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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.

NLAN5120.JPG
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.

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New England Patriots: Confidence Is Soaring As The Season Winds Down

2015 Ended Poorly

As the 2015 season wound down, Bill Belichick made some decisions that, looking back, turned out to be questionable (I know, that is heresy in New England, but look at the results).  After winning their first eleven games the Patriots started to wilt. With a bunch of walking wounded, a beat up Tom Brady and the play-offs with home field in game-one guaranteed, he rested some key players and went to a non-existent running game against the J-E-Ts and Dolphins. For the 1st time in may years the Patriots seemed to be playing not-to-lose. 

11-29-brady-hit-high-after-releasing-the-ball-no-penalty-on-this-play
2015 Brady got beat up in Denver

Well, as we all know (so why am I reminding you????) the Pats lost both those games and went into the play-offs having lost four of their last six games. They never completely recovered from those decisions. After winning a home play-off game against the Chiefs (27-20) they traveled to Denver and lost to the ultimate Super Bowl Champion Broncos (20-18) in the Conference Championship game.

How Different Is 2016?

Now, with two games remaining in the 2016 regular season, New England faces the same two teams, NY J-E-T-S and Miami, in a similar situation. The J-E-T-S are out of the race, but always give the Patriots a good fight…and the Dolphins continue to fight for a play-off spot.

So…why does it feel so different?  Here are 5 reasons:

  1. The 2016 Patriots are now playing their best football of the season, unlike 2015, when they were unsure if the defense or offense could hold up
  2. Tom Brady won’t be going into these games already bruised & battered thanks to Dante Scarnecchia and a rejuvenated OL (yeah, I know he’s back to limited practice & on the injury list…but he’s still in better shape than last year) 
  3. The running game is at it’s peak, with LeGarrette Blount rushing for 15 TDs and over 1,000 yards…a healthy Dion Lewis..a solid #3 with James White and the impressive blocking of James Develin. Last year neither Blount nor Lewis were playing due to injuries
  4. The defense is #1 in points against in the NFL. I’ll say that again, the defense is #1 in points against in the NFL
  5. Bill Belichick seems completely confident in all aspects of the Pats game. He’s willing to trust his defense (say what?), offense or special teams to make the crucial play at the end of the game. That’s something that has been missing for many years

Same Decision = Different Results

So, that said, what if Belichick makes the same decisions this year that he did in 2015? If he does, the results should be completely different. This team is tough and in no way resembles the 2015 version of the New England Patriots.

malcolm-mitchell-vs-sf
Mitchell vs 49ers courtesy of Boston Herald.com

They don’t have Rob Gronkowski or Danny Amendola and both are big losses. However, they do have a bruiser in Blount, a quick Lewis plus new heroes in Chris Hogan (highest yards-per-catch in the NFL) and the speed of rookie WR Malcolm Mitchell. Add in tough TE Martellis Bennett and, oh yeah, a well rested Tom Brady!

With a defense that is starting to click without Chandler Jones or Jamie Collins…but is lead by Trey Flowers, always reliable Rob Ninkovich, Chris Long and, suddenly rejuvenated Jabaal Sheard, Malcolm Butler, Devin McCourty, Dont’a Hightower and a host of others…they are a formidable bunch.

NOTES:

  • Congratulations to Brady, Slater, Hightower & McCourty on their selection to the 2016 NFL Pro-Bowl. Hopefully none will be able to play as they prepare for the Super Bowl
  • Condolences to Malcolm Butler, Blount and Marcus Cannon (can’t believe I’m saying this), who all deserved a shot too
  • The NFL is always fair & objective…just look at their recent “punishment” to the Giants & their Head Coach for being caught cheating! #Integrity
  • This has been an outstanding year for Patriot Coaches Belichick, Josh McDaniels, Matt Patricia and Scarnecchia
  • Tom Brady is being penalized again! Many are saying he doesn’t deserve the MVP because he has played 4 fewer games than the others in the running. King Goodell strikes again
  • The Patriots are the only team in the NFL who have not lost a road game this year. Despite that, the advantage of playing in Foxborough in the playoffs is huge.

 

Dante Scarnecchia

 

Hard to believe, but, 14 games down (12-2) with just 2 more before the real season begins. This season has flown by.

Follow me on Twitter @SnowdonBob

 

New England Patriots: 2016 – A Season Of Surprises

If nothing else, 2016 has been a season with many surprises for the New England Patriots. Some have been pleasant…and some haven’t turned out too well. Despite all the changes, this year’s team is once again a legitimate Super Bowl contender and are, at 10-2, right where most expected them to be. Here are my 5 biggest surprises as the season progressed.

#1 BRADY ACCEPTS 4 GAME SUSPENSION

tom-brady-accepts-suspensionHe gave it a gallant fight, but TB finally got tired of deflategate and moved on. Many were disappointed, but it was time to play football. He never acknowledged any guilt despite the Brady detractors using his acceptance of the 4 games to claim it a “win” for the NFL. Nothing about deflategate was a win for anyone…the NFL, Brady, the Patriots or fans anywhere.

#2 – DEFENSE

As the season started fans and prognosticators (my $50 word for the day) were saying the 2016 defense would be top 5 caliber. In one way people were right. As of now they are tied with their next opponent (Baltimore) for 2nd in the NFL for least points allowed (17.2 PPG), trailing only the Seahawks.

Well, we now look at the defense and wonder if it is capable of making the big stop once the playoffs come around. Bill Bodell  wrote  back in August ” The Patriots have at least five guys on this defense who could potentially make the Pro Bowl in Malcolm Butler, Jabaal Sheard, Jamie Collins, Dont’a Hightower, and Devin McCourty.” 

The big surprise from that group has been the departure of Collins, benching of Sheard and under performance by all but Butler. Overall the defense has not been as bad as it seems to the naked eye, but it certainly still hasn’t proven itself to be an elite unit.

The team is currently ranked in the top 10 in 4 key categories, but considering the weak offenses they have faced, questions still abound :

  • #2 points allowed (207)
  • #9 total defense
  • #12 passing defense
  • #10 rushing defense
  • #9 yards allowed
  • #14 sacks

It is a must for this unit to improve if the Patriots are to go far in the playoffs, let alone win the Super Bowl. Monday Night vs Baltimore will be a true test

#3 OFFENSIVE LINE

Shock would be the word I use to describe how well the OL has performed. Dante Scarnecchia’s goal coming into the season was to solidify a unified unit of 5 to play most snaps…and he has been highly successful with (LT) Nate Solder, (LG) rookie Joe Thuney, (C) UFA David Andrews, (RG) Shaq Mason, (RT) Marcus Cannon. Just how good has this group been?

  1. Brady, Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett have been sacked just 26 times while throwing 417 passes
  2. LeGarrette Blount has rushed for 957 yards and 13 TDs

dante-scarnecchiaAdd in that Marcus Cannon, who I have been known to chastise in the past, just had his contract renewed and is having his best season ever in his 6th year as a Patriot = you have realize just how much of a surprise this unit has been. Thank you “Scar.”

#4 – ROOKIE WR MALCOLM MITCHELL

The Patriots drafting of wide receivers has been beyond bad, but this year they hit a home-run (sorry for the baseball analogy) with 4th round pick (112th overall) Malcolm Mitchell. He has quickly gained Brady’s trust and has grown game-by-game while exhibiting his toughness, route running, speed and sure hands. Just look at what he has done over the past 3 games:

  • 8 receptions/82 yards vs Rams
  • 4 receptions/98 yards/1 TD vs 49ers
  • 5 receptions/42 yards/2 TDs vs J-E-T-S

Malcolm Mitchell.jpgThis young man will only get better. He needs to continue to improve with the loss of Danny Amendola & Rob Gronkowski for the offense to control the game. Mitchell is this year’s Dion Lewis. 

#5 – KICKING GAME

The inconsistency of the kicking game has truly been a surprise. This was consider an area of strength when the season began, but has been erratic throughout the first 12 games.

  • Stephen Gostkowski has been AFC special team player of the week twice, including last week against the Rams, but has missed 4 makeable field goals and 3 extra points…not good enough for the highest paid kicker in the NFL.
  • Ryan Allen (no, not Logan Ryan as identified during the Fox telecast Sunday) has given the Patriots great field position throughout his 4 year career in the NFL. This year he hasn’t been consistent, shanking some and leaving opponents in good shape. His net average is fractionally his highest ever (40.8 vs 40.4 for his career), but of his 52 punts only 17 have been inside the 20 yard line.

Playoff game are usually won and lost by field position (I have no data to prove this, but let’s net let facts get in the way of the story), so both Gostkowski & Allen need to be on-their-game as that part of the season rolls around.

Honorable Mention: LeGarrette Blount – read My Apologies to LeGarrette Blount

Follow me on Twitter @SnowdonBob

 

Week Two Preview: Patriots vs. Dolphins

After a week one 23-21 victory over the Arizona Cardinals, the Patriots will make their home season-opener against the division opponent Miami Dolphins in week two of the NFL season. The Dolphins are coming off a tough week one loss against the Seattle Seahawks, where they lost after Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson found wide receiver Doug Baldwin for a touchdown in the final seconds of the game. There should be a lot to watch for with both teams coming off close games against tough NFC West opponents. Here are things to watch for and the Patriots will need to do to come out victorious for a second straight week.

 

Patriots Offensive Line

I have to admit, the Patriots offensive line played surprisingly well week one against the Cardinals with the absences of Solder, Vollmer and Cooper. We all know offensive line has been an area of concern for the Patriots and both Cameron Fleming and Marcus Cannon stepped up and played well against the Cardinals. This week they could both be starting again against another tough defensive line in Miami, with Ndamakong Suh, Mario Williams and Cameron Wake all being top pass rushers. Miami was constantly pressuring Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson last week and caused a minor injury to the quarterback, which likely lead to the low-scoring final score. If Nate Solder is not able to play for a second straight week the play of Fleming and Cannon will be very important for the Patriots offense.

cameron-fleming
via patspulpit.com

Containing Arian Foster

Yes I know, this is not 2011 but in his first game back from injury and with his new team Foster proved to be a big part of the Miami Dolphins offense. Against Seattle, Foster led the Dolphins in both rushing and receiving yards tallying only 38 yards on the ground on 13 attempts but had 62 yards on three receptions. The Pats will need to use Jamie Collins or Jonathan Freeny or even possibly Barkeviovs Mingo to cover and follow Foster out of the backfield. Mingo did not play against Arizona and is more of a pass rushing linebacker than a coverage backer but with his speed he could be someone the team to turn to to cover Foster and other backs throughout the season in the passing game without having to alter their defensive gameplay by moving Collins or Hightower.

arian-foster-fox
via foxsports.com

Will Gronk play? 

The big question that no-one knows the answer to. After a minor injury in the preseason it seemed like the Patriots were just holding Gronk out of preseason games as a precaution, that is until he missed last weeks matchup. How serious is Gronk’s injury? How long will he be out for? No one knows these questions, one positive sign though is that Gronk did report to the field for Wednesday’s practice and was listed as limited on the teams injury report. The Patriots offense looked decent on Sunday night and Garoppolo played well, but adding arguably and most dynamic and best player in the entire NFL back into your offense will always be an improvement.

gronk-preshapereads
via preshapereads.com

Justin Coleman

Coleman was the teams third cornerback for most of Sunday Night and looked very impressive, almost picking off Carson Palmer on two separate occasions. Coleman was someone who I was personally down on during the preseason and struggled a lot, I even kept him out of my 53-man roster projections, but he seemed to prove myself and many others wrong with his play the other night. This week he’ll likely be up against wide receiver Kenny Stills, which isn’t as tough a matchup as Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd or John Brown, but I would still like to see how he performs and see if he can take a hold of that third cornerback spot, that at one point looked like could be trouble for the Patriots.

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

 

These are some of the things I will be looking to see in this Sunday’s divisional matchup against the Miami Dolphins.