Breaking Down Patriots’ Initial 53-Man Roster, Position By Position

Questions remain at several spots after cutdown day

by

August 31

The New England Patriots unveiled their initial 53-man roster Tuesday afternoon.

While additional tweaks surely are forthcoming ahead of next Sunday’s regular-season opener, here’s a position-by-position breakdown of their first 53, which includes eight 2022 draft picks and two undrafted rookies:

QUARTERBACK (3)
Mac Jones, Brian Hoyer, Bailey Zappe
Hoyer sticks around as Jones’ primary backup — the expected outcome after he re-signed for $3 million guaranteed this offseason. Julian Edelman spoke this week about how the 36-year-old journeyman, in addition to providing general mentorship, also can help Jones master aspects of the Patriots’ new-look offense after playing under Kyle Shanahan in San Francisco. Zappe showed promise in the preseason but needs to improve his accuracy and decision-making.

RUNNING BACK (4)
Damien Harris, Rhamondre Stevenson, Pierre Strong, Ty Montgomery
The Patriots opted not to roster J.J. Taylor or Kevin Harris. Does that mean Montgomery, who was carted off in the final preseason game, avoided a long-term injury? This would be a lean group if Montgomery landed on injured reserve this week, especially since the rookie Strong hasn’t looked ready for a prominent role.

If healthy, Montgomery projects as the primary James White replacement, with Stevenson and potentially Damien Harris also taking on larger roles in the passing game.

WIDE RECEIVER (5)
Jakobi Meyers, DeVante Parker, Kendrick Bourne, Nelson Agholor, Tyquan Thornton
Thornton is headed to short-term IR (minimum four games) after undergoing surgery on his fractured collarbone, which will leave the Patriots with just their veteran quartet of wideouts. That’s more than enough depth to get by — New England’s fifth receiver likely won’t see a ton of playing time anyway — but it’ll be interesting to see if the Patriots add another young prospect to this group in the coming days.

Rookie Bo Melton, a Rutgers product who was cut by Seattle, would be an intriguing waiver-wire pickup. He looked like a potential Patriots target during the pre-draft process and is experienced on special teams. Tyler Johnson also should generate significant interest around the league after Tampa Bay unexpectedly released him.

Lil’Jordan Humphrey was a notable Patriots cut after his strong preseason, and Kristian Wilkerson might have had a chance to stick if he hadn’t missed the last week-plus with a cheap shot-induced concussion. The Patriots placed Wilkerson on IR before the cutdown deadline, meaning he’d need to be released with an injury settlement in order to play this season.

TIGHT END (2)
Hunter Henry, Jonnu Smith
None of the Patriots’ third tight end hopefuls (Devin Asiasi, Dalton Keene, Matt Sokol and Jalen Wydermyer) wowed this summer, so they decided to keep just their top two. That’s a risky move given Henry’s and Smith’s injury histories, and the fact that New England is expected to utilize much more two-tight end personnel this season. Expect the Patriots to carry at least one tight end on their practice squad.

Asiasi and Keene, who was cut last week, combined for just five total catches over two seasons after the Patriots traded up for both in Round 3 of the 2020 NFL Draft.

OFFENSIVE LINE (8)
Trent Brown, Cole Strange, David Andrews, Mike Onwenu, Isaiah Wynn, Yodny Cajuste, Justin Herron, Chasen Hines
One of the most surprising roster inclusions was Hines, who beat out the likes of James Ferentz, Kody Russey, Arlington Hambright and Will Sherman despite missing all of spring practice and the first half of training camp with an injury. The Patriots either viewed the sixth-round rookie as a better option than those players or believed there was a greater chance he would not clear waivers.

Regardless, they’re light on the interior with Hines — who has much more experience at guard than center — as the only backup for Strange, Andrews and Onwenu. The Patriots could re-sign Ferentz after shifting Thornton to IR, or add to this group with a waiver claim or free agent pickup.

New England is deeper at tackle with Cajuste and Herron backing up Wynn — who was not dealt after being the subject of trade talks — and Brown. Director of player personnel Matt Groh on Monday said he feels “very fortunate and very confident” in the team’s tackle depth. Questions remain there, however, as Wynn and Brown both are injury risks and the former is transitioning to a position (right tackle) that he’s never played in the NFL or college.

DEFENSIVE LINE (7)
Davon Godchaux, Lawrence Guy, Christian Barmore, Deatrich Wise, DaMarcus Mitchell, Carl Davis, Sam Roberts
The top four in this group were roster locks, with Barmore a prime breakout candidate as he enters his second season. The back half of this depth chart features the returning Davis, who will provide nose tackle depth behind Godchaux, and two rookies: the undrafted Mitchell and Division-II sixth-rounder Roberts.

Mitchell may contribute as a reserve edge rusher but likely will play mostly on special teams. Roberts seems like more of a developmental prospect, but he flashed with his length and explosiveness during the preseason. Henry Anderson, a bubble player entering cutdown day, was placed on IR for the second consecutive season. Like Wilkerson, he can only play this season if he’s eventually released with an injury settlement.

Undrafted Alabama product LaBryan Ray was a surprise cut after his strong camp and preseason.

LINEBACKER (7)
Matthew Judon, Ja’Whaun Bentley, Raekwon McMillan, Mack Wilson, Josh Uche, Anfernee Jennings, Jahlani Tavai
Along with returning starters Judon and Bentley, the Patriots will be relying on younger players like McMillan, Wilson and Uche to provide the speed and athleticism this unit lacked last season. Jennings, a relative afterthought at the outset of camp, also looks poised for a large role as an edge rusher, potentially as a starter opposite Judon. Tavai saw a surprisingly high number of reps with the first-team defense this summer and seems to be a favorite of Bill Belichick’s.

This group does not include 2021 fifth-round pick Cameron McGrone, whose performance in training camp and the preseason never measured up to his offseason hype.

CORNERBACK (6)
Jalen Mills, Jonathan Jones, Myles Bryant, Marcus Jones, Jack Jones, Shaun Wade
Devoid of a Pro Bowl-caliber No. 1 cornerback for the first time in a decade, the Patriots are emphasizing youth at the position this season. Expected starters Mills and Jonathan Jones are veterans, but the rest of this depth chart entered the NFL in 2020 or later. Marcus and Jack Jones both are rookies, and Wade is a second-year pro who played just 11 regular-season snaps in 2021. All three were impressive but uneven in camp.

The Patriots were confident enough in their untested backups to cut Terrance Mitchell, who started 29 games for Cleveland and Houston over the past two seasons. Mitchell’s goodbye came five days after New England released Malcolm Butler from IR with an injury settlement, meaning neither of the veteran corners it signed this spring will be with the team to start the season.

Jack Jones and Wade will provide depth on the outside, with Marcus Jones backing up Bryant in the slot. Based on the potential they showed this summer, it wouldn’t be shocking to see either of the rookie Joneses vault into a starting role by season’s end.

SAFETY (5)
Devin McCourty, Adrian Phillips, Kyle Dugger, Jabrill Peppers, Joshuah Bledsoe
Belichick this week called this the Patriots’ strongest position group, and for good reason. McCourty, Phillips and Dugger all were impact defenders last season; Peppers is a multipositional veteran who now is healthy after missing most of camp following ACL surgery and Bledsoe, a 2021 sixth-rounder who didn’t play as a rookie, gives New England another versatile option at safety and in the slot.

Bledsoe impressed teammates and coaches with his study habits last season while he recovered from wrist surgery, and he often repped with the defensive regulars during training camp. Cody Davis and Brenden Schooler technically are safeties but aren’t like to see the field on defense outside of emergency situations.

SPECIALISTS (6)
K Nick Folk, P Jake Bailey, LS Joe Cardona, ST Matthew Slater, ST Cody Davis, ST Brenden Schooler
The Patriots are grooming Schooler to be the next Nate Ebner, and he should make an instant impact in the kicking game. Expect to see the long-haired 25-year-old — who played at four high schools and three colleges before arriving in New England — on nearly every special teams unit this season.

Schooler’s rise likely contributed to the Patriots’ surprise decision to cut Justin Bethel, who ranked second on the team in special teams snaps last season and is one of the NFL’s premier punt gunners. As a vested veteran who isn’t subject to waivers, Bethel would have been a candidate to re-sign after Thornton’s move to IR, but the farewell message he posted on Instagram seemed to indicate he won’t be back.

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