The Patriots initial roster for the 2022 season is set after a flurry of roster moves ahead of the league-mandated deadline to get down to 53 players.
Although there weren't any major surprises on cutdown day, the Patriots are embracing a youth movement across the board, especially on defense and special teams.
By releasing veteran Terrance Mitchell, special-teamer Justin Bethel, and placing Henry Anderson on injured reserve, the Pats are rolling with first-year players all over the roster and extended their streak of an undrafted rookie making the team to a 19th season with two UDFAs on the initial 53.
Along with projecting as a top option to earn a role as a primary punt returner, third-round pick Marcus Jones began pushing for snaps at slot corner by the third week of camp. As for fourth-rounder Jack Jones, the preseason finale was a glimpse into his coverage potential. Jones's closing burst and press-man technique were on full display against the Raiders.
With changes at cornerback after J.C. Jackson's offseason departure in free agency, New England putting their trust in the younger cornerbacks is a positive sign for their development.
At defensive line, the Pats went with sixth-round pick Sam Roberts and undrafted rookie DaMarcus Mitchell to beef up their depth. And in a bit of an upset, UDFA special-teamer Brenden Schooler made the team as the tenth first-year player to earn a roster spot.
It's worth noting that the Patriots roster is fluid, and the 53-man roster is never truly set in stone. For example, a player who passes through waivers or doesn't need to go through waivers as a vested veteran could find themselves back on the roster after some tinkering.
Here is a position-by-position breakdown of the Patriots initial 53-man roster for the 2022 season:
Quarterbacks (3): Mac Jones, Brian Hoyer, Bailey Zappe
There weren't any surprises on cutdown day at quarterback this summer. With second-year quarterback Mac Jones locked in as the starter, the only question heading into roster cuts was if the Pats would carry all three quarterbacks. As a fourth-round pick, Zappe was close to a roster lock anyways, but his preseason tape showed enough pocket poise and in-rhythm passing to secure a spot. Due to the guaranteed money in his contract, Hoyer has a roster spot this season rather than going the wait around and see route as a vested veteran. Hoyer's mentorship of Jones is also a valuable piece of the puzzle.
Running Backs (4): Damien Harris, Rhamondre Stevenson, Ty Montgomery, Pierre Strong Jr.
Based on recent history, carrying four running backs is the norm for head coach Bill Belichick. Still, following an injury to top receiving back Ty Montgomery in the preseason finale, waiving J.J. Taylor and rookie Kevin Harris was a bit of a surprise. The decision could mean that Montgomery's ankle injury was only a scare rather than a prolonged absence, or the Pats could bring in another running back if Montgomery is moved to non-season ending injured reserve. Although things don't feel settled yet at running back, it could be good news that Montgomery, whose versatility and burst to the edge stood out all summer, is not dealing with a severe injury.
Wide Receiver (5): Jakobi Meyers, DeVante Parker, Nelson Agholor, Kendrick Bourne, Tyquan Thornton
After second-pick Tyquan Thornton's reported shoulder surgery, a veteran trade at wide receiver, as some speculated, was unlikely. Thornton could be headed to non-season ending injured reserve, where he can return after sitting out four games, which will likely open a roster spot for one of the surprise veteran cuts. There are bigger questions along the offensive line than at receiver, but overall speed and downfield separation are question marks until Thorton returns. Agholor had a good summer and is the best field-stretcher in the healthy group. Still, there were times this summer when there wasn't much going on down the field. Plus, the Pats need Kendrick Bourne to flip a switch when the games start to count. The Patriots are significantly better at wide receiver compared to a few years ago, though, and Parker is already showing signs of chemistry on jump balls and fades with Mac Jones.
Lil'Jordan Humphrey did everything he could to earn a spot on the roster as a hybrid wide receiver. He can catch passes over the middle, run the seam, and play in the kicking game. However, most of his production this summer came against backups. Humphrey was never fully elevated past the second-team offense and seldom ran with Mac Jones in practice. Hopefully, there's a spot for him on the practice squad. The same goes for Tre Nixon, who showed separation ability at the top of his routes. If the Pats want to fill Thornton's roster spot with a wide receiver, Humphrey is the likely favorite, especially since the team is only carrying two tight ends.
After he reportedly suffered a concussion during joint practices with the Panthers, wide receiver Kristian Wilkerson was placed on season-ending injured reserve. Wilkerson could play for another team this season if he reaches an injury settlement.
Tight End (2): Hunter Henry, Jonnu Smith
Ultimately, the Patriots felt that 2020 third-round pick Devin Asiasi and Matt Sokol didn't do enough to protect them on the 53-man roster, which is valid given that other depth players presented more upside. Asiasi never reached his potential. There were flashes of quickness through the top of his routes, and he held his own as an in-line blocker in his rookie season. But he never took steps forward in his development and didn't make enough impact plays. Sokol was a pleasant surprise and would be a good fit on the practice squad. His in-line blocking was solid, which makes him a good third tight end. Expect one or both of Asiasi and Sokol to end up on the practice squad.
Offensive Line (8): Trent Brown, Cole Strange, David Andrews, Mike Onwenu, Isaiah Wynn, Justin Herron, Yodny Cajuste, Chasen Hines
The Patriots offensive line is a work in progress. The good news is that most issues appear assignment-based rather than blocking failures. New England isn't getting hat-on-a-hat often enough up front, in the running or passing games. Heading into the season, the offensive line is the Pats biggest question mark because, on paper, the quarterback and skill players can make plays.
After months of speculation and a position switch, starting right tackle Isaiah Wynn is still with the Patriots. The best thing for Wynn and the team is for the 2018 first-round pick to re-focus and buy into the transition to right tackle. It'll allow Wynn to cash out as a free agent next offseason, and the Pats best five on the O-Line includes Wynn at tackle.
Backup tackles Justin Herron and Yodny Cajuste earned roster spots after seeing time with the starting offensive line during camp due to injuries. Cajuste had a nice summer, showing the necessary foot speed to mirror edge rushers in pass protection. But he is too inconsistent to trust as a starting tackle. Cajsute offers upside and is worth a roster spot to develop behind the veteran starters.
Sixth-round pick Chasen Hines is an intriguing tools-based prospect. He needs to work on getting his hands on defenders rather than throwing a shoulder. But Hines's athleticism and play strength were noticeable in the running game. Plus, he had active eyes in pass protection. The rookie can move people in the running game and is an explosive pull blocker on power or counter schemes. Hines fits well into New England's traditional gap schemes.
Whether it's call-ups from the practice squad or outside additions, the Patriots don't typically go into the season this thin along the offensive line. We would expect more moves to come.
Defensive Line (6): Christian Barmore, Davon Godchaux, Lawrence Guy, Deatrich Wise, Carl Davis, Sam Roberts
There's a lot to like about sixth-round pick Sam Roberts, who makes the roster after making the jump from the division two level to the NFL. Roberts is well built, has impressive initial quickness out his stance, and plays with good pad level to shoot into gaps. Roberts needs to develop as a natural two-gapper and find the ball more regularly rather than just beating the blocker in front of him. But he has enticing physical tools.
Our guy Carl Davis also made the initial 53-man roster. His two-gapping and block-eating abilities as a true nose tackle over the center are too good of a system fit to let walk out the door. A defensive line of Guy-Davis-Godchaux will be very stout against the run.
EDGE/Outside Linebacker (4): Matthew Judon, Josh Uche, Anfernee Jennings, DaMarcus Mitchell
A season-ending injury to 2021 third-round pick Ronnie Perkins opened the door for Mitchell, who has been repping all summer on multiple special teams units and flashed late as a pass rusher. Mitchell likely won't contribute on defense this season, but he could be a game-day active due to his contributions in the kicking game.
Behind Pro Bowler Matt Judon, the Patriots are counting on big things from 2020 day-two picks Josh Uche and Anfernee Jennings. New England typically bases out of an odd front (3-4), meaning they'll put two stand-up edge rushers on the field together. But they've also played even fronts (4-3) in certain matchups. Those even front looks could become more prevalent if Uche and Jennings can't combine to fill an every-down role. The optimistic view is that Jennings has emerged as an early-down option setting the edge, while Uche has always shown promise as a pass-rusher. The duo has talent but needs to stay healthy this season.
Presenting headshots of the New England Patriots 2022 53-man roster.
Inside Linebacker (4): Ja'Whaun Bentley, Raekwon McMillan, Mack Wilson, Jahlani Tavai
As we wrote this week, offseason addition Mack Wilson and fellow "loose screw" Raekwon McMillan bring an influx of speed to the second level of the Pats defense. According to linebackers coach Steve Belichick, McMillan and Wilson will play a big role in the defense this season. Tavai rounds out the room on the initial roster as a potential four-down player this season, but the expectation is that his biggest impact will come in the kicking game.
Entering training camp, few players had more hype on the Patriots roster than second-year linebacker Cameron McGrone. Whether it was due to his ACL recovery or adjusting mentally to the pro game, McGrone never made a strong push for the initial 53-man roster and was waived on cutdown day. This summer was his first taste of live NFL action, so it's possible that his mind wasn't fast enough for his natural athletic ability to take over. McGrone is a perfect fit for the practice squad, where he can continue to develop physically and mentally. There's still hope long-term that he can return to form.
Cornerbacks (6): Jalen Mills, Jonathan Jones, Myles Bryant, Shaun Wade, Jack Jones, Marcus Jones
The Patriots versatility stands out at cornerback. But the lack of elite coverage talent could do them in this season. It could also lead to a trade for a top cornerback down the road. The rookie Jones's were roster locks due to their draft status, and they also earned roster spots by flashing their potential this summer.
Myles Bryant needed a strong training camp to ensure his roster spot after the Pats drafted Marcus Jones and returned Jonathan Jones from a season-ending injury a year ago. Bryant struggled to cover Raiders slot receiver Hunter Renfrow in practice, so his coverage ability against top slots is still unproven. But Bryant added impressive punt returns to his repertoire and plays multiple roles in the backend. The more you can do, right? As a nickel corner in the Pats defense, Bryant plays most of his snaps in the slot but also sometimes rotates to safety. New England's trust in Bryant and high hopes for Marcus Jones allow the veteran Jones to fill a hole on the outside.
Second-year corner Shaun Wade did just enough to make the roster. Wade has good length and ball skills, flashing his recovery ability to make late plays on the ball. Wade adds a bigger outside corner to a group filled with undersized slot defenders.
Safety (5): Devin McCourty, Kyle Dugger, Adrian Phillips, Jabrill Peppers, Joshuah Bledsoe
When the head coach agrees that the best position group on his roster is safety, you expect the Patriots to have good depth at the position. This is a very versatile, instinctive, and experienced safety room that will likely be New England's best line of defense against the high-powered offense in the AFC. Expect to see three, maybe even four, safeties on the field at once in passing situations. It'll be exciting to break down all the different ways the defensive staff uses this group to its advantage.
After a strong summer playing multiple roles in the secondary, second-year DB Joshuah Bledsoe made the team. The 2021 sixth-round pick fits best over the slot covering tight ends or in a split-safety role in the deep part of the field. His contributions on special teams could also earn him a spot on the game-day roster. He stood out to teammates behind the scenes as a rookie, spending his entire first season on injured reserve, and is now in the mix.
Coverage Specialists (3): Matthew Slater, Cody Davis, Brenden Schooler
In a bit of an upset, rookie Brenden Schooler was among the undrafted rookies to make the initial roster over veteran Pro Bowler Justin Bethel. Schooler, a potential standout on special teams, plays on all five special teams units. He also plays fast and physical with a bigger frame at 6-foot-2, 203 pounds. Schooler earned high praise when teammates compared him to former Patriots special teams ace Nate Ebner.
Although Bethel posted a farewell to the Patriots on social media, it's still possible he could sign back with the team when a roster spot opens up.
Specialists (3): Nick Folk, Jake Bailey, Joe Cardona
The Patriots went status quo for their three specialists, which was never in question. Tristan Vizcaino was on the roster all summer, but it didn't feel like the team's trust in Folk ever wavered.