The New England Patriots will open up training camp with four players on the active/PUP list (they can be activated at any time during camp) in Rob Gronkowski (no surprise), Julian Edelman (maybe a small surprise), Nick McDonald (mild surprise), and Jake Ballard (mild surprise). Of those four, Ballard is the most notable addition to the PUP list due to the injury to Gronkowski, as Ballard is expected to somewhat replace Gronk’s lost production if Gronk has to miss regular season time. Based on what we’re hearing from a few beat writers, it sounds like we might be placing too many expectations on Ballard.
Earlier in the offseason, Boston Globe writer Zuri Berry wrote that Ballard appeared “rigid” during offseason workouts, and yesterday CSNNE’s Tom E. Curran stated that Ballard “slogged through some routes” and noted that Ballard was not a full participant this offseason. Microfracture knee surgery is never easy to recover from, and Ballard’s issues underscore that. I still expect him to be a solid player in the Patriots offense, but there is the legitimate worry that Ballard, who was never fast or athletic to begin with, could be severely mitigated going forward as a result of that severe knee injury.
Boston Globe beat writer Ben Volin tweeted that Jake Ballard looked a “little stiff” during OTAs, which means he’s the third beat writer to say that Ballard didn’t look fully healthy then. In fact, Volin adds that he doesn’t view Ballard as a lock to make the 53-man roster despite Gronk’s injury, and this is something I agree with. Ballard is quite close to being a lock to make the 53-man, but it’s hard to have someone coming off of a serious injury as a true lock on the final roster. Zach Sudfeld is going to benefit from a high amount of snaps in camp, and he is the TE that I am going to keep the closest eye on. Also make note of Daniel Fells and Michael Hoomanawanui, who are two veterans that make Ballard’s job less than a certainty.
Mike Reiss and Field Yates took a look at the position battles going on for the New England Patriots in training camp, and they have rookie Aaron Dobson and Michael Jenkins competing for the “X” receiver gig. As they note, the Patriots are going to do whatever they can to put Dobson in a position to win the gig, because he has a lot of upside and all the tools (speed, route-running, size, ball skills) to be the true No. 1 receiver this team needs. Jenkins is too slow to be that guy, but he has good hands, runs solid routes, and he is also a big target. If Dobson flops and struggles with the dropsies, then Jenkins is the likely fallback option (unless if Josh Boyce or somebody else emerges as a surprise “X” wideout).