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Replay: Patriots Unfiltered Thu May 16 - 02:00 PM | Tue May 21 - 11:55 AM

Ask PFW: Mid-May roster assessments

This week’s mailbag is filled with early questions about how New England’s roster might round out.


How many undrafted free agents will stick this year and who will contribute? J.C. Jackson seems solid, Trent Harris could strengthen the interior.

Jason Bickel

Bill Belichick's Patriots have a history of keeping at least one undrafted rookie (often more than that) on the 53-man roster to open the season, a streak that dates back nearly a decade and a half. It's come all over the depth chart and with guys having varying length careers in Foxborough. But this year, it does look like it could be a challenge for an undrafted guy to make the roster. There is a lot of depth at a lot of positions and second-year guys in unique situations coming off injured reserve, NFI and the practice squad. The competition for those youthful spots at the bottom of the roster is going to be fierce. It's really hard to answer this question without having seen practice yet. Jackson is a guy that's gotten a lot of early buzz from the group. I'm intrigued by the idea of Ralph Webb who proved himself productive (or worn down) over four seasons at Vanderbilt. Not sure if you've noticed, but since the draft Nick Caserio and some Patriots assistants have really emphasized SEC production as work in the "best conference in America." The backfield is crowded, but I'm interested to see Webb in preseason action. A similar argument could be made for John Atkins and Frank Herron on the defensive line. Using money as a potential indicator, Webb reportedly got $70,000 guaranteed, a relatively solid amount for an undrafted player. Still, I'll have a better feel for the possible rookie free agents making the roster as we get through OTAs, mini-camp and then training camp. As for Harris, I don't know much about him but at 238 pounds I'm not sure he's a guy to strengthen the interior. He did have 8.5 sacks for Miami last season, though, as an undersized defensive end.

Andy Hart

What are the chances that the Patriots give Dez Bryant a look? What are the chances that the Patriots look at free agent linebacker Navarro Bowman on a cheap 1-2 year deal to help out on defense?

Zack Jones

Of the two players, I would think Bryant might be more of an option if he can't find more money/opportunities elsewhere and were inclined to do a lower-end deal on the short term to prove his worth for a winner in a productive passing attack. Do I think it's likely? No. But I never rule anything out and the longer he's without a home this season the more interesting his situation becomes. Bryant, who hasn't been at his best in recent years, could also be waiting for some team's No. 1 target to get hurt in training camp to increase his own value/options. We'll see. As for Bowman, I'm not sure he would fill the Patriots needs for increased speed and athleticism at linebacker. He could probably help against the run, but with the return of Dont'a Hightower and the drafting of Ja'Whaun Bentley and Christian Sam, Bowman may not represent value in New England at this point in his once-great career.

Andy Hart

The problem that always seems to happen with the Pats is that they always have a great lineup on paper Week 1, but one or two injuries ends up killing them because of a lack of depth. IMO, there are too many special teams-only players that offer little to nothing on offense or defense. Last season's final 53 had: Gostkowski, Allen, Cardona, Slater, Reedy, King, Bolden, Grissom, Grigsby, Richards & Bademosi. That's 11 out of 53 (20%) of the roster that is only giving you special teams snaps. Now take away the "scratches" Branch, Butler, & Harris and they played the Super Bowl with only 16 pure Defensive players…that's scary limited depth and it makes it all the more inexplicable the benching of Butler. Why don't they get players that are maybe not as proficient on special teams but give them more on defense?

Chris C.

First, I'm not sure Richards was necessarily just a special teams option last season based on how much he played on defense, especially in New England's first and final games of the season. But your overall point is taken. The amount of roster spots that the Patriots have invested in guys who primarily contribute on special teams has been a popular topic at varying points over the years – both inside and outside the offices of Gillette Stadium. Ideally the guys with elite special teams' value would bring more to the table on offense or defense. That hasn't been the case for the guys you've listed. Now, how big of a "problem" is it for a team that advances to the AFC title game or beyond each season? How often do those special teams players contribute to piling up wins in the regular season or early in the playoffs? Clearly Belichick and those around him helping build the roster think there is value in the players that are kept. Maybe that will change this summer and in rosters in the near future. But we also know how much emphasis Belichick puts on the kicking game and that's why he keeps around more guys to play special teams than maybe some other coaches would. I'm not sure that's going to change any time soon.

Andy Hart

Hey everyone, I would like to start off by saying I've been following all of your stories and broadcasts for years now and it's the only thing that gets me to the upcoming season. I'm an absolute diehard fan and I have a couple questions. First question when do you project the rookies will be receiving their jersey numbers? Second, who do you believe of the players you project to be on our upcoming roster in 2018 will be on the team in 4 years. Lastly, from 2018 to 2022 who do you believe our top 10 players will emerge as that are currently on our roster and contribute the most in that time frame. Again thank you and hopefully you all have a great summer.

Kolton Benish

Though the rookies were not wearing jerseys with numbers for the OTA workouts this week, I'm guessing they will have them by the mandatory mini-camp in early June. They will certainly have them by the time training camp opens in late July. Your questions about the makeup of the Patriots roster in the coming years is a great one, but one that's also nearly impossible to answer. There is not a single player that I would be comfortable saying is a lock to be on the roster in 2022. If I had to pick a few, the top choices on my list would be recent first-round picks Isaiah Wynn and Sony Michel. A sleeper pick would be late-round pick Braxton Berrios. And in terms of the team's stars in four years, the hope would be that both Wynn and Michel are in that mix, but I can't really say with much confidence at this point. We do know that it's probably not all that likely that current aging stars like Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman, Dont'a Hightower, Devin McCourty or Stephon Gilmore will be in that group. Four years can be a lifetime in the NFL and with teams' depth charts, especially if you don't have any true superstars in the first year or two of their rookie contracts.

Andy Hart

I've heard that Tom Brady wants an extension this year and/or more money. Do you think Tom Brady will get an extension before the season starts? If so, how long?

Kevin Kitchen

There has been plenty of speculation that Brady might want/get a new contract this offseason, though there hasn't been much on the record to back up such speculation. Patriots owner Robert Kraft downplayed the idea earlier this spring. If I had to guess, I wouldn't be surprised if Brady got a new deal to bump up his cash flow. But unless he pushes the point, it's not something the team would likely be in a hurry to address as it will potentially add years and dead money on the cap down the road.

Andy Hart

I think the Brady question is being neglected. One can lose it at a certain age from one moment to the next. It is not necessarily a gradual decline. Then there is the whole question of possible injury. Of course a period of transition will eventually have to be faced, but I think they should prepare themselves for the present. Thanks, as always.

Folger Mac Fadden

Brady's value as the No. 1 QB in New England is only emphasized with him missing OTA workouts, leaving Brian Hoyer and rookie Danny Etling as the Patriots practice passers. But the reality is that when Brady does arrive, he'll do so as the reigning NFL MVP and one of the most consistent, durable quarterbacks in recent memory, even with his advancing age. Certainly many expected New England to address the quarterback position early in last month's draft, but that didn't come to fruition. There is no obvious heir right now, though I'm sure Etling will be given plenty of chances to prove himself. The reality in the NFL is, though, that when a team loses its franchise QB (regardless of his age) that team is screwed. The Patriots are in the same boat as most teams.

Andy Hart

What's the chance that Glenn Gronkowski could come back?

Paula Fitzhenry

Not very good. The former practice squad fullback was released at the end of camp last year and seems to have seen the end of his time in New England. I would much rather see his brother, Rob, return to the team's practice action!

Andy Hart

Gentlemen, can you please let us know why the New England/Pittsburgh game is in Pittsburgh for the second straight season? I always thought that the location alternated each year. How do they determine which team gets to be the host team?

Ralph Colucci

The location does not rotate each year, the overall schedule rotates on a three-year system with AFC opponents and four-year rotation with NFC foes. This year New England was scheduled to play on the road against the team from the AFC North with the same place in the standings from the prior season. That's the Steelers. Last year's Steelers game in Pittsburgh was due to the Patriots playing all fourth teams from the North, with the Pittsburgh game on the road this time around as it alternates with each run through the divisions. When teams like the Patriots and Steelers, or in past runs of success for the Broncos and Colts, win their divisions on an annual basis they end up playing on an annual basis and the schedule rotation system sometimes leads to consecutive games at the same site.

Andy Hart

Which Patriots draft picks you predict won't make the team? What are undrafted Free Agents you predict that have best chance to make the team? Go Patriots!!

John Gray

President of Atlanta Patriots Fan Club

The further you get from the top of the draft, obviously the harder it is to make the team. So late-round picks at crowded positions, like tight end Ryan Izzo and quarterback Danny Etling, could face long odds. The same is true for wide receiver Braxton Berrios and cornerback Keion Crossen, even though the latter got off to a nice start during media access to the team's OTA session this week. It may also be difficult for both drafted linebackers – Ja'Whaun Bentley and Christian Sam – to make the squad. It's tough to judge the undrafted rookies this early in the process. As I said earlier I think they all face a tough battle to continue to streak of at least one making the 53-man roster. That said, my early candidates are running back Ralph Webb and punter Corey Bojorquez, the latter showing a powerful leg on the first day of OTA workouts in front of the media.

Andy Hart

Do you think this is the end of the Super Bowl contending team?

Mason Noyes

No. I was going to leave my answer at that, but I'll expand. If Brady and Gronkowski are healthy and ready to go the Patriots will very much contend for a top spot in the AFC this season. Plus, the competition in the conference is dubious at this point. Pittsburgh, who the Patriots always seem to find a way to handle, is probably the No. 2 contender. The rest, like Houston, Jacksonville and whatever team rises up this fall, all have plenty of questions to answer for themselves. Belichick and Brady still put the Patriots among the Super Bowl contenders until proven otherwise.

Andy Hart

Hi guys, I've got two questions for you this week.

1) Were you at all surprised the team brought in camp competition for Ryan Allen? I actually thought Allen had a great year this past season, and really showed a knack for pinning the other team deep on punts.

2) Why do you think Belichick has been so reluctant to stray from his prototypical linebacker ideal, despite the NFL's pronounced transition away from 250+-lb downhill run stuffers who struggle to cover in space and cannot go sideline-to-sideline? Belichick clearly has an affinity for big linebackers but I worry that these types of players are ill-suited for today's pass-happy game. 230-ish pound linebackers like Luke Kuechly, Lavonte David, Telvin Smith, Myles Jack and Roquan Smith seem to be ushering in an age of linebackers who can stick with RBs and TEs in coverage will also having the range to chase down stretch runs to the outside. I thought our defense really got exposed on outside runs this past season, as Elandon Roberts and Kyle Van Noy simply did not have the speed to hang with quick backs. This was really born out in the AFC Championship Game when Corey Clement started racking up yards like crazy by taking advantage of our lack of speed on defense. Do you think that Belichick hasn't added any faster linebackers because he simply has not had the opportunity (players not falling to us in the draft) or because he simply does not agree with the NFL's newfound emphasis on faster LBs?

Ben Offen

First, I am not surprised Allen has competition. I thought the veteran had a sneaky bad year last fall, even though he was a bit better down the stretch and was very good in the AFC title game. He had a down year and must prove he can turn it around. If not, New England now has an option to turn to in the strong-legged Bojorquez. Second, Belichick has tried to find some of the athletic linebackers – and even hybrid safety types or athletes like Jamie Collins – but it hasn't worked out. I will note that most of the linebackers you pointed to as the model these days were drafted near the top of the draft, a place the Patriots rarely pick. I also think that Christian Sam may have some of the abilities you are looking for. Certainly Belichick historically liked bigger linebackers, even dating back to his days with a base 3-4 defense. I think he's backed off those designs but hasn't really been able to find the right athletic guys in recent years leading New England to filling the void with special teams types such as Jonathan Freeny and Marquis Flowers. If Sam isn't a surprise late-round contributor the need for a young, athletic linebacker may remain a concern moving forward.

Andy Hart

By adding Adrian Clayborn the Pats have finally done 'something' to improve a long-time weak pass rush. What roles do you see Langi and Rivers playing in that regard this coming year, if any? Are there any other players to watch in this regard?

Tony Ess

Clayborn was my favorite signing of the offseason given his solid history as a proven commodity at defensive end. He's not an elite pass rusher but he's better than anything they've had of late beyond Trey Flowers. Surrounded by more talent, maybe Flowers will take his game to another level in 2018. Rivers is a complete unknown coming off a torn ACL and making the jump from Youngstown State. I look forward to seeing what he has to offer in camp and preseason, but I remain hopeful. I'd also like to see what type of jump Deatrich Wise Jr. makes in his second season. I don't, however, hold out a lot of hope that Harvey Langi can be an impact pass rusher. I actually think there is a better chance that Keionta Davis might have a brighter future on the edge, but he has a lot to prove.

Andy Hart

Hey PFW,

Thanks for all your insight on our Patriots team and look forward to your continued success in replaying high quality discussion topics. My thoughts are real simple. I was watching the draft and like everyone was waiting excitingly for our first pick and low and behold Mike Vrabel and the Titans move ahead of us and take R. Evans the Alabama LB. I really think he was truly the guy on The BB Radar. Then again in the 2nd round They do it again and move ahead of the Patriots and take H. Landry the Boston Collage LB. I really do not think this is a coincidence. I think birds of a feather flock together. In my opinion Mike slipped a mickey on BB. 2 times in one draft. I don't claim any ESP qualities but something tells me there was a huge sigh in our draft room when those selections went down. Now to dream of the possibilities of that not happening. We take R. Evans @ 23 Then We take S.Michel @31 and we still get I.Wynn @ 43. Not sure if that really could have happened but I do think Mike Vrabel has learned from the best and he used that against us in this draft. Thanks for your thoughts.

John Pursley

This was a common response from fans and media alike after the draft, but I'm not so sure it's accurate. It doesn't sound like the Patriots were overly interested in either Evans or Landry, even if we wanted them to draft such supposed impact front seven defenders. I do, though, believe that with guys like Vrabel in Tennessee and Matt Patricia in Detroit there are other teams taking a similar view of talent to the way Belichick's Patriots scout things. It's only natural. This has been an issue at various times over the years with people leaving Belichick's staff and front office to work with other teams. So far, it hasn't derailed the way New England has been able to put together competitive, successful teams.

Andy Hart

With the WR position so crowded, do you think instead of releasing the players that don't make the team and trade them for defensive help such as pass rushing and coverage LB?

Marcellus Simon

In a word, yes. I think wide receiver, running back, defensive back and maybe both lines are positions where New England could trade bodies from the bottom of the training camp depth chart to address possible needs at other positions. They won't be big impact deals but they might bring back an extra lower-level body from another team or even a late draft pick. This will be a topic to keep an eye on during August and right through final roster cuts.

Andy Hart

After the Super Bowl this year, Gronk considered retirement. Maybe this happens again next year, and if it does, do you think the Patriots will draft another tight end? They do have a few others on the roster like Hollister and Izzo, but if they don't pan out, I possibly see them getting another one. One I was looking at was Caleb Wilson, UCLA. Caught passes from Rosen last season and did well. Think the Patriots get him? Some other tight end?

Eyan Springer

The Patriots don't have a real pass-catching, No. 1 tight end on the roster right now beyond Rob Gronkowski. That's the reality. Now, based on Gronk's social media post a while back and reports that he might be getting a retooled contract, he's all-in with New England for at least this season. Still, I do think that tight end will be a draft need next spring. Which guy the team will target is anyone's guess and they couldn't even really tell you that right now. That's speculation better left to next winter and spring.

Andy Hart

Will the Patriots carry/hold five (5) running backs—that is, on the 53-man roster???

Tilted Towers

It's an honor to get a question from the most popular video game in the world today, digital domination that has taken control of my son and his friends. I do think the Patriots will keep five running backs, especially if you include fullback James Develin in the mix. I think James White, Rex Burkhead and Sony Michel are locks to make the roster if they remain healthy. I think Jeremy Hill and maybe even undrafted rookie Ralph Webb will both compete for a roster spot. And I believe that veterans Mike Gillislee and Brandon Bolden may struggle to stick around.

Andy Hart

What happens with a lot of injuries if Jimmy Garoppolo who's on the small side gets injured? Will Patriots fans say now it was a good trade? What happens if Tom Brady gets hurt? Will Patriots fans now say we should have kept Jimmy G? Personally I feel the Patriots are AOK with Brian Hoyer as Bill B. has proven he can win with Jimmy G., and previous other 3 or 4 QBs that filled in for Brady when he was hurt/suspended.

Francis Wilk

While I don't think Garoppolo's health will necessarily affect perceptions of his trade to the 49ers, Brady's health could. If the GOAT gets hurt, some will certainly say that Garoppolo should have been kept around for that very scenario with a 41-year-old QB. As for the comfort level with the current backups, I don't feel good about it at all. Hoyer has proven himself a journeyman backup who has struggled when put in a role beyond that. Etling is a total unknown from program that doesn't exactly put forth an NFL passing attack. If Brady gets hurt I think the Patriots would struggle mightily this season – they don't exactly have a dominant defense or running game to fall back on -- more than they did when Garoppolo played a couple years ago or when Matt Cassel surprised us all in 2008, when New England failed to make the playoffs.

Andy Hart

I've had my back up since the Super Bowl, and Ol' Tom and his side kick Gronk, not being the guys (like all those other years, setting the example). It is the last few games before this one is over, someone will write a book about what is happening right now, and this is still Bill's team. One or both of them will be traded before the season starts.....

Corky Decker

I don't exactly know what this email is expressing, other than clear displeasure with Brady and Gronkowski for the way they have handled the offseason and missed the early parts of the offseason program and OTAs. What I do know is that I would be as stunned as ever if either All-Pro talent were to be traded before the 2018 season starts. That may or may not have been a consideration at some point in the time. I can't imagine it is now, not until after this season at the very least. Much to the pleasure of most Patriots fans, Brady and Gronkowski will be in uniform to lead New England in 2018.

Andy Hart

I'm not an alarmist and I don't like to contribute to the media over-hype of non-stories, but I have to say that I am intrigued by TB12's failure to report today. If you go back to the 1-16-16 Division Playoff where we hosted KC, Edelman was coming off a fractured foot injury against the Giants and Brady targeted him like 18 times that game. I think he caught 10 for about 99 yards.

There were several drops and misthrows. I remember before and after the game Brady kept talking about how they needed to re-establish their rhythm because Jules had been out for multiple weeks. And the only way to do so was thru practice and repetition.

At the time, I thought "These guys have been running the same offense and routes for 1000s of times in practice, OTAs, training camps, etc. over the last 8 years. Why do then need timing and practice to get in sync?" But apparently, that was so.

Now, TB12 seems to be saying that he does not need that practice and repetition. I suspect he doesn't need it, but I also suspect that Britt, Dorsett, Berrios and the Twins need it. The guy is 40, won 5 SBs and may be the best ever so I'm not complaining or criticizing. I'm just looking for consistency and clarification.

Tom DiGangi

I don't think this email is being alarmist. I think it's a fair question that all of us have. Consistency is not possible when a guy who has taken part in OTAs for nearly two decades has decided not to do so this spring. Brady has certainly expressed the value of OTAs, extra reps and even his own personal workouts with receivers in the past. Now, he has somewhat altered his priorities for whatever reason. The sooner Brady returns to practice the better it will be for all involved. I don't see how that's even debatable. Will the time missed have a negative effect on Brady? His receivers? The offense as a whole? That's going to be up for debate and nearly impossible to prove one way or the other.

Andy Hart

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