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Lazar's 53-Man Roster Projection 1.0: Projecting the Patriots Roster Following Spring Practices

After watching OTA and minicamp practices, here's a first attempt at an initial 53-man roster projection for the Patriots. 

Pictured from left to right: Safety Kyle Dugger (23), quarterback Jacoby Brissett (14) and wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (7).
Pictured from left to right: Safety Kyle Dugger (23), quarterback Jacoby Brissett (14) and wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (7).

The Patriots broke for summer break following two days of on-field work at mandatory minicamp with rookie quarterback Drake Maye as the top storyline.

For those who took in the five open-media practice sessions this spring, it has become clear that Maye could begin pushing veteran Jacoby Brissett for the starting role as soon as training camp starts in late July.

Maye looked like the best quarterback on the Gillette Stadium practice fields. Frankly, that's more relief than a ground-breaking analysis. Maye is the third overall pick. He should be the best guy amongst a career backup in Brissett and fringe-roster quarterbacks Bailey Zappe and Joe Milton. If he wasn't outplaying those guys, that would be a major story.

As we get into my first 53-man roster projection this season, the conversation turns to, as offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt put it, a marathon, not a sprint for Maye. The allure of playing the high-ceiling rookie right away is there, as Maye can elevate a supporting cast that still lacks high-end pass-catchers and has an unsettled offensive line.

However, Maye's long-term development plays a significant role in that decision. He might be New England's best chance to win games come September, but is it best for him? What if the line stinks or the receivers can't separate? Then, Maye is caught upstream without a paddle. A rookie trying to cover up roster deficiencies is scary. Ultimately, that could be why the Patriots brass decides to sit Maye behind Brissett until they know what they have in the supporting cast.

With that said, when the Patriots return to the practice field for training camp, the debate could quickly become about whether the roster is ready for Maye, not if Maye is ready to start early in his career.

Here's a first attempt at an initial 53-man roster for the Patriots heading into summer break:

Patriots quarterbacks and offensive lineman run drills during the last day of minicamp. June 12, 2024.
Patriots quarterbacks and offensive lineman run drills during the last day of minicamp. June 12, 2024.

Quarterback (3): Jacoby Brissett, Drake Maye, Joe Milton

Cut/Trade (1): Bailey Zappe

The Patriots must answer two quarterback-related questions in training camp. First, they need to decide if they're comfortable playing Maye early, whether that's due to him earning it or an injury to Brissett. Then, sixth-round rookie Joe Milton will need to show us a little more than a rocket arm during the preseason to solidify himself as the third quarterback over Bailey Zappe.

If New England is ultra-conservative with Maye's development, Zappe is currently the only other option to start games if Brissett goes down with an injury early in the season. Is that enough for Zappe to stick around until the passing of the torch? Maybe. As for Milton, his practice reps are limited and a roller coaster. The arm talent flashes are there, like when he uncorked a deep out in Monday's minicamp practice. But for every plus throw, a handful would end up in the first row. Milton needs to make a roster push in camp, likely in preseason action, because we haven't seen enough yet.

There's a world where Milton goes the practice squad path, opening the door for Zappe to remain on the roster as a second bridge or even a two-QB room (Brissett, Maye). There's also a world where Milton balls out in the preseason to secure a roster spot. For now, it appears that Maye will be ready to back up Brissett at least, making Zappe the odd man out.

Running Back (4): Rhamondre Stevenson, Antonio Gibson, RB3 Placeholder, JaMycal Hasty

Cuts (3): Kevin Harris, DeShaun Fenwick, Terrell Jennings

The running back position is tough to evaluate until live tackling begins, so the guys on the roster bubble will need to showcase their skills in the preseason. Gibson and Stevenson are locks. Both project to be heavily involved, with Stevenson as hopefully a more efficient lead-back now that he's paired with a perfect complement in Gibson. That might mean less volume for Rhamondre, which is good for his health but bad for your fantasy teams.

Based on how OC Alex Van Pelt wants to run the ball, my gut tells me New England's "RB3" isn't on the roster yet. JaMycal Hasty is a fine Brandon Bolden type. He'll contribute on special teams and can be a receiving back in a pinch. However, if the wear and tear catch up to either Gibson or Stevenson, it feels like the Pats are a back short. Adding a proven third RB in a Zeke Elliott-type signing could be on the table.

Patriots WR Ja'Lynn Polk looks to catch a pass during drills at the last day of minicamp. June 12, 2024.
Patriots WR Ja'Lynn Polk looks to catch a pass during drills at the last day of minicamp. June 12, 2024.

Wide Receiver (6): Kendrick Bourne, DeMario Douglas, Ja'Lynn Polk, Javon Baker, KJ Osborn, Jalen Reagor

Cut/Trade (1): JuJu Smith-Schuster, Cuts (5): Tyquan Thornton, Kayshon Boutte, Kawaan Baker, David Wallis, JaQuae Jackson

The Patriots have a logjam at wide receiver but don't confuse that with having an embarrassment of riches. New England has a lot of bodies at wide receiver. However, spring practices still felt like a grind at times due to a lack of impact playmakers. When it comes to winning individual matchups against a good defense, it remains to be seen whether or not they have the difference-makers who can make plays.

Navigating a roster crunch at wide receiver is difficult because the Patriots have several mid-to-low-level talents in one big cluster. JuJu Smith-Schuster, KJ Osborn, Jalen Reagor, Tyquan Thornton, and Kayshon Boutte are competing for two to three roster spots depending on Kendrick Bourne's health. If Bourne starts the year on PUP or short-term IR, it becomes three. It's only two if Bourne is ready to go for Week 1.

Head coach Jerod Mayo was optimistic that the Patriots will be relatively healthy once training camp begins in July. Hopefully, that also pertains to Bourne, so we'll assume he'll be ready to start the year on the active roster. As for the rest of the room, it's hard to make an argument for Smith-Schuster to make the roster that doesn't involve the $12.3 million in dead cap with two years remaining on his three-year deal.

On Wednesday, Smith-Schuster ran a shallow crosser over the middle of the field, but he failed to win the foot race with practice-squad LB Joe Giles-Harris, resulting in a pass breakup for Giles-Harris. Although he says he's healthier, the juice has not returned for JuJu in spring practices. Smith-Schuster is not among the best six receivers on the roster, so the onus is on Eliot Wolf to find a trade partner, or they should eat the money.

Furthermore, JuJu doesn't offer any special teams value, like Jalen Reagor, who edges former second-round pick Tyquan Thornton and 2023 sixth-rounder Kayshon Boutte because of his return value. Reagor is in the same ballpark as Thornton as a field stretcher, while he'll be heavily involved on kickoff returns, so he earns the sixth spot.

If he continues to stack good days together like the final minicamp practice, Boutte could make a roster push in camp, particularly if Bourne starts the year on PUP/IR. However, this is what we've seen from Boutte in practice, where he'll flash some days but be invisible on others. Boutte will need to be more consistent to make the 53. The Patriots wide receiver camp competition will come down to the wire.

Tight End (3): Hunter Henry, Austin Hooper, Jaheim Bell

Cuts (3): La'Michael Pettway, Mitchell Wilcox, Jacob Warren

It's hard to envision the tight end room looking much different than this. Hooper hasn't done anything to wow you in the spring, but he's here to block and be an experienced vet in the AVP offense. Henry is still a reliable third-down target and red-zone threat. Then, there's the rookie, Bell, who has shown some explosiveness to stretch the steam and could stand out even more as a ball carrier. There's reason to be encouraged by the seventh-rounder's spring. Pettway could make a roster push, and Wilcox is involved as a two-phase player, but the Pats go with the draft pick.

Offensive Line (9): Chuks Okorafor, Mike Onwenu, Sidy Sow, David Andrews, Caedan Wallace, Layden Robinson, Calvin Anderson, Jake Andrews, Nick Leverett

PUP/IR (1): Cole Strange, Cuts (6): Vederian Lowe, Atonio Mafi, Tyrone Wheatley, Michael Jordan, Charles Turner, Zuri Henry

The offensive line is similar to running back, where determining the non-roster lock spots will come down to padded practices and preseason games. We can confidently say the first six names will make the initial 53-man roster, though.

The more interesting conversation in that top-six will be the starting five, which the Patriots appear to be tinkering with already. There's a world where Onwenu slides back inside to right guard, creating a starting spot for third-round pick Caedan Wallace at right tackle. The Pats might be encouraged by Okorafor's progress as a stop-gap left tackle, freeing up Onwenu and Wallace to play their natural spots on the right side.

There's still hope for Jake Andrews to be the center of the future, while Leverett has been the top right guard when Onwenu reps at tackle. The question mark will be Cole Strange's health. Based on current reports, Strange could miss a chunk of the regular season, creating a roster spot for Leverett as guard depth.

Defensive end Keion White (99).
Defensive end Keion White (99).

Defensive Line (7): Christian Barmore, Davon Godchaux, Deatrich Wise, Daniel Ekuale, Armon Watts, Jeremiah Pharms

Cuts (4): Sam Roberts, William Bradley-King, Trysten Hill, Jotham Russell

You could trim this down to six interior defensive linemen to create room for a better at-large player elsewhere. The first four names are roster locks. Then, Ekuale and Watts are competing for an interior sub-rusher role in tandem with Barmore. Watts has more size/strength to play the run more effectively than Ekuale, so they might find those players redundant. Pharms had solid tape down the stretch last season. Ultimately, New England knows what it's getting out of Barmore, Godchaux, and Wise, with Barmore primed for a monster season.

EDGE Defender (4): Matthew Judon, Keion White, Joshua Uche, Anfernee Jennings

Cuts (2): Oshane Ximines, John Morgan

Depending on where you believe White belongs position-wise, this is the same group the Patriots began the season with initially a year ago. It sounds like Judon's contract will work itself out for the Pats top pass-rusher to return after missing the final 13 games due to injury in 2023 (torn biceps). Jennings and Uche will slot back into their situational roles. The X factor on the line of scrimmage is Keion White. Last year's second-round pick has made a strong impression on head coach Jerod Mayo this spring. If he can become a more impactful player in the front, that could elevate the Patriots defense with another must-block rusher alongside Barmore and Judon.

Oshane Ximines is a player to watch as a potential dark horse candidate to make the roster. Ximines has their ideal body type (6-3, 253) and some pass-rush juice to earn a roster spot.

Linebacker (4): Ja'Whaun Bentley, Jahlani Tavai, Sione Takitaki, Raekwon McMillan

Cuts (4): Joe Giles-Harris, Christian Eliss, Jontrey Hunter, Steele Chambers

Another position group without any major surprises for the time being. The first three names are locks, with Bentley and Tavai projected as core players for the Pats defense. Takitaki has been limited in the spring, as has Tavai, but the free-agent addition should make the team. Due to Tavai and Takitaki's limited availability, McMillan is back in the mix. Durability is the major question mark with McMillan throughout his career. However, when healthy, he has been serviceable as a backup inside linebacker. Plus, he can play on special teams. There's a roster spot for a healthy McMillan.

Cornerback (6): Christian Gonzalez, Jonathan Jones, Marcus Jones, Alex Austin, Isaiah Bolden, Marcellas Dial

Cuts (5): Shaun Wade, Marco Wilson, Azizi Hearn, Mike Victor, Kaleb Ford-Dement

The Patriots defense is solid at every position, but cornerback might be the best position group on the entire roster. Christian Gonzalez and Jonathan Jones anchor a room that has shutdown potential. Gonzalez stepped back into the right cornerback spot, where he won Rookie of the Month before a promising start ended early due to a shoulder injury. Gonzalez's form has been excellent in the spring, with his movement skills standing above the entire roster.

Gonzo and the Joneses are roster locks, with Marcus Jones being a big-time factor in the return game. The other borderline lock making a strong impression this spring is Alex Austin, who finished the 2023 season on a high note and is picking up where he left off. Austin is now pretty securely on the team as a rotational outside corner.

The Pats have also experimented with 2023 seventh-rounder Isaiah Bolden in different spots. Bolden's speed and size, which can make an impact in the kicking game, give him some inside-outside versatility and four-down value. Dial didn't participate fully in the spring, but his first impression was encouraging. As the only rookie draft pick on the defensive side of the ball, you'd think the Patriots will make time to develop Dial.

Patriots S Kyle Dugger (23).
Patriots S Kyle Dugger (23).

Safety (4): Kyle Dugger, Jabrill Peppers, Marte Mapu, Jaylinn Hawkins

Cuts (2): Joshua Bledsoe, Dell Pettus

The new name here is fifth-year safety Jaylinn Hawkins. The former fourth-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft has 25 career starts with the Falcons and Chargers, so Hawkins isn't a throwaway addition after signing as a free agent in March. The veteran safety could be the current group's Duron Harmon, playing deep safety in obvious passing situations to allow Dugger and Peppers to play closer to the ball. Dugger and Peppers will be the Pats primary safety tandem, with Mapu factoring in as a matchup-based piece. When the chips are down, Hawkins could give the Patriots a Chung-Harmon-McCourty feel.

Special Teams (4): Kicker TBD (Ryland/Slye), Bryce Baringer, Joe Cardona, Brenden Schooler

Doing a Patriots roster projection with only one kick coverage ace is as weird as seeing Matthew Slater and Dont'a Hightower on the sideline coaching with HC Jerod Mayo. What world are we living in? Schooler is the only coverage ace who could conceivably make the team just to cover kicks, and maybe that's a good thing. It allows younger players to earn opportunities to make the game-day roster on special teams while freeing up a roster spot or two to keep developmental players.

As for the specialists, second-year kicker Chad Ryland is hanging on by a thread to the point where we can't call it yet. During minicamp, Ryland was 5-for-8 on field goals, while Slye went 8-for-8. Neither showed off a huge leg, but as the numbers show, Slye was more accurate. I wonder if the Patriots will consider signing a kicker from the spring leagues.

DISCLAIMER: The views and thoughts expressed in this article are those of the writer and don't necessarily reflect those of the organization. Read Full Disclaimer

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