Harvey Langi looks to be an UDFA contributor this year. (AP/Elise Amendola)
The yearly task of predicting a seemingly unpredictable compilation of players that will seemingly win the Super Bowl is upon us. It's time to figure out who Bill wants on this team. A task Nostradamus would shudder at. Toughest part is that he likely doesn't even know. With one week still left in the preseason many things can instantly change the dynamic of a team. We've now had two projected players put on IR, another waived, and a trade bringing in someone new. Life moves fast in the NFL this time of year. Trades, cuts, injuries, suspensions, an endless list of potential variables dictate the outcome of this list. How does anyone have the mental capacity to take on such an unforgiving and mind shattering task? For me, I said "screw it, let's build a Super Bowl winner" and got down to it. Notes: They are in order of how I feel the "depth chart" will end up. Players on IR/NFI/PUP are included and noted as such. Age is of 8/29/2017.
The master. The apprentice. The novice. There is no trio of quarterbacks in the league more interesting or more talented than this group right here. The future may be murky, but the present may be as bright as those lights illuminating Gillette Stadium on opening night.
Tom Brady (40) - The Greatest of All-Time has a full season ahead of him at the ripe old age of 40, and from all indications he hasn't slowed down at all. With arguably the best offense we've seen around him since 2011 Brady could once again defy mortality and put up a season worthy of MVP status and god-like recognition. I'm sure he's as giddy as a schoolgirl to carve up the NFL.
Jimmy Garoppolo (25) - The International Man of Mystery (Yeah, baby!) has truly become about as polarized as any player we've seen in recent history. Many people (myself included) would not have been shocked to see him shipped off last spring for a king's ransom. Others proclaim him as the rightful heir to the king. In reality, hopefully we don't need to hear or think about Jimmy again until mid February. That's when the real drama will begin.
Jacoby Brissett (24) - Brissett did well in limited action last year despite being practically thumbless. So far this year he's been asked to do much less given Brady's freedom, and sadly he hasn't exactly made a huge step forward. It could be due to a variety of factors such as less pressure, working with lesser talent with the third team, or a stereotypical sophomore slump. Regardless he has the promise to be a reliable back up if nothing else, and that makes him valuable.
This group has a lot of unknowns to it. New faces and concerning injuries have dampened the mood on what arguably is the most improved position on this roster. Each offers their own flavor of versatility, and none are one dimensional, something that could not be said last year. That alone has me excited about this group's potential. With Edelman now out for the year, this group has the most potential to make up for his lost production.
Mike Gillislee (26) - Gillislee had been on ice for quite a while, but his first performance in the preseason gave fans a taste of what to expect this year. No one else on this roster can run with the authority that Gillislee can. White, Lewis, and Burkhead all have versatility and receiving ability, but I have my doubts that they can bowl over a linebacker like Gillislee can. He may not end up being the touchdown machine Blount was last year, but I envision that his success on 1st and 2nd down will be a significant improvement over what we've seen the last two years, and that can make a world of difference for this offense. His explosive and powerful runs with provided a much needed spark.
James White (25) - The unofficial Super Bowl co-MVP. James White came alive in the playoffs last year, crescendo-ing in the Super Bowl. His ability to catch the ball, shake tackles, and get the yards needed to move the chains has improved year after year, and his significant extensions shows that the Patriots believe he will continue to do just that. He may not pound the ball between the tackles, but his availability and reliability are second to none out of this group.
Rex Burkhead (27) - Burkhead's acquisition was written on the wall months before it happened given his stylistic fit into the Patriots philosophy. He has flashed as a receiver in camp and has shown great burst in the run game. His ability to line up as a WR, RB, or wing, as well as his special teams prowess, makes Burkhead one of the bigger under the radar acquisitions of this offseason and we saw that on full display in the second week on the preseason. Burkhead will be a true weapon on this team.
Dion Lewis (26) - Lewis is another player with a lot of polarized opinions. Some think he's a lock, some think he'll be traded, others that he'll be outright cut. Fact of the matter is he makes plays. He's now entering his 2nd year post ACL surgery, which has historically been the year that most players return to form. In practice and preseason games I have found no reason to doubt he's as close to how he used to be. Leaving defenders' jock straps in the dust, turning five yard losses into two yard gains, and offering a dynamic check down option. I like Lewis, and I like his odds of making this roster.
There should be no surprise here. Develin has been as reliable and effective as you can ask from one of the most grueling, and least celebrated, positions in football. Another year after his unfortunate leg injury should help his effectiveness even more.
James Develin (29) - Develin was limited in the beginning of the year last year, still coming back from his leg injury. Now as an all-purpose banger, he is the battering ram of this offense. You need a linebacker taken out of the picture? Develin's your man. Need a check down that no one pays attention to? Develin will make it a first down. Need someone to be on nearly every special team? He'll be there. An unsung hero that will never get the recognition he deserves (from people not named Andy Hart), Develin is all you could ask for from a fullback.
Tight end is a position of intrigue year in and year out due to the delicate nature of arguably the greatest player to ever play the position. Gronk can single-handedly dominate an NFL game, something few humans have ever been able to accomplish. He has more receiving touchdowns than anyone in the league since 2010. He's also missed 24 games since 2010. Which makes depth at this position a necessity. That's why I believe they need four tight ends this year.
Rob Gronkowski (28) - 69. Yo soy fiesta. Gronk Smash. You will not find a more entertaining player in the NFL on or off the field. I will not expect him to play a full season ever again. A sad reality, but reality nonetheless. What I will expect, though, is that he will be such an impactful part of the games he does play in that it will infuriate defensive coordinators, demoralize all 11 players on defense, and shatter records otherwise thought unobtainable. Craziest part is that this team won the Super Bowl without him...and they improved over the offseason.
Dwayne Allen (27) - Allen got off to a rough start in Foxborough, but has come on strong of late. Blocking as his forte, Allen looks to be a proven tight end in this offense that has the athleticism at running back to bounce big plays outside. His hands have become more reliable, his blocking has been phenomenal, and you know Belichick and McDaniels will get the best out of him.
James O'Shaughnessy (25) - A heat seeking missile on special teams and a solid athlete on offense, O (as I will refer to him as this season) offers a workable skill set that Belichick covets. He won't tear up defenses on offense, but he'll slice through your kick and punt return teams and make the tackle. As a move tight end he offers functional blocking and a decent option in the passing game. He may never flash, but O will do his job.
Jacob Hollister (23) - Hollister is more than an overpriced teenage clothing brand, he's a tight end with the will and grit to make the tough plays. We saw this in the first preseason game where he hurdled defenders, got knocked into last week, and out-leaped defenders. His effectiveness on offense has been met with cautious optimism (thanks Sudfeld), but I believe it's warranted. The Patriots need a playmaker at tight end if Gronk goes down and Hollister offers that potential.
Matt Lengel (IR) (26) TE - Lengel showed some promising flashes last year, but with the emergence of O'Shaughnessy and Hollister he may have been on the outside looking in. Hopefully he is able to return stronger from his injury and compete for a role next year.
Well...the face of this unit went down last week, as Edelman did exactly what I feared most. He didn't hold back, something he may never be able to do, and he tore his ACL. While that certainly opens up a lot of questions, this group is still as impressive as can be. The new face of Brandin Cooks, opens up an entirely new world of possibilities. No longer can teams press the receivers at the line of scrimmage and man up. Given Edelman's absence, the the injury concerns with other receivers, this will be a key group to manage throughout the season.
Julian Edelman (IR) (31) - "Edelman hopefully knows now that he isn't immortal and that he does more good for the team on the field than on the trainer's table. I'm not sure you can find a better teammate than Jules, and you might not find a more fearless and determined player on the team (besides Brady). His place on this team is unquestioned, even in his 30's." - that is most of what I wrote in the first article. Sadly it is all too true. Edelman will be missed, both on and off the field. There's no doubting that.
Brandin Cooks (23) - It's almost unbelievable that he's only 23 years old. Like how in the world is he so young and yet one of the most dangerous receivers in the game? Add him to THIS offense, with THIS quarterback...instant chills. His greatest impact may be how he changes how defenses will attack this offense. You cannot ask 95% of cornerbacks to man up with him and cover him from snap to whistle. With his speed, explosiveness, and release teams will have to back off of him. Add in Brady's ability to move him around at will and alter his route and you have a cheat code against a defense on Rookie difficulty. The possibilities are endless.
Chris Hogan (28) - Hogan has been a force in camp so far, locking up the third receiver role convincingly. His big play ability last year came out of nowhere and provided a spark to an offense that used to rely on methodical movement. We saw his potential impact last week, racking up big numbers in a limited amount of time. Hogan will be a huge part of the offense this season.
Malcolm Mitchell (24) - Mitchell has cemented himself in Patriots lore for his efforts as a rookie on and off the field. An author and a successful Patriots rookie wide receiver, which is more rare to see? He's been on an injury management plan so far this offseason given his various health issues, but when he has practiced he has shown the same playmaking ability that we saw last year. I expect another year of development with steady improvement.
Danny Amendola (31) - Amendola went from potential roster bubble to a near guaranteed lock after Edelman's injury. His role on the team just expanded exponentially. Thankfully he's got the talent to help less that blow. He is one of the most reliable receivers in the NFL with the third highest catch percentage last year. You can't find that in most superstar receivers, let alone your now fourth on the depth chart. That reliability, paired with Brady's trust in him, are irreplaceable when it matters most. He may not get 90 receptions and 900 yard this year, but when he's asked to go out there he's going to get the job done when he's called upon.
Austin Carr (23) - Carr was the last player I added to this roster. Not because he isn't talented, but because six receivers, including Slater, may not be the desired approach Belichick wants to take given the talent at tight end and running back. I'm still not convinced he makes it, but his youth at a position where the players above him on the depth chart in his role are both 31 years old makes him a commodity the Patriots cannot afford to move on from. To keep the position fresh you need to have players like Carr, and he's shown so far that he deserves that chance.
An entire unit returning is a rare thing in today's NFL. The Patriots return their entire starting offensive line with three of those individuals under 26 years old and improving. Outside of Solder's injury there is a ton of optimism about this group.
Nate Solder (29) - Not a lot of information has been given about the nature of Solder's injury, which has caused some panic amongst Patriots Nation. Solder has been through a lot. I mean he beat testicular cancer while his own son had cancer. It's going to take a lot to keep him off the field. I think he will be fine for when the season starts and provide his usual services on Brady's blind side unless more details of his injury come to ligh.
Joe Thuney (24) - Thuney started off scorching hot last year and then cooled off as the year went on. Now in his second year in the system, hopefully his flaws at the end of the year and his conditioning have been improved upon. Thuney has high expectations this year, and I believe he will meet them head on.
David Andrews (25) - Andrews received a contract extension when it was quite unclear what his future with the team would be. Having Brady's utmost trust is a special thing, and hopefully he continues to improve with time.
Shaq Mason (24) - I feel that it is important to remind people that A) Mason came from a team that runs the ball nearly 87% of their plays and B) he's only 24 years old. He's still learning. He's still growing. He's still developing. And he's made big strides in his pass protection. The meanest run blocker on the team now enters his third year where he can once again improve.
Marcus Cannon (29) - The biggest and best surprise last year was Marcus Cannon. Fans hated him, and I mean hated him, the year prior. I, myself, did not see him having a future with the team. He went and got healthy, lost weight, and turned into one of, if not the best right tackle in the entire NFL. Word is he's been even better this summer, shutting down the likes of JJ Watt with relative ease. Given the pass rushers he will be facing this year, his success is pivotal for the success of this team.
Ted Karras (24) - Karras has been groomed to be a guard/center, invaluable versatility for a backup. So far he has done quite well in that role. Given that there are no other centers of note currently on the team (Ferentz being the only other center), it further echoes the importance of Karras being on this roster.
LaAdrian Waddle (26)/Cameron Fleming (24) - Waddle has starting experience now at left and right tackle over his NFL career. So does Fleming. While neither may be the sexiest name at backup tackle, that swing tackle role is up in the air and both have solid experience there and the skills to get the job done. To be completely honest, either Fleming or Waddle could claim this spot and neither would surprise me. Just depends on who shows up the rest of the summer.
Antonio Garcia (IR) (23) - Given his absence over the last several weeks I believe Garcia will not see the field this year. His fate is to become the heir to Nate Solder. His injuries have limited him so far in camp, which has been disappointing to say the least. Part of me wonders if this leads to him being "red shirted" this year on IR, allowing for the likes of Cam Fleming or Connor McDermott to be on the roster so that Garcia can develop behind the scenes. Time will tell how Garcia's season will end up.
Andrew Jelks (NFI) (23) - The UDFA out of Vanderbilt has prototypical NFL size for a tackle, and by stashing him on the NFI list the Patriots may keep him around for next year to have him compete for a role.
Here is how the starting offense would look in an 11 (one tight end, one running back) formation:
The big men up front may be the most consistent group on this team. Rarely miss games, rarely get rattled, rarely let the team down. The addition of Guy should bring a lot more versatility to this group and allow them to positions themselves to best help the defense as a whole. Brown and Valentine look to continue to improve, while Branch looks to keep his renaissance going.
Malcom Brown (23) - Brown is taken from the same cloth that many great Patriots defensive linemen have been cut from. His contributions may never show up on the stat sheet, but he does his job and he helps the defense be at its best. He keeps his gap, sheds his blocks, makes his plays or lets his teammates make theirs. His role cannot be understated, and he's still getting better on top of it all.
Alan Branch (32) - Branch is a journeyman whose journey keeps going. He's been through it all, he's seen it all, but yet he still wants more. And he still brings it. His efforts last year, with his age and size, were nothing short of inspiring. His contributions in the run game helped the defense make up for its deficiencies and forced teams to worry about his gigantic body moving the entire line to his will. So far, despite missing most of the beginning of the preseason, he has looked in shape and ready to go this year.
Lawrence Guy (27) - Guy was another underrated addition this spring. His ability to line up in a variety of techniques enticed Belichick to bring him in for the long haul. He isn't a true defensive tackle, as his length and athleticism allow him to line up all over the defensive front. While we haven't been able to fully appreciate what he brings to the team, his usefulness will prove itself over the course of the season. He could line up outside, inside, and over the center depending on the situation. Yet another variable for opposing teams to be worried about.
Vincent Valentine (23) - Valentine was somewhat of a surprise draft pick last year. I didn't even have him on my draft board, an admitted fault of my own. He may not have lit up the stat sheet, but he had flashes of getting after the quarterback and creating disruption on the other side of the line of scrimmage. A back injury limited him in the Super Bowl, and I'm sure the motivation of that will propel him to push himself even further this year.
Adam Butler (23) - His performance in last week's game against the Lions solidified his spot on this team. He showed great burst, a tenacious block shedding ability, and a nose for the ball. He is another guy that can use his length (6'5") and size (287 lbs) to line up in a variety of techniques all over the line, similar to Guy. His position, with Guy's, should be included as a defensive end as well..
DE (5/3 Techniques)
This is where I begin to explain how I view this defense. There will be defensive ends that will play with their hand in the dirt, inside and outside of the tackle. That's this group. Ends that will line up as 5 (outside tackle's shoulder) or 3 (outside guard's shoulder) techniques given their skill set and size are a big part of the defense that the Patriots run. Flowers will continue to thrive in that right defensive end role getting after the quarterback and controlling his edge. The left defensive end role will need players who can control the line and create opportunities for others, all while being able to drop into coverage unexpectedly.
Trey Flowers (24) - Flowers became the player everyone hoped he would be last year. His long arms and explosive power became a key component of the postseason push. Now in his third year, I expect Flowers to continue to ascend into a prominent role. As the best player at his position on a Super Bowl defending team, at the age of 24, the pressure will be on.
Deatrich Wise (23) - Wise was someone that was pegged to be a Patriot long before his name was called this spring. His former college teammate, the aforementioned Trey Flowers, has succeeded in his role with the team and Wise looks to pick up his own success. Where Flowers is quick and explosive, Wise is big and powerful. He will excel at controlling the edge and shedding blockers to get after the ball. His concussion is a setback, but I'm not concerned about his role on this team.
Geneo Grissom (25) - Grissom gets onto the roster due to his abilities on special teams, while offering much needed depth at a ravaged position. He might not take many snaps on defense, but his role on special teams will be pivotal.
Derek Rivers (IR) (23) - Rivers' ACL tear is a tough break for the promising rookie. I didn't envision him having a large role for the majority of the season given his need for development, but he would have contributed as a pass rush specialist and on various special teams. Given the nature of the position, and the barren landscape of free agents at the moment, it is a more difficult blow to deal with, but nothing they cannot overcome.
Corey Vereen (IR) (22) - The rookie out of Tennessee didn't last long with the team before going to IR. Hopefully a year in the background will allow him to develop for next year.
Caleb Kidder (IR) (23) - Waived/injured alongside tight end Matt Lengel, the Patriots have stashed another player at a valuable position for next year.
This is the group of players that have changed the way the Patriots play defense. They can drop into coverage, rush the passer, or control the edge. To me this is one of the most important roles on this team, and that's why they've added so much talent to this group. They are hybrid linebackers and defensive ends that have the most asked of them every time they step on the field.
Dont'a Hightower (27) - If Hightower did not return to the Patriots this offseason the team would have come out much differently than it has. His value to the Pats, given his expertise in this role thanks to a rare skill set, was higher than that of Chandler Jones, Jamie Collins, and in reality, almost every free agent in this year's class. The team had him in bubble wrap for most of the preseason, and I'm more than okay with that. He has been practicing with the defensive ends which further confirms my predictions for this defense. He knows this defense better than anyone and he will likely slip back into his role come week one and look like he was never missing.
Kyle Van Noy (26) - Van Noy is another player I expect to take a big step forward this year. Being acquired in the middle of the season, changing defenses, cultures, states, is a lot to throw on a person. He didn't have the summer to learn the calls, audibles, and his teammates' tendencies which is a big disadvantage. Now that he has all that, Van Noy should be able to be unleashed with his full potential this year.
Shea McCellin (28) - McClellin may be just another guy on this defense, but he's going into his second year with the team with, hopefully, a more defined role that he can focus on and perfect. He won't be getting double digit sacks, he won't have 100 tackles, and he's certainly not going to win MVP, but his contributions in the edge and linebacker rotations will go a long way with keeping others fresh and healthy if nothing else. Hopefully this prolonged injury does not keep him away for much longer.
Harvey Langi (24) - Langi is my guy. I proclaimed my love of him during the draft process and had him pegged as a late round pick given his age and playing out of position, but the Patriots decided to dole out the highest possible UDFA contract for him instead. In his first few preseason games we saw his instincts on the edge, which was very promising in my eyes. I'm excited about his potential and his future.
Keionta Davis (NFI) (23) - Davis is a big guy (6'3" 271 lbs) with long arms (34") which are trademarks of recent Patriots edge defenders. He went undrafted due to a bulging disk in his neck. He plays gritty, willing to do what he's asked to do, and was quite productive in college. Belichick worked him out himself and admitted they've done a lot of work on him. I believe he goes to the NFI list so the Patriots can stash him for next year and to give him ample time to heal.
At first glance you will think "why are there only two players here?" To clarify, I believe these are the two players that will ONLY play inside linebacker and not partake in the action at the line of scrimmage. Harris' addition was possibly my favorite of the entire offseason. He allows Hightower to play at the line of scrimmage where we have seen him alter the course of football history. Roberts still has room to improve, but he's possibly the hardest hitter on the team and can continue to build off his impressive rookie year.
David Harris (33) - In today's NFL, at the linebacker position, it is difficult to stay healthy and consistent. Haris has missed one game since 2009 and only six games in his 10 year NFL career, averaging well over 100 tackles a season in that time. His mentality and character fit into the Patriot Way seamlessly, and his veteran experience and leadership will go a long way in a relatively young defensive core.
Elandon Roberts (23) - Roberts had some highlights, and some lowlights, last year in his rookie season. We some him drop the hammer on numerous running backs...and we saw him completely blow coverages in the Super Bowl that went for huge gains. He's not a finished product, but his wrecking ball style is something that is lacking on this team, and that physicality in the middle cannot be ignored. If there were more depth at this position he'd be in bigger trouble for a roster spot, but I simply don't see another player on the team that can do what he does in this role.
I LOVE the top three players at this position, and I have the utmost confidence in their abilities. My issue is that, as with the rest of this defense, each player has a skill set and a role associated with that skill set. They can matchup with the big and physical wide receivers, but I'm concerned about the tiny speedsters in the slot. Jonathan or Cyrus Jones needs to be able to step into that important role. Right now Jonathan appears to have the step up, but time will tell on how they plan on how to address the slot role.
Malcolm Butler (27) - This is a big year for Butler. Possibly his last chance to cash in is on the horizon. The elder statesman of the group, Super Bowl hero, top ten at his position and yet his future with the team is anything but certain. With a stellar season Butler can command top money, from the Patriots or another team, so he has every reason to go all out this year. He has been disappointed in himself so far this preseason, and is looking to bounce back sooner rather than later.
Stephon Gilmore (26) - The biggest surprise of the offseason, and possibly of the last several years was Gilmore's signing. The money, the position, and the surprise surrounding it all made many question the logic behind the move. Gilmore had a down year last year with the Bills, but Bill knows how to get the best out of his players. Gilmore can be extremely effective in the press man style the Patriots have had continued success with of late. He will maul receivers at the line of scrimmage and make every catch contested. This is the best cornerback duo in New England in a long while.
Eric Rowe (24) - Rowe gets a lot of unwarranted hate from fans. Another player that did not have the benefit of a full offseason with the team, Rowe stepped in last year and found his role midway through the season. His performance in the Super Bowl, tasked with covering elite receiver Julio Jones, did not receive the credit it deserved. No human alive could've stopped those catches Jones made, and Rowe had near perfect coverage on each one. This year he will again be tasked with covering bigger receivers and matching their physicality with his own.
Jonathan Jones (23) - One of the initial surprises out of spring practices was the news that Jones was practicing with the starters in the nickel role. Jones has 4.33 speed and has shined as a gunner on punt coverage. If he can translate that speed on special teams to the defense he may be the missing link in this secondary.
Cyrus Jones (23) - I know you were groaning the second you saw his name. I know. I get it. Fact of the matter is Jones has the physical ability to do well in this league, he just needs to find a role to concentrate on and build up his confidence and comfortability. Whether that position is kick returner, cornerback, or free safety is anyone's guess at this point, but I don't believe Belichick gives up on him this early. With how he performed last week with the ball in his hands his return ability seems to be his best way to contribute this upcoming season.
This is, in my honest opinion, the shallowest position on the team after the starters. With the Patriots employing a heavy dose of Cover 1 Robber (one high safety with another in zone coverage shallow and underneath the high safety) they need all three of the starting safeties to take part. With Richards continuing to struggle it is hard to justify him having a roster spot, and Ebner and King aren't exactly defensive players.
Devin McCourty (30) - McCourty's responsibilities took another twist last year with Duron Harmon stepping into a more prominent and defined role. McCourty would cover running backs and tight ends split out wide, he would cover the underneath middle of the field in his robber role, and he would stay back deep when they didn't have Harmon in. His versatility and veteran leadership make him another prime example of the Patriots, and I expect another stellar year from him.
Patrick Chung (30) - After a dominant 2015 Chung took a slight step back last year. Minor injuries seemed to be the biggest culprit in my opinion. This year hopefully he can stay healthy, as his ability to play strong safety and slot corner are invaluable and unique. His passion and fire are needed on a defense filled with passive leaders.
Duron Harmon (26) - Need a timely interception to ice the game? Harmon will be there. A guy who seems to always be in the right place at the right time, Harmon continued to show his value back deep. In the offseason this year he mentioned that he was trying to bulk up so that he can be more of a factor in the run game. To me it sounds like they want him to be able to take some snaps away from Chung who played over 96% of defensive snaps last year. Something to monitor going forward.
The usual names populate this list. Ghost looks to continue to rebound from his struggles. Allen looks to keep pinning teams team. Cardona looks to serve his country and his team. The rest of the crew looks to hit kick returners as quickly and as hard as possible.
Stephen Gostkowski (33) - Ghost was not his normal self last year. After three straight years of having a field goal percentage over 91% he nailed 84.4% of his kicks in 2016. While some people mentioned cutting him, it is important to note that 84.4% is better than what Adam Vinatieri has done in 11 of his 21 seasons. I attribute his struggles to a change in the touchback rules, which made him kicking to the goal line the better option rather than booting it through the endzone. As the season progressed he did improve as he adjusted. I think we will see more of the old Ghost this season.
Ryan Allen (27) - Allen had a down year as well, but it was more subtle than Gostkowski's down year. Allen only managed to get 23 of his 72 kicks inside the 20 yard line and averaged only 44.7 yards per punt, both career lows. No real reason to be concerned, but it's important to note that Allen could and should be better this year.
Joe Cardona (25) - I cannot recall a terrible long snap last year. You cannot ask for much more than that. Cardona does his job, and his duty.
Matthew Slater (31) - His leadership on special teams and in the locker room cannot be replaced. His injury has limited him severely this offseason, but he has since returned to practice. Hopefully he will have enough time to shake the rust off and get back in the swing of things.
Nate Ebner (28) - Ebner has Belichick's respect, which is all you could ever ask for as a Patriots player. Ebner does what he needs to do to succeed in the roles he's been placed in. I'm sure with a full football offseason he shouldn't miss a beat from where he's left off in the past.
Brandon King (24) - King is another Swiss Army Knife on special teams, and likely someone who will again lead the team in special teams tackles this year. Would be something to see him contribute elsewhere though given his size and speed.
Marquise Flowers (25) - The recently acquired linebacker has been a solid special teams player over the last few years for the Bengals. Given the lack of depth at linebacker, and the injuries to key special teamers, this trade made a lot of sense. Not a lock to make the team, but given the current situation, and the trade compensation without a known condition, it makes sense we'll see him around next week.
Here is how the starting defense would look in my purposed formation of a 5-1-5 in Cover 1 Robber:
Every single player on this list could easily make the 53 man roster should an injury occur at their position. It's also equally as likely that another team will poach several of these players and use them on their own 53 man roster.
Glenn Gronkowski (24) FB - Glenn has proven to be a reliable practice player. He can fill a variety of roles as a fullback and tight end, and can be a solid special teams option in a pinch for the 53. Versatility and emergency reliability are two key factors in making the practice squad.
DJ Foster (23) RB/WR - I hope like all hell they are able to stash him again. His performances have been impressive, but at the moment he's either a receiver or runningback, which are arguably the two deepest positions on the team. Another versatile guy who can offer kick return experience as well, Foster is an ideal practice squad candidate.
Damarius Travis (23) SS - The Patriots need emergency safety depth on the practice squad. I'm not even convinced it will be Travis, but there will be a safety on this unit given the use on special teams and lack of depth on the 53.
Josh Augusta (23) - The big man has slimmed down and has gotten better as the weeks have progressed. I think his size and ability to play nose tackle will be a welcome tool to use on the practice squad.
Kenny Moore (21) CB - Moore keeps showing up. I almost had him making the 53. The fact that he's the youngest player on the roster also doesn't hurt. Another promising young guy that can grow behind the tutelage of Butler, Gilmore, and Rowe. I'm a fan of Kenny Moore.
Conor McDermott (24) OT - With McDermott it's a numbers game. Lot of tackles on the roster, only enough space for a few. I think he could use a year to fully build up his newfound size and develop his balance and core strength. He has the size, now he just has to perfect how to use it.
Devin Lucien (24) WR - Lucien again is put behind the eight ball with Hogan and Mitchell both on the roster ahead of him. It's clear that he has the talent, it's just impossible to field every NFL capable receiver on this roster. I hope like crazy he can stick around as it would be bittersweet to see him succeed with another team.
LeShun Daniels Jr (22) RB - Daniels impressed me in the first preseason game. He showed nice patience, decent burst, and a willingness to be physical. Given the fragile nature of the Patriots running backs it would be greatly beneficial to have someone take some snaps away from them during the week and Daniels seems like a solid candidate.
Trevor Bates (24) LB - Bates is another guy that has shown up at times, and given the lack of depth at ILB, he was also very close to making the roster. His responsibility of wearing the green dot shouldn't go unnoticed, but he's still got some room to improve.
Jamil Douglas (25) OL - Douglas has shown that he can hold his own in practice. Given the lack of depth at the position he could be called into action potentially this season and I believe the Patriots would be okay with that. His size allows him to play all over the line and he continues to improve.
Last Few In:
Austin Carr - WR
Geneo Grissom - DE
Jacob Hollister - TE
Elandon Roberts - LB
Last Few Out:
Kenny Moore - CB
Devin Lucien - WR
Conor McDermott - OT
DJ Foster - RB/WR
Let me know what you think. I'd love to have a fun discussion about this.