Minicamp is officially in the books, and the 2018 New England Patriots are in the earliest stages of building their roster. The Patriots office here at Last Word on Pro Football is assembling a way-too-early New England Patriots 53-man roster projection broken into two pieces. With minicamp over, several players have begun to make their case for a spot on the 2018 roster.
New England Patriots 53-Man Roster Projection 1.0 – Offensive Positions
(2) Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer
Needless to say, quarterback Tom Brady will start for the Patriots and should be among the best quarterbacks in the league. Despite being 40 years old, there’s plenty of reasons to believe Brady can keep this up. Brady won MVP and just finished one of the greatest playoff runs of all time. Don’t expect a drop off in production this year.
New England brought in quarterback Danny Etling to compete for the backup job, but he probably won’t usurp Brian Hoyer. Etling has a good minicamp, and reportedly was one of the last players off the field every single day. However, unless he absolutely dominates training camp and the pre-season, the backup job is Hoyer’s to lose.
It’s hard to see New England carrying three quarterbacks this season, considering the relatively low ceiling of both Hoyer and Etling. Etling could probably make his way to the practice squad, so he should remain around Foxboro in 2018, albeit not on the active roster.
(6) Sony Michel, Rex Burkhead, James White, Mike Gillislee, Brandon Bolden, James Develin
The Patriots always use a running back by committee, and that probably won’t change in 2018. New England always utilized a feature back, a change-of-pace back, a third down back, and a short-yardage back.
Sony Michel, Rex Burkhead, James White, and Mike Gillislee should be the ones to fill those respective roles. Michel was a great running back in Georgia, and his game-changing ability in the run and pass game makes him a perfect fit in New England. Burkhead, while not as dangerous as Michel, showed he can be a great dual threat when given the chance and should serve as a great part-time player behind Michel.
Gillislee and Jeremy Hill are fighting for the same job as the short-yardage back. While Gillislee disappointed in 2017, he should be the favorite over Hill to land the final spot. Hill has struggled in recent years with the Cincinnati Bengals, and Gillislee showed flashes of potential in 2017.
Brandon Bolden is purely a special teams guy who can play running back when absolutely necessary. Barring a series of injuries, he shouldn’t see much time with the offense. However, there is far worse emergency running backs in the league. James Develin has quietly established himself as one of the best fullbacks in football and should be a lock for the Week One roster.
(7) Julian Edelman, Kenny Britt, Chris Hogan, Cordarrelle Patterson, Jordan Matthews, Braxton Berrios, Matt Slater
The wide receiver position should be the most interesting battle throughout training camp. Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, and Matt Slater are locks, but every other spot is up for grabs. If Malcolm Mitchell is healthy, he could be a starter. However, he’s been sidelined for over a year now with an undisclosed injury, so health isn’t a guarantee. Quite frankly, until he’s acutlly out on the field, it’s hard to believe he’ll make the roster.
Cordarrelle Patterson should have an inside track to a roster spot due to his special teams’ prowess, but he actually can contribute on offense. He’s not a starter by any means, but he’s good for 30-50 catches and 300-500 yards. Throw in the occasional gadget run play, and he’s a good change of pace weapon on offense.
Battle for the Slot
Jordan Matthews and Braxton Berrios are both fighting to take Danny Amendola’s old job in the slot, and they both make it in this projection. Matthews had a poor 2017 but was one of the best slot receivers in football from 2013 to 2016. Matthews says he’s finally healthy, and if he’s able to produce like in years past, he could be one of the biggest free agent steals of the year.
Berrios may be something of a wasted roster spot, but he’s too valuable to risk losing. The sixth-round rookie is the most likely long-term heir to the slot receiver throne, but he may need some time to develop. His skill set aligns perfectly with the New England offense, and he could be the next great slot receiver. Even if he doesn’t produce in 2018, he’ll certainly produce after a year or two learning how to be an NFL receiver.
Riley McCarron is the wild card here. After spending all of 2017 on the practice squad, McCarron reportedly had a great training camp with Berrios nursing an injury. It’s too early to project McCarron passing Berrios, but it’s certainly something worth monitoring.
(2) Rob Gronkowski, Jacob Hollister
Rob Gronkowski is a no-brainer, but the battle for the second tight end spot should be one of the more interesting battles in camp. Right now, Dwayne Allen, Troy Niklas, Will Tye, and Jacob Hollister are fighting for one or two spots on the roster.
If cost were not a factor, Allen would probably win the second spot. He’s one of the best blocking tight ends in the league, and is good for the occasional red zone grab. However, Allen has a $5 million cap hit in 2017, and the Patriots may not be willing to pay that.
Hollister spent all 16 games of 2017 on the 53-man roster but rarely saw the field. While he was the best pass-catching tight end outside of Gronkowski, he couldn’t hold his own as a blocker. He was undersized for the tight end position and ultimately couldn’t handle his blocking assignments.
Entering 2018, it looks as though Hollister has done everything in his power to fix that. According to ESPN’s Mike Reiss, Hollister is noticeably larger this year and has worked extensively on his strength and conditioning. He’s on an undrafted rookie’s contract and will be sizably cheaper than Allen. If Hollister’s newfound bulk can turn him into a serviceable blocker, he should have the inside track to the second spot.
(9) Isaiah Wynn, Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Marcus Cannon, Trent Brown, LaAdrian Waddle, Ted Karras, Cole Croston
One of the best things about first-round rookie Isaiah Wynn is his versatility. Based on comments from offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia, Wynn would compete for the left tackle position if everyone was healthy. However, left guard Joe Thuney is in a walking boot, and thus cannot participate in OTA’s. Because of this, Wynn has been taking snaps as the first-team left guard while newly acquired tackle Trent Brown stands in at left tackle. Regardless of which player is the Week One left tackle, New England should have a solid starter to fill Nate Solder’s shoes.
The offensive line is one of the most injury-prone positional groupings in football, and the Patriots have addressed their depth this off-season. Re-signing LaAdrian Waddle ensured that the Patriots will have solid options should something happen to any of the starting offensive linemen. If injury strikes the interior offensive line, Wynn will slide to guard and Brown or Waddle will step in at tackle. If injury strikes at tackle, New England has four starting-caliber players ready to go.
Ted Karras and Cole Croston round up the depth. While both players are somewhat underwhelming, each has the versatility required to stick at the bottom of the depth chart. Karras has been a Patriot since 2016 and has seen time at all three interior line positions.
Croston didn’t play that often his first year in New England, but the coaches raved about him whenever given the chance. He’s a natural tackle but supposedly has the potential to play all along the offensive line. Neither Karras nor Croston are roster locks, but both could serve as reliable backups if called upon.
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