More than ever before, the New England Patriots’ practice squad is a true extension of their 53-man roster.
The Patriots have significantly more flexibility to actually use practice squad players in games this season because of expanded rules passed by the NFL and NFL Players Association during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the past, the Patriots would have been forced to make room on their 53-man roster to elevate a player off of their practice squad. If the Patriots wanted to sign that player back to their practice squad, they would have needed to waive him first, thus exposing him to 31 other teams.
The NFL loosened restrictions on practice squad players this offseason. Teams can elevate two players per week from their practice squad — which was expanded from 10 to 16 spots — then send them back down without any exposure to waivers. NFL teams can also protect four players from being signed off of their practice squad every Tuesday afternoon. Finally, any player with any level of experience can be signed to the practice squad this season.
So, we’ll likely see considerably more practice squad players being elevated to active rosters this season. But who has the best chance to contribute from the Patriots’ scout team?
WR Mason Kinsey
While the Patriots have a shallow and inexperienced group of wide receivers, Kinsey, a Division III product out of Berry College, might need some more time on the practice squad before any real game action.
WR Devin Ross
If the Patriots want to try something new at wide receiver, or if they get shallow at the position because of injuries, then Ross could be the first player off of the practice squad. He had a strong start to camp then tailed off in the final week.
WR Kristian Wilkerson
There’s a lot to like about Wilkerson’s combination of size, speed and quickness. There isn’t another receiver on the Patriots’ roster quite like him. He’s an undrafted rookie out of FCS Southeastern Missouri State, and he just came to New England on Tuesday after spending the summer with the Tennessee Titans. We could see Wilkerson active by the end of the season.
WR Isaiah Zuber
Zuber didn’t have many standout moments in training camp and likely wouldn’t be a top choice to come off of the practice squad. The Patriots have exposed him to waivers twice since he signed as an undrafted free agent in the spring.
TE Jake Burt
Burt had some solid moments in training camp and didn’t look out of place next to 2020 third-round picks Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene and veteran Ryan Izzo. It would take an injury for Burt to get a look on the active roster, however.
C Corey Levin
The Patriots kept 10 offensive linemen on their 53-man roster, so Levin is the only blocker on the practice squad. He has some NFL experience, so if an interior offensive lineman suffers an injury, then it’s possible Levin could get elevated to provide depth.
DT Bill Murray
Murray, like Wilkerson, comes from an FCS school. The Patriots could use another big body on their defensive line after placing Beau Allen on injured reserve, but Murray, who’s more of an undersized defensive tackle out of William and Mary, probably wouldn’t be the top choice.
DT Nick Thurman
Thurman spent last season on the Patriots’ practice squad, as well. He had some nice moments in preseason last summer and could see some action with Allen out. He’s a bigger interior defensive lineman than Murray.
DT Xavier Williams
Williams is one of the Patriots’ more experienced players on the practice squad. He’s played 44 games, starting six, since entering the NFL in 2015. With Allen on IR, Williams would be a prime candidate to be elevated to the active roster if the Patriots feel like they want another nose tackle in the middle of their defense.
OLB Rashod Berry
Berry played tight end and outside linebacker at Ohio State but appears to have made a permanent switch to defense in the NFL. The Patriots don’t have a ton of depth at outside linebacker, so it’s possible that he could get elevated at some point if he continues to impress in practice.
OLB Tashawn Bower
Bower spent time on the Patriots’ practice squad last season and has some NFL experience, playing seven games with the Minnesota Vikings between 2017 and 2018. The Patriots obviously wanted to keep working with him, and his experience could come in handy.
LB Terez Hall
The Patriots have a serious lack of depth at inside linebacker, and rookie Cassh Maluia missed practice Wednesday with a knee injury. Hall had some standout moments in training camp and could see a call up at some point.
CB D’Angelo Ross
The Patriots have good depth at cornerback with Stephon Gilmore, JC Jackson, Jason McCourty, Jonathan Jones and Justin Bethel, plus converted safety Joejuan Williams, on the 53-man roster. But Ross is a nice slot option to have on the practice squad if any injuries occur. He also has some versatility to play outside or at safety.
DB Myles Bryant
Bryant is an undersized versatile defender who showed he can play slot or safety at the University of Washington. The Patriots kept Williams, Devin McCourty, Terrence Brooks, Kyle Dugger, Adrian Phillips and Cody Davis on their 53-man roster at safety. But if any injuries occur, Bryant could get elevated. He made plays in camp.
K Nick Folk
Folk is far and away the most likely player to get elevated before Sunday’s Week 1 game against the Miami Dolphins. The Patriots need a kicker, and Folk looked solid at the end of last season and in training camp.
K Justin Rohrwasser
The Patriots slipped Rohrwasser onto their practice squad after he was waived Saturday. He’ll continue competing with Folk throughout the season.
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