New England Patriots: Roster projection after first preseason game

Houston Texans v New England Patriots
Houston Texans v New England Patriots / Omar Rawlings/GettyImages

The Patriots' roster remains very fluid, mainly because of the daily toll of injuries and unclear timetables for the return of injured players such as Calvin Anderson and Mike Gesicki. Particularly in flux is the offensive line, which is still waiting for an initial appearance from Anderson and a full return to practice by Cole Strange.

With that in mind, and with one preseason game and two joint practices with the Green Bay Packers in the bag, here’s my first shot at predicting the Patriots' 53-man roster.

Quarterback (3)

Mac Jones, Bailey Zappe, Malik Cunningham

Cuts: Trace McSorley

It’s not clear that the Patriots have given up the doesn’t-make-too-much-sense experiment of trying to convert Malik Cunningham to wide receiver, but at least they are apparently beginning to recognize the value of a mobile QB in today’s NFL. Only one player on their roster fits the mobile QB profile, and his name is Cunningham.

The debate over who is the “backup QB” doesn’t matter as much as just keeping the dynamic Cunningham on the roster and eventually giving him the opportunity to break down defenses that might just smother Mac Jones.

This does not mean Cunningham should be the starting QB. Let’s just give him a chance to compete as an RPO-style QB and maybe even help win a game here and there. One step at a time, as Bill Belichick might say.

Running Back (3)

Rhamondre Stevenson, Zeke Elliott, Pierre Strong

Injured Reserve: Ty Montgomery

Cuts: Kevin Harris, J.J. Taylor, C.J. Marable

The Patriots can survive with three running backs for now because we’re keeping jack-of-all-trades Anthony Firkser on the roster. Firkser can play fullback, H-back, or even run errands as needed.

Some might be surprised to see Kevin Harris cut, but not me. Everything Harris can do, Zeke can do better. I’m not suggesting giving up on Harris just yet, as he can still find a home on the practice squad, which gives him more time to develop.

On the other hand, the Patriots can say goodbye to J.J. Taylor, who just didn’t do enough against the Texans. Ty Montgomery has consistently shown promise and has just as consistently gotten hurt. It’s worthwhile to keep him around on injured reserve for a while and see if he can manage to stay healthy for a few games.

Wide Receiver (5)

DeVante Parker, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Kendrick Bourne, Tyquan Thornton, Demario Douglas

Cuts: Kayshon Boutte, Tre Nixon, Thyrick Pitts

I didn’t just join the Demario Douglas hype train but identified him as a breakout candidate right after the draft. Douglas has a talent that no other Patriots wide receiver has—it’s called elusiveness.

Kayshon Boutte has done better than I expected in training camp and has a similar set of skills as a Kendrick Bourne or a JuJu Smith-Schuster, but he doesn’t have enough talent or skill to displace either one at this point.

If the injury that occurred to Tyquan Thornton while practicing against the Packers keeps him out of the lineup for any length of time, this gives Boutte an opening to make the 53-man roster. Otherwise, Boutte and Tre Nixon are destined for the practice squad. Thyrick Pitts is a good candidate for somebody else’s practice squad.

Tight End (4)

Hunter Henry, Mike Gesicki, Matt Sokol, Anthony Firkser

Cuts: Johnny Lumpkin, Scotty Washington

With the injury to Gesicki and the Patriots' apparent forgetfulness when it came to drafting a tight end in the 2023 draft, it’s imperative the Pats keep Matt Sokol on the roster. Sokol is a decent blocker with a good pair of hands.

The Pats had better try to develop some tight end with Henry and Gesicki unrestricted free agents next year. Firkser is a reliable backup with proven NFL experience; he needs to stick around at least until Gesicki returns to full health. Lumpkin is a big body who most likely remains on the practice squad.

Offensive Line (9)

Trent Brown, Cole Strange, David Andrews, Mike Owenu, Riley Reiff, Conor McDermott, Sidy Sow, Atonio Mafi, Jake Andrews

Cuts: Kody Russey, Chasen Hines, James Ferentz, Bill Murray, Micah Vanterpool

Injured Reserve: Calvin Anderson

As Trent Brown said after Wednesday’s practice with Green Bay, “You need five guys that can work as one,” but for the Patriots, in their first exhibition game against Houston, it looked like five guys working as five guys. Sidy Sow, Atonio Mafi, and Jake Andrews have a long way to go before any can be called a quality backup, let alone develop into a solid starter.

The offensive line was unimpressive against the Texans, and the rookie O-linemen didn’t help much with PFF grades of 67 (Andrews), 62 (Mafi), and 49.4 (Sow). Nevertheless, Andrews (Jake), Sow, and Mafi are roster locks, and Pats fans have to hope that solid coaching from Adrian Klemm and mentorship from David Andrews and Trent Brown will lead to improvements throughout the season.

Otherwise, it's a long season.

Defensive Line (6)

Lawrence Guy, Deatrich Wise, Christian Barmore, Keion White, Davon Godchaux, Daniel Ekaule

Cuts: Sam Roberts, Carl Davis, Justus Tavai, Jeremiah Pharms, Jr.

Injured Reserve: Trey Flowers

Guy, Wise, Barmore, and Godchaux are locks, while Keion White was the best rookie on the field for the Patriots against the Texans. Despite incurring a dubious pass interference call, Ekaule was very effective against the Texans, sacking QB C.J. Stroud in the initial drive. He needs to stay on the roster.  Sam Roberts will likely make it through waivers and onto the practice squad.

Linebacker (7)

Matt Judon, Ja’Whuan Bentley, Josh Uche, Marte Mapu, Mack Wilson, Anfernee Jennings, Jahlani Tavai

Cuts: Calvin Munson, Diego Fagot, Ronnie Perkins, Joe Giles-Harris, Carson Wells

There is not much controversy here, as the Patriots have a strong group of Edge defenders/linebackers. Munson and Fagot are both candidates for the practice squad.

Cornerback (6)

Christian Gonzales, Jonathan Jones, Miles Bryant, Marcus Jones, Jack Jones, Amer Speed

Cuts: Isaiah Bolden, Shaun Wade, Quandre Mosley, Rodney Randle

It looks like Speed, and Bolden are competing for a final roster spot. Given that the value of the kick returner in the 2023 NFL is likely to be very small, this competition should come down to who plays the best CB, not who might contribute something to special teams someday.

With Jack Jones facing potential suspension from the NFL, the need is at cornerback. It’s not enough data to judge based on one preseason game, but so far, Speed, with a grade from Pro Football Focus of 71.9 beats out Bolden with a grade of 58.2.

Safety (4)

Kyle Dugger, Adrian Phillips, Jabrill Peppers, Jalen Mills

Cuts: Joshuah Bledsoe, Brad Hawkins

I’d like to keep Bledsoe on the roster if possible, but I'm not sure if there is room for him. Bledsoe was solid, if not spectacular, in coverage against the Texans, giving up one reception on three targets for 10 yards with a pass coverage grade of 53.1 from PFF.

Specialists (4)

Chris Board, Matthew Slater, Brenden Schooler, Joe Cardona

Cuts: Raleigh Webb

The Patriots have a small army of special team specialists but, regrettably, at least apparently to certain coaches who love special teams, can only afford to keep so many on the team. Raleigh Webb will likely have to spend more time on the practice squad, but let’s hope the superb special teamer Cody Davis can regain his health and return later in the year.

Injured Reserve: Cody Davis

Kicker (1)

Chad Ryland

Cuts: Nick Folk

It was written on April 29, 2023, not coincidentally the 3rd day of the NFL draft, that, barring a major catastrophe such as a broken leg, Chad Ryland would be the Patriots kicker on opening day. Trading up in the 4th round to draft a kicker and then cutting that kicker would somewhat negate the happy talk about what a great draft the Patriots had. Let’s hope Ryland is worth it!

Punter (1)

Bryce Baringer

It is less of a lock to keep a punter drafted in the 6th round than a kicker drafted in the 4th round, but Baringer, while not perfect, has earned a chance to start with his well-documented hang times. Besides, you have to admire any NFL player, even a punter, who wears glasses and still looks like he belongs.

Cuts: Corliss Waitman

Practice Squad Candidates

The Patriots will search the waiver wire to add talent to their practice squad, but any of the following are logical candidates to make it on the squad.

Kevin Harris, Kayshon Boutte, Tre Nixon, Chasen Hines, Andrew Steuber, Bill Murray, Kody Russey, Raleigh Webb, Calvin Munson, Joshuah Bledsoe, Sam Roberts.