Despite numerous rumors, countless roster predictions, collections of sure-fire locks, and easily dismissed back-of-the roster players the final cuts down to 53 players for the New England Patriots came out of Foxborough, MA at 4:00PM on Saturday. Despite the moves, the Patriots are likely not finished yet. If there is one staple of a Bill Belichick led team is that the back-end of the New England Patriots roster is always in flux, not just in September but throughout the season. With that, here is a deeper look into the moves made by the Patriots.
PATRIOTS’ WASTED HIGH NFL DRAFT PICKS:
2013 fourth-round draft pick wide receiver Josh Boyce and 2012 third-round draft pick Jake Bequette joined such draft picks such as cornerback Ras-I Dowling (2011 – second round), defensive end Jermaine Cunningham (2010 – second round), wide receiver Taylor Price (2010 – third round), and the 2009 draft washout crew (Ron Brace, Darius Butler, Brandon Tate, and Tyrone MacKenzie–all second and third round draft picks) as high draft picks that never panned out in New England.
Boyce was likely the highest-profile cut as New England just ran out of roster spots for the young speedster. Boyce was the lowest-rated receiver in the preseason earning a -6.3 grade from ProFootballFocus.com while leading the position in snaps with 167 over the four preseason games. Boyce caught just 7 of 15 targets for a 46.7 percentage of passes caught for 87 yards. He was 0-3 on passes over 20 yards and just 2-6 for 48 yards for intermediate passes between 10-19 yards in the preseason (per ProFootballFocus.com).
For Bequette, there was a glimmer of hope for preserving a roster spot when veteran defensive end Will Smith was cut during the initial roster reduction. Bequette, however, was ineffective in the preseason as he had just one sack in 100 snaps played in the preseason. While adequate against the run this summer, he needed to impress as a pass rusher and dominate the second and third-team blockers. He simply did not. 2013 seventh-round draft pick Michael Buchanan beat him out for the final roster spot at defensive end.
PATRIOTS’ 2014 NFL DRAFT PICKS:
The back-end of the 2014 NFL Draft had already taken a hit when sixth-round draft pick cornerback Jemea Thomas was cut loose. It appears Thomas has stuck with the Cowboys and two more members of the draft class were let go during the cut-down to 53. Fellow sixth-round draft pick offensive guard Jon Halapio and seventh-round draft pick wide receiver Jeremy Gallon were let go. So far the only survivor of the four late round picks has been defensive end Zach Moore.
Gallon missed the first two preseason games due to injury and only played nine snaps versus Carolina in the third preseason game without getting on the stat sheet. With only a game to showcase his talents, Gallon may be a candidate for the practice squad as he is likely to be overlooked by the other 31 teams.
Halapio was a surprise release as he had seemed to have nudged ahead of Chris Barker with a strong performance at right guard against the Giants. In retrospect, against Carolina the week prior he had all but received the DNP-CD as he only played two snaps. Of course, those two snaps were the kneel downs at the end of the game. Despite Barker’s inefficient play, perhaps his ability to play all five positions on the line nudged him ahead of Halapio. For Halapio, he should stick on the practice squad if no other team scoops him up.
SHAKEDOWN AT LINEBACKER:
At first glance the linebacker position seems to have been left painfully thin. Assuming the Patriots return to the 4-3 defense of the past two seasons after showing almost all 3-4 this preseason, starters Jerod Mayo, Jamie Collins and Dont’a Hightower have just Darius Fleming and Chris White behind them. Of course, staying in the 3-4 would result in Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones playing outside linebacker and mean one of Mayo, Collins, and Hightower is on the sidelines. I am not sure that is maximizing the talent on defense.
Of course, the Patriots played 67% of the snaps in the nickel or dime last year so they only had two linebackers on the field for most of the season. Adding Darrelle Revis to the defense changes things and allows more flexibility in the front seven. I cannot see New England starting two young defensive ends such as Joe Vellano and Sealver Siliga in a 3-4 ahead of Mayo, Collins, or Hightower.
Steve Beauharnais was a surprise as most had him making the team after an impressive preseason. If he gets through waivers he should be a practice squad lock. The second-year linebacker Fleming is a great story and hopefully he sticks in New England. A Notre Dame alumnus he was a fifth-round draft pick for the San Francisco in 2012 but back-to-back seasons lost to ACL injuries. Chris White is basically a special teams player. If he is on the field in the regular defense it is either a blowout or the Patriots are in big trouble.
RUNNING BACK TO THE RUNNING BACKS:
Both running backs Roy Finch and Jonas Gray were impressive this preseason for New England. Finch had a fumble on special teams early in the preseason that slowed his momentum. Finch showed quickness and breakaway ability in the backfield and good hands in the passing game. Hopefully he will slip through waivers and land on the practice squad.
Gray had a huge game against Philadelphia in the second preseason game and opened eyes. He rushed for 98 yards on just 12 carries. Unfortunately, in the next two games he rushed 16 times for 32 yards. Add in his game one preseason performance against Washington where he rushed for 12 yards on 9 carries and maybe the Philadelphia game was an anomaly. Gray has bounced around for a while, but he looks the part of a running back. With Shane Vereen, Stevan Ridley, and Brandon Bolden all free agents at the end of the 2014 season, the Patriots need to stash additional running back depth on the practice squad.
Remember, the Patriots are far from finished as there is no long-snapper (Rob Ninkovich in a pinch?) on the roster. Safeties Patrick Chung and Tavon Wilson could still be on the bubble. A long snapper could replace offensive linemen on the roster as well so versatile blockers Jordan Devey and Chris Barker could be in jeopardy. The Patriots still have three quarterbacks on the roster and a trade of Ryan Mallett is still not out of the question. Finally, wide receiver Brian Tyms and cornerback Brandon Browner are suspended the first four weeks of the season and injuries could make their transition to the roster an easy process.