The start to Patriots Training Camp is finally almost upon us as it is set to start in just under a week. One of the biggest issues the Patriots had at times last year was at defensive line, most notably in the Super Bowl where they couldn’t generate any pressure on Eagles quarterback Nick Foles, as well as being unable to stop the Eagles in the running game. The Patriots will return some of their main core on the defensive line, such as Trey Flowers, Malcolm Brown, and Deatrich Wise Jr., as welcome in a few new faces.
One of the new names that people should expect to see a lot from this season is defensive end Adrian Clayborn. Clayborn signed a two-year, $10 million deal with the Patriots this offseason after spending the previous three seasons in Atlanta. In 2017 Clayborn finished with a career-high 9.5 sacks, and while that total looks good on the surface it’s worth noting that six of his sacks came in one game going against the Dallas Cowboys and backup left tackle Chaz Green. A former first-round pick Clayborn is a player who so far has not lived up to his full potential and hype around him following his career at Iowa, partly due to playing in three games or less in two of his four seasons while in Tampa Bay due to injury. If Clayborn can stay on the field and continue to build off maybe his best season as a pro in last season I would expect him to be a big contributor on the Patriots defensive line opposite Trey Flowers.
Another new face that should make a big impact on the defensive line this season is Danny Shelton, whom the he Patriots acquired in a trade with the Cleveland Browns this offseason. Shelton is a former 12th overall pick in the NFL Draft by the Browns, the same draft where the Patriots selected Malcolm Brown in the first round.
Both Brown and Shelton are true run stuffing defensive tackles and while Shelton had a down year in 2017, Brown is coming off his best year as a member of the Patriots in 2017. Having two big defensive tackles in Brown and Shelton in the middle of your line with a combination of Flowers, Wise, Clayborn, Lawrence Guy, and Derek Rivers as edge rushers, as well as having Vincent Valentine and Adam Butler to play in the middle, gives the Patriots lots of flexibility on all three downs and in all types of situations. If players are able to stay healthy and play up to their potential this Patriots defensive line is one that offers tons of flexibility and can cause problems for opposing offenses.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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