Potential Replacements Following Hightower Injury

Just when the Patriots defense starts to take a step forward in their play, they just took two steps backwards with the news that linebacker Dont’a Hightower will miss the rest of the season due to a torn pectoral muscle. Hightower is not only the leader on defense, but also the team’s top player at their weakest position which is linebacker. The team will have some decisions to make on how they go about replacing their star linebacker, whether it be through inside the organization or outside of it through a trade or signing someone off the streets.

The productivity and level of play that Hightower gives, the Patriots likely won’t be able to replace with just one player and might have to make several roster moves going forward. One move that the team is almost certain to make is removing linebacker Shea McClellin off of the injured reserve list when he is eligible to be taken off. The first game McClellin would be eligible to play in is on November 12th against the Denver Broncos following the team’s bye week. McClellin’s presence should help the Patriots linebackers in coverage against backs and tight ends, an area where the team has struggled mightily this season. Given the lack of depth at the linebacker position McClellin should be able to step in and contribute right away.

One thing that might be overlooked with the Hightower injury is his pass rushing ability and how this affects the defensive line. The Patriots really only have two true defensive ends and pass rushers in Trey Flowers and Deatrich Wise Jr., as well as Cassius Marsh who has goes into the game in certain third down situations but is primarily a special team’s player. Kyle Van Noy has the ability to rush the passer but doesn’t quite have the consistency and skill of Hightower of getting after the quarterback. The Patriots could turn to a couple of familiar faces to help in this aspect of the defense including Rob Ninkovich, who announced his retirement this summer but didn’t 100 percent rule out a possible comeback, and free agent Akeem Ayers who was a member of the Patriots 2014 Super Bowl team and is someone the team worked out at the beginning of the season. It is unknown what either guy has left in the tank and what they would be able to contribute, but their knowledge of the defense would allow them to be able to step in and contribute right away.

While its unknown what players could be on the trade block, someone who the Patriots could be interested in is also another familiar face in Jonathan Casillas. Like Ayers, Casillas was acquired by the Patriots mid-season in 2014 and was part of the Super Bowl Champion team and has familiarity with the defense. Following the 2014 Casillas signed with the New York Giants, with whom he still plays for, but with their 1-6 record they could look to trade some players and rebuild in the offseason. If available Casillas is someone I would expect the Patriots to look into before the trade deadline October 31st.

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Patriots 53-Man Roster Projection 2.0

The Patriots have had some injuries to some key players over the past few weeks, as well as having some guys perform better than expected let’s take a look at the second version of my 53-man roster projection after everything that’s transpired through the past few weeks of preseason. 

Quarterbacks: Tom Brady, Jimmy Garoppolo, Jacoby Brissett

It’ll be a tough decision whether the Patriots hold onto a third quarterback with Brissett, but I think the team will hold onto him after investing a third round pick in him just a year ago as well as using their IR-designated to return spot on him last year and kept him around the team. Another reason is that it’s extremely unlikely that the Patriots keep both Brady and Garoppolo on the roster next year, in that case the team will still be looking for a backup quarterback and I believe the team would feel more comfortable with Brissett than possibly going after a veteran or using another draft pick on a backup next year. Brissett hasn’t looked good this preseason but I think the team likes Brissett and thinks he can fit with the team in the long-term.

 

Running Back: James White, Dion Lewis, Rex Burkhead, Mike Gillislee, James Develin

Dion Lewis and Brandon Bolden have both seen a lot of action so far in the preseason and could be fighting for a roster spot against one another, if that is the case the roster spot has to go to Dion Lewis. Lewis offers the Patriots so much more from an offensive standpoint that Bolden does, who has been used primarily as a special teamer throughout his career. Someone who is on the bubble and a name to watch for is second-year back D.J. Foster, who can make contributions on offense out of the backfield and lined up as a wide receiver, which he played in college. Foster has looked good so far in preseason and training camp and offers the team versatility on offense.

 

Wide Receiver: Julian Edelman (IR), Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan, Danny Amendola, Malcolm Mitchell, Austin Carr

I don’t expect the Patriots to place Edelman on the Injured Reserve until after final roster cut downs, this will give them a chance to evaluate a few more roster bubble guys and also learn the full extent of Edelman’s injury and timetable he is out for, which will likely be the whole season. One of the most known and used phrases in New England “Next Man Up” strikes again and that man could be Austin Carr, who makes my 53-man roster projection after just missing the cut in my first version a few weeks ago. One man can’t just step in and replace a Julian Edelman, it will take everyone on offense to contribute a little more to try replicating Brady’s favorite and most dependable target in Julian Edelman.

Austin Carr, Doran Grant
via patriots.com

Tight End: Rob Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen, Jacob Hollister

The tight end spot is one that could go a few different ways for the Patriots. Gronk is the best tight end in football and an obvious lock, but there is a lot to be questioned with the tight end position. Gronk and ofseason acquisition Dwayne Allen have had injury problems throughout their careers, as well as Allen having a very inconsistent training camp and preseason even he is not a lock to make the team.I believed that Matt Lengel would have won out the third tight end spot over James O’Shaughnessy and undrafted rookie Jacob Hollister, and then he was released yesterday (August 27th). Hollister provides the most upside at tight end outside of Gronk, even as just a vertical threat and not a traditional two-way tight end.

Offensive Line: Nate Solder, Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Marcus Cannon, Tony Garcia, Ted Karras, Cameron Fleming

The starting five from last year are locks to make the roster, as well as Joe Thuney who was the top backup interior lineman last season and rookie Tony Garcia who will be the teams primary backup tackle. The last offensive lineman spot goes to Cameron Fleming, who was last year’s top backup tackle and has proven to be inconsistent throughout his career in New England. Nate Solder has been out for the past several weeks now and is a very important piece to get back as Fleming and La’Adrian Waddle have both struggled at left tackle in his absence.

 

Defensive Line: Trey Flowers, Alan Branch, Malcolm Brown, Lawrence Guy, Deatrich Wise Jr., Derek Rivers (IR), Vincent Valentine, Geneo Grissom, Adam Butler

The Patriots just released offseason acquisition disappointment Kony Ealy after unsuccessfully finding a trade partner for the third year defensive end. Derek Rivers is believed to have torn his ACL during joint practices with the Houston Texans, but there has not been much reported since the injury occurred. If his ACL is in fact torn the team will place him on Injured Reserve, ending his rookie campaign before it even started. (Rivers is not being counted towards the 53 number but being listed until placed on Injured Reserve.) Undrafted free agent Adam Butler has played great in the preseason so far and has been a real surprise with how well he has looked so far. With the loss of Rivers and release of Ealy, it seems more and more likely that Butler will make the Patriots 53-man roster that is struggling for depth at defensive line.

getty butler
via getty images

Linebacker: Dont’a Hightower, David Harris, Kyle Van Noy, Shea McClellin, Elandon Roberts, Harvey Langi

No changes from my first projection here at linebacker. Harvey Langi has continued to perform well for the Patriots and shown ability to both as a coverage linebacker and as an edge player and get after the quarterback, which the team desperately needs. Dont’a Hightower was taken off the PUP (Physically Unable to Perform) list last week and began practicing with the team. I expect the team to move Hightower more to the outside this year with the lack of pass rushers that the team has and see newcomer David Harris play majority of first and second downs as the inside linebacker.

Chad Henne
via csnne.com

Cornerback: Malcolm Butler, Stephen Gilmore, Eric Rowe, Jonathan Jones, Cyrus Jones, Justin Coleman

Butler has struggled so far in the preseason though I’m not concerned as he is one of the best cornerbacks in the entire league. The real question when it comes to cornerback is Cyrus Jones and if he is going to make the team. I don’t see them getting rid of Jones after just one season, even though that one season couldn’t have gone much worse. Six cornerbacks could be considered a lot to carry but with questions really outside of your top three corners I think the Patriots take the risk of carrying six corners.

NFL: New York Jets at New England Patriots
via musketfire.com

Safety: Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon, Nate Ebner, Brandon King

With the Patriots carrying six corners it’s time to say goodbye to Jordan Richards. The third year safety has been awful this preseason and hasn’t shown much during his time in New England as a former second-round pick.

 

Special Teams: Stephen Gostkowski, Ryan Allen, Matthew Slater, Joe Cardona

No surprises here and not much to say.

 

 

The Patriots have one preseason game left remaining to play and it will be interesting to see which guys make one final push in an attempt to crack a spot on the Patriots 53-man roster.

 

The Relentless Hath Fallen

Clutching his knee after juking his way past the teeth of the Lions defense and limping heavily towards the sidelines, not how Julian Edelman wanted his dress rehearsal for the 2017 regular season to go.  The reliable Julian Edelman who can be found attached to Tom Brady’s hip the majority of the calendar year and one of the most uncoverable wide receivers in the game is feared to have a torn ACL just a couple minutes into a damn preseason game.  The value of the preseason and if it should be abolished is a story for another time but if Julian Edelman is lost for the entire season that is a massive blow to the Patriots, an even bigger loss than losing Rob Gronkowski I believe.

Brady throws an immaculate 4.9 touchdowns per 1 interception when Julian Edelman is playing along side him, but the golden boy becomes below average when Edelman is off the field throwing only 1.7 TDs per INT.  If there was any position that this particular team, this year could lose a player for a significant amount of time where another man would step up it would be from the wide receiver corps.  However… Julian Edelman?  Of all people not Edelman!  There’s a term that gets thrown around when the gameplan isn’t going the way you planned and that’s going to your ‘security blanket’.  For a long time I thought Gronk was that security blanket, and he definitely was for a while, but Edelman has surpassed him as the go-to-guy when you need a crucial conversion or any big play at a given time.  I think back to the game in Denver last year when the Patriots couldn’t get anything going and the resilient Edelman came through with his toughness against one of the best defenses adding in great catches.  And of course speaking of great catches, the greatest reception of all time in the big game belongs to Julian Edelman this past February.  He’s also an incredible blocker for his size laying a massive block on the final play of the 2016-2017 NFL season earning the Patriots a 5th Super Bowl championship.

The depth chart is stacked though:

Chris Hogan, Brandin Cooks, Danny Amendola, Malcolm Mitchell, and now probably Austin Carr making the team if Edelman is placed on IR.  There is a lot of talent at that position but none of those players can do everything Edelman does.  Guys like Rex Burkhead and Dion Lewis will need to step up to the plate in the slot this season in the absence of #11.

19-0 is out of the question without Julian.  He’s just way too important to this squad and accounts for a couple wins by himself.  Brady wins a stunning 82% of the time when Edelman plays compared to a still good but decent drop to 68% when Julian does not play.  The Patriots still have all the talent to be the last team standing especially with the GOATs at head coach and quarterback, but it will be extremely difficult to repeat decades as a dynasty without their 7th round Kent State QB turned best hard nosed slot receiver in the game.

Pass Rushing Problems

We smiled and even shed a tear for Rob Ninkovich when the entire team including coaches unprecedentedly sat in on their underrated and reliable pass rusher when he announced his retirement.  We held our breath when one of our own players lay flat on his back in the first preseason game with a concussion in one of the Patriots training camp standouts DE Deatrich Wise Jr.  And we as fans find ourselves at unease and feel for the Patriots 1st draft pick this year go down with a torn ACL in joint practices this week against the Texans.  The stacked and heavy favorited New England Patriots all of a sudden find themselves dangerously slim at a crucial aspect of the game; getting to the Quarterback.

If it wasn’t for Trey Flowers having a Pro Bowl like 2nd half of the season last year we might be panicking similar to the first humans to see a solar eclipse probably did.  Getting to the quarterback can be argued as being the most important thing to have success on defense and New England might find themselves relying on undrafted rookies to take over that duty.  Guys like Caleb Kidder and Keionta Davis might need to make the team by default.  (I know “who” right? Me too).  If there was ever a time to pay for a flyer like the 37 year old Dwight Freeney, who to his credit gave Nate Solder fits in the Super Bowl last year, now would be the time.  And speaking of the Super Bowl, quite possibly the only great game Kony Ealy played in was the 50th anniversary of the big game, but has looked less than stellar let’s say thus far this training camp and preseason.  “Next man up” is what makes Bill Belichick the genius he is by giving opportunity to some unknown player and seeing them shine gloriously, (Malcolm Butler and Trey Flowers being the most recent examples).  I’m looking at Geneo Grissom to rise to the occasion and grab that brass ring with opportunities being given.

This is a real concern for the 2017 New England Patriots, you can have 2 shutdown corners but if you can’t get to the quarterback even mediocre teams will reap the benefits.  Of course though, there is perhaps the most high powered offense Tom Brady will lead in his storied career this year, so massive amounts of points will be scored, but at the same time it’s imperative that the defense shows urgency as they attempt to defend their crown as the #1 scoring defense from a season ago.

We appreciated Rob Ninkovich for his time, but Patriots fans might realize they never knew what they truly had until its gone… aka retired.

 

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via offthemonstersports.com

Who would you rather? Julio Jones or Antonio Brown.

“You’re on the clock, David Johnson and Le’Veon Bell arleady went” who do you select in your fantasy draft? Julio or Antonio. Both of these two are what one would call “studs” when it comes to fantasy. They are both great picks, and you really can not go wrong picking either one. Even though you can’t go wrong, lets look at it to see who has the edge.

 

Quarterback:

ben ice cbssports
via cbssports.com

Julio and Antonio both have talented men throwing the ball to them. Both Big Ben as well as Matt Ryan are among the leagues best quarterbacks, so it’s pretty difficult to pick the better one. This is bascially a match as both are accurate as well as smart with the ball. One problem I would watch out for is if Matt Ryan can “bounce back” from what happened in the Super Bowl, but other than that this category basically comes down to “who do you like more”.

 

Competing Targets:

Bell foreman sportingnews
via sportingnews.com

What’s worse than opening up the fantasy app to see that Sanu or Rogers stole a touchdown from Julio or Brown? Nothing. I have had both of these players on my fantasy team and nothing is more frustrating than seeing someone else grab one of your players touchdowns.

Atlanta:

Atlanta as well as Pittsburgh have not only two or three reliable pass catchers other than Brown and Julio, but they also have some great pass catching backs. These players must be taken into account, as they will most likely be the ones “stealing” the touchdowns. Atlanta has the likes of Mohammed Sanu, Taylor Gabriel, Tevin Coleman, and Devonta Freeman, (tight ends not included because both teams have a below average rating at the position) who all are respectable targets. Coleman and Freeman are significant to the offense so fantasy owners should take into account that not only will Sanu and Gabriel get targets, but they also have two running backs that will also grab a few passes per game. This decreases Julio’s value slightly, as I still believe he will be among the league’s best receivers, but due to the fact that he still has a few teammates who can snag a ball here and there, he will not be as targeted as some of the other top receivers. After doing some research on Pro Football Focus, I was not surprised when I saw that in 2015, Julio was the number one targeted receiver, with 193, while this season that dropped to 125 targets which is an astounding 68 less. Despite Julio’s absence in two games last year, that only accounts for around 15 targets (7.8 Per game) bringing that total to 140 targets, which is still 53 behind his 2015-2016 season.

Pittsburgh:

As for Antonio, other than him, you can look for Le’Veon Bell, Eli Rogers, and returning Martavis Bryant (suspension for marijuana). Pittsburgh does not have two versatile backs like Atlanta may have, but they do have the best running back in the league in Le’Veon, and he’s not the best just because he can run the ball. Bell is debatably the most versatile back in the league. He is actually a top target in the pass game for the Steelers, so you can expect a few receptions per game. Martavis Bryant will be back this season, he was the number 2 receiver before he was suspended, and he was also a top target alongside Antonio. While Antonio is “loud” on the field making star like plays, and while Martavis is 6’5″ yet is a “freak” with his athletic ability, don’t forget about the most likely slot receiver, Eli Rogers. Eli played great last season, he will fit great in the slot, but I can not see him “cutting” into Antonio’s receptions too much, as I expect he will only get a few per game. The fact that Martavis is returning this season should not dissapoint Antonio Brown fans. As surprising as it is, Antonio had 39 more targets when Martavis was on the field during the 2015 season. Although Antonio missed one game last season, that only decreases the total targets to 30 (nine per game) which is still a rather wide gap. How is this possible? Well if you think about it, Martavis is a large receiver with “freakish” speed for a man that size, therefore he is a huge deep threat for every defense to worry about. While the defense is worrying about Martavis and Antonio deep, that allows Tone to do what he does best, which is his ability to be so elusive while route running, and by doing that he can get open for quick under routes that can go for long… especially with Antonio.

Both teams have multiple other targets, but in my opinion, Atlanta has more reliable receivers as they have two pass catching running backs, as well as 2 receivers that will cut into Julio’s looks. This is shown if you take a gander at the stats. As I said earlier in 2015 before Gabriel and Sanu came along, and before Tevin Coleman’s role in the offense was much larger; Julio had around 50+ targets. Therefore, I do not expect his targets to go up significantly, but they will increase… hell with a new offense, who knows?

 

Availibility:

Julio thefalcoholic
via thefalcoholic.com

As we all know Julio previously dealt with a toe injury that affected his availibility towards the end of the season. While Julio’s toe may be a reoccuring problem, he may have to take a game off here and there due to soreness to avoid an even more significant injury. Antonio has not missed more than three games since his rookie year, therefore he has been one of the most available receivers in the league. Not that Julio is not available, but he has had some injury problems in the past, and a man at his height, with his type of speed and his play style, it starts to take a toll on the body (Calvin Johnson Jr.).

 

2016-2017 stats

Julio Jones:

Yards: 1409 (2nd)

Touchdowns: 6 (T-19th)

Receptions: 83 (T-15)

Targets: 125 (16th)

Drops: 6 (T-23rd)

Yards per reception: 17 (T-5th)

Antonio Brown:

Yards: 1284 (5th)

Touchdowns: 12 (T-2nd)

Receptions: 106 (2nd)

Targets: 151 (3rd)

Drops: 2 (T-79th)

nflgridirongab
via nflgridirongab.com

After going over who has more competing targets, the better quarterback, last years stats, as well as availability, I am sure we can all admit that it is apparent Antonio Brown has more fantasy value than Julio Jones. I “admit” this due to Julio being my favorite receiver in the league, but I will not give a biased opinion, I will give my honest evaluation of the two. As I said earlier, you really can not go wrong, but who has the edge in this one? Antonio Brown.

Early Patriots 53-Man Roster Projection 1.0

The Patriots are now on their third week of training camp and set to play their first preseason game later this week against the Jacksonville Jaguars. The team has yet to make any roster moves outside of the retirement of veteran Rob Ninkovich. It may only be the beginning of August, but let’s take a look at what the Patriots 53-man roster could look like a month from now when the regular season begins.

 

Quarterbacks: Tom Brady, Jimmy Garoppolo, Jacoby Brissett

Brady and Garoppolo are obvious locks to make the roster, there has been some talk on whether the Patriots hold onto Brissett and keep him on the 53-man roster or move on from the second year quarterback. Ultimately I think the Patriots hold onto Brissett, the team placed him on Injured Reserve with eligibility to return last year and traveled with the team during this time. There have also been reports on how much the team likes his toughness and leadership, both traits he showed last year as a rookie. Brissett still needs some time to develop and isn’t ready to be an NFL quarterback right now, but as a third round pick only a year ago shows a lot of potential and will stay on the 53 man roster, even though the team doesn’t necessarily need to carry a third quarterback.

 

Running Back: James White, Dion Lewis, Rex Burkhead, Mike Gillislee, James Develin

Gillislee and Burkhead were both signed this offseason and look to play big roles with the team, especially Gillislee who looks to take over as the feature/powerback role previously held by LaGarrette Blount. Super Bowl hero James White was also given a contract extension this offseason and is a lock to make the roster. Dion Lewis has played great for the team when healthy and is capable of playing a few different roles on offense and can contribute as a return man on special teams. Brandon Bolden misses out on the 53-man roster in this projection, Bolden plays primarily as a special teamer and contributes little to the offense throughout the season. The roster having as much depth as it does makes it hard for Bolden to make the roster as a guy who primarily contributes on just special teams, which the team already has several of.

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via Boston Herald

Wide Receiver: Julian Edelman, Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan, Danny Amendola, Malcolm Mitchell

Probably the easiest position on the team to project for. It’s fair to say that all five of these guys are locks to make the roster. One question could be is would the team consider keeping six wide receivers? Undrafted rookie free agent Austin Carr was the very last guy who didn’t make the roster when I was putting this projection. Carr has had a very good camp so far and looks to capitalize during preseason games and fight for one of the final roster spots on the final roster and is someone the Patriots might not be able to sneak onto the practice squad.  I did not consider Matthew Slater as a wide receiver since he just plays special teams.

Cooks masslive
via masslive.com

Tight End: Rob Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen, Matt Lengel

Gronk is back and has looked great and healthy so far during training camp. Allen has been inconsistent so far and have been some reports that he has struggled to learn the offense, but is far too talented at a weak position outside of Gronkowski to not make the team. The third tight end spot could easily be a few different people but I give it to Lengel for now. Lengel played in limited action last year after the injury to Gronkowski and has familiarity with the offense, and was a big contributor towards the end of the season and during the playoffs last year for the Patriots. Lengel can contribute both as a blocker and a receiver, which can help add multiple dimensions to the teams offense when he is in the game. James O’Shaughnessy and Lengel are the top two guys competing for the third tight end spot, but rookie free agent Jacob Hollister could be someone who could make an impression during the preseason as he would provide the offense with more of a receiver-tight end role compared to more of a blocking tight end role like Lengel or O’Shaughnessy.

 

Offensive Line: Nate Solder, Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Marcus Cannon, Tony Garcia, Ted Karras, Cameron Fleming

The starting five from last year are locks to make the roster, as well as Joe Thuney who was the top backup interior lineman last season and rookie Tony Garcia who will be the teams primary backup tackle. The last offensive lineman spot goes to Cameron Fleming, who was last year’s top backup tackle and has proven to be inconsistent throughout his career in New England and so far, in camp. In joint practices with the Jaguars, Jaguars defensive end Yannick Ngakoue was treating Fleming like a revolving door constantly beating Fleming in the absence of Nate Solder. Fleming gets the upper hand over LaAdrian Waddle, who was on the 53-man roster last season but was not active for a single game, and rookie Connor McDermott who the Patriots could look to put on the practice squad.

Garcia getty images
via gettyimages.com

Defensive Line: Trey Flowers, Alan Branch, Malcolm Brown, Lawrence Guy, Deatrich Wise Jr., Derek Rivers, Vincent Valentine, Kony Ealy, Geneo Grissom

Flowers, Branch, Guy, Wise, Rivers, and Valentine are all locks to make the roster based on last year’s production, draft spot, and contract received this offseason. Wise has had a great training camp so far and could look to start at defensive end opposite Trey Flowers if he continues to impress during preseason action. Kony Ealy and Geneo Grissom are two guys who could be fighting for one roster spot on the Patriots defensive line depending on how the rest of training camp and the preseason goes. Ealy was acquired in a trade this offseason with the Carolina Panthers and was expected to play a big role in the Patriots defense this season. The start of training camp hasn’t been a good one so far for Ealy though, he missed the first day of training camp for unknown reason and when asked was told to ask coach Bill (Belichick) about why he wasn’t out there. He has also had his struggles in camp and hasn’t been able to beat offensive tackles and generate pressure on a consistent basis. Both of these factors could end up in Ealy not making the final roster.

Rivers Ealy pats.com
via patriots.com

Linebacker: Dont’a Hightower, David Harris, Kyle Van Noy, Shea McClellin, Elandon Roberts, Harvey Langi

Hightower is an obvious lock and so is former Jet David Harris, everyone else there could be a case why they should make the team and a case why they couldn’t make it. Van Noy, McClellin and Roberts all saw a good amount of playing time last season, they all had their ups and downs and were inconsistent at times but have shown enough to make the roster again in 2017. Langi is an undrafted free agent who the Patriots were high on during the draft process partly due to his versatility of being able to play both inside and outside linebacker as well as being able to rush the passer as a defensive end. Langi has had a good camp so far and should be able to build on it during preseason games and earn a spot on the final roster.

Harris ESPN
via espn.com

Cornerback: Malcolm Butler, Stephon Gilmore, Eric Rowe, Jonathan Jones, Cyrus Jones

Butler, Gilmore and Rowe are all locks to make the team and be part of a Patriots defense and secondary that should be one of the top in the league. Jonathan Jones played well in the slot late last season and so far, has the upper hand to be the teams nickel and slot corner and also contributes on special teams. Cyrus Jones had his struggles last season as a rookie and is looking to bounce back in his second season. Jones has a lot of talent and potential and was evident that his special teams struggles last season affected him mentally and on the defensive side of the ball. If the Patriots hold Cyrus off of special teams he could look to contribute in a positive way defensively.

Corners Pats.com

Safety: Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Jordan Richards, Duron Harmon, Nate Ebner, Brandon King

The only real question out of this group is Jordan Richards, who hasn’t played too much over his first few seasons in New England after being selected in the second round. Richards has looked good so far early into training camp before having some struggles during joint practices with the Jaguars. Ebner and King and mostly special teams players who occasionally play and contribute on defense, but will make the roster due to their special teams excellence. Six safeties seem like it could be too many to carry but Ebner and King being primarily special teamers could earn Richards a spot on the final roster in case of any injury that occurs.

Richards sacbee
via sacbee.com

Special Teams: Stephen Gostkowski, Ryan Allen, Matthew Slater, Joe Cardona

The only real surprise when it comes to special teams is that the Patriots don’t have any one in to compete with Gostkowski who struggled drastically last season and missed two field goals during yesterday’s first joint practice with the Jaguars.

 

The Patriots take on the Jaguars Thursday night for their first preseason action of the year. As preseason and training camp goes by I’ll continue to update my 53-man projection based on players performances and team needs going forward.

2017 Patriots Training Camp First Day Thoughts and Observations

The Super Bowl champion New England Patriots kicked off training camp today in front of a massive crowd of fans that showed up to welcome back their beloved team. Quarterback and Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady was one of the first on the field for the Patriots and was welcomed by a loud uproar of screams and chants from the fans. Fans were also excited to see the return of tight end Rob Gronkowski, who missed the second half of the regular season and the playoffs after undergoing back surgery during the season.

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With the first few days of camp being non-contact the team went through a lot of individual position drills, as well as 7-on-7s, 11-on-11s and special teams drills. The team started off with kickoff and kickoff returns, where Danny Amendola, Dion Lewis, and Cyrus Jones were fielding and receiving kicks. Cyrus Jones picked up the same spot he ended last season, dropping one of his first few attempts catching the kickoff and then fielded everyone cleanly after that. If Jones continues to have issues on special teams his job and roster spot could be in jeopardy.

 

All three quarterbacks participated in 7-on7 and 11-on-11 drills with Tom Brady primarily working with the first team offense, Jimmy Garoppolo working with all three units and Jacoby Brissett working with the third team offense and some snaps with the second team offense. Brady looked like his normal self; spreading the ball around to his many offensive weapons, connecting with offseason addition Brandin Cooks several times deep down the sideline. During these drills Rob Gronkowski looked like he was completely healthy and happy to be back on the field and was even trying to create contact with defenders and did his famous “Gronk Spike” after catching a pass in the end zone from Brady. Jimmy Garoppolo was inconsistent during these scrimmages, making some good passes including a deep ball to tight end Dwayne Allen. Garoppolo also made some bad passes and decisions, including back to back interceptions in the end zone by Eric Rowe and Jordan Richards. Jacoby Brissett looked good with the third team offense and had a good chemistry with second year receiver Devin Lucien, who made a great catch on a back shoulder fade in the back of the end zone, and undrafted rookie Austin Carr. Brissett showed improvement on the quickness of his decision making and getting rid of the ball, both of which were areas he struggled in last year.

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Austin Carr is someone who stood out to me and had a great practice working as a slot receiver with the third team offense and was constantly finding a way to get open. Carr was a Biletnikoff award finalist during his senior season in 2016 and led the Big Ten in receptions, receiving yards, and touchdowns before going undrafted in the 2017 NFL Draft. With the Patriots depth at receiver it will be tough for him to earn a spot on the final 53-man roster and would be a great addition to the teams practice squad and continue to learn from slot receivers like Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola, if he is not signed by another team.

 

Defensively the cornerback duo of Malcolm Butler and Stephon Gilmore looked very sharp. Early on in the beginning of drills Butler had played great coverage on Brandin Cooks and had a pass breakup in the end zone on cooks. One area of question this offseason was who is going to be the Patriots slot and nickel corner, and on the first day of camp that went to Jonathan Jones. Jones was a primary special teams player last season who played some slot corner on defense and appears as of now to be the team’s starting slot corner, with Butler and Gilmore on the outside, as well as Eric Rowe who can line up on the outside or on the inside against some tight ends because of his size.

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There were several players who did not attend of participate in todays practice including; Dont’a Hightower and Alan Branch who were both placed on the PUP list earlier this week, as well as Rob Ninkovich, Kony Ealy and Joe Cardona. According to Mike Reiss of ESPN Boston Cardona’s absence is due to a commitment that Cardona has with the Navy. The absences of Ealy and Ninkovich have yet to be given a reason for. Ninkovich has been a name that has been discussed this offseason as a potential surprise cut or someone who will not make the final 53-man roster and his absence could be related to possible thoughts of retirement as he is set to enter his 12th year in the league.

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The Patriots will continue to practice over the weekend with only partial contact before moving to full padded practices next week. Patriots football is back and ready to defend their title and be on the quest for their sixth Super Bowl championship.

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