: Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon, Eddie Pleasant, Nate Ebner
Out: A.J. Moore, Jordan Richards, Damarius Travis
We think Pleasant can take on Richards’ special teams reps while playing safety at a higher level.

SPECIALISTS (3)
In: Stephon Gostkowski, Ryan Allen, Joe Cardona
Out: Corey Bojorquez
We haven’t seen enough of Bojo yet.

LAST ONE IN: Roberts
Roberts might be redundant with Bentley, but the Patriots need depth at linebacker.

LAST ONE OUT: A punt returner
Who returns punts until Edelman’s back from his four-game suspension?

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

We left off Decker, Berrios, McCarron and Cyrus Jones. Berrios and McCarron have both had standout moments in camp, but they haven’t been quite consistent enough. Jones is still limited after last summer’s ACL tear.

So, who returns punts? Burkhead was taking reps before suffering an injury. Hogan and Chung also take practice reps at the position.

IDEAL PRACTICE SQUAD: Etling, Webb, Berrios, Lucien, Izzo, Valentine, Davis, Sam, Jackson, Crossen
Cyrus Jones is practice squad eligible, but it feels like he could use a fresh start somewhere else.

Thumbnail photo via Paul Rutherford/USA TODAY Sports Images

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