Despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, it sure looks like the NFL will have a 2020 season. The New England Patriots will have a harder time than ever with roster construction, as there will not be a preseason. With less time for untested players to demonstrate their ability, successfully navigating this Patriots roster projection will be harder than ever.
Note that the new CBA technically allows for 55 men on the roster, but I’m doing a 53-man list. Per the fine print, the roster needs to be cut down to 53 players at first, with two additional players having the ability to go from the active roster to the practice squad without getting cut.
New England Patriots Roster Projection 2.0 – No Undrafted Rookies
In: Cam Newton, Jarrett Stidham, Brian Hoyer
After years of toiling with a poor Carolina Panthers front office, Cam Newton now has the opportunity to play for the best coach of his generation. Newton passed his physical, which means that he should be ready to go for the start of the season. The jury is still out on how much he has left in his tank, but he should be a top-15ish quarterback if healthy. That still carries tremendous value in today’s NFL, and the team will need Newton to carry an otherwise underwhelming supporting cast.
Jarrett Stidham might not be the guy for 2020, but he still showed promise during 2019. With Newton on a one-year deal, Stidham could be 2021’s starter if he can continue to develop. Considering the importance of the position, the Patriots continue to carry Brian Hoyer as the third quarterback. Hoyer, while nobody’s idea of a great starter, is an experienced backup with plenty of time in the system. In a worst-case scenario, he’s capable of filling in for a game or two.
Running Back/Fullback (6)
In: Sony Michel, James White, Damien Harris, Rex Burkhead, Brandon Bolden, Danny Vitale
Sony Michel underwent foot surgery in the offseason, but we’ll assume he’s ready for the start of the season in this Patriots roster projection. If healthy, he’s locked in as the early-down guy behind one of the best offensive lines in football. James White is also locked into his respective role, although his targets could go down with Newton in town. Damien Harris might eat into some of Michel’s work with another year under his belt, while Rex Burkhead will continue to be the do-everything change of pace guy.
It’s hard to imagine Bill Belichick letting Brandon Bolden go after losing him in 2018. With James Develin retired, Danny Vitale takes over as New England’s primary fullback. That said, nobody would be surprised if Jakob Johnson ends up winning the job. If White or Burkhead suffer a serious injury prior to the start of the season, undrafted free agent J.J. Taylor will probably make his way onto the roster.
Wide Receiver (6)
In: Julian Edelman, N”Keal Harry, Mohamed Sanu, Jakobi Meyers, Matthew Slater, Damiere Byrd
Julian Edelman, N’Keal Harry, and Matthew Slater are the only locks on what is probably the weakest part of New England’s roster. Edelman played through an absurd amount of injuries last year, and should remain the top target in the offense. Harry needs to take a massive step forward after a disappointing rookie campaign. Slater, meanwhile, will continue his excellent work on special teams.
Despite the potential $6.5 million in cap savings, the Patriots are probably better off holding on to Mohamed Sanu. Jakobi Meyers flashed during the 2019 season and could surprise this year if he can get on the same page as Newton. Damiere Byrd actually has some experience with Newton and is the fastest guy on the depth chart. He’s a sneaky bet to finish second on the team in targets. If there was a preseason, Jeff Thomas would be on the projection. However, he’ll probably have to start his career on the practice squad.
Tight End (3)
In: Matt LaCosse, Devin Asiasi, Dalton Keene
Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene are locks, as both players possess intriguing long-term upside. However, tight ends historically aren’t ready to contribute in Year 1, and that learning curve will be steeper in this shortened offseason. Because of this, Matt LaCosse earns a job for another season.
Offensive Line (8)
In: Isaiah Wynn, Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Marcus Cannon, Yodny Cajuste, Hjalte Froholdt, Michael Onwenu
The starting five are set in stone with Isaiah Wynn, Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, and Marcus Cannon. Yodny Cajuste should earn the primary backup tackle job, as the former third-round pick possesses first-round talent when healthy. Hjalte Froholdt struggled during the 2019 preseason, but hopefully, he can improve with a full offseason under his belt. Michael Onwenu is an absolute monster of a man that never gets moved in pass protection. Spending the year on the bench while improving his conditioning and mobility should do wonders for his future outlook.
Defensive Line (7)
In: Lawrence Guy, Adam Butler, Beau Allen, John Simon, Chase Winovich, Deatrich Wise, Derek Rivers
Lawrence Guy and Adam Butler are locks on the interior, and Beau Allen earns the first shot at replacing Danny Shelton. However, he’s not a lock to beat out 2019 fifth-round pick Byron Cowart. John Simon and Chase Winovich should be the top two edge defenders on the defense, at least in the early part of the year. Both players played well in limited snaps and should thrive in an expanded role.
Deatrich Wise is a solid rotational lineman, although he’s probably at his best coming off of the bench. Derek Rivers is the 53rd man on the roster and wouldn’t even be here in the first place if there was a preseason. However, since there isn’t, it’s going to be harder for the annual out-of-nowhere undrafted rookie to usurp him.
In: Dont’a Hightower, Ja’Whaun Bentley, Josh Uche, Anfernee Jennings, Brandon Copeland
The difference between “defensive line” and “linebacker” can be a little blurred, but this is how I see the front seven shaking out in this Patriots roster projection. Dont’a Hightower remains the top dog and de-facto leader of the front seven, while Ja’Whaun Bentley earns a bigger role with Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins departed.
Josh Uche and Anfernee Jennings both possess great upside, but both players might need time before they’re ready to contribute. Brandon Copeland earns the final linebacker spot, as the incoming free agent is the classic Belichick player and could turn into a great value for his contract.
In: Stephon Gilmore, J.C. Jackson, Jason McCourty, Jonathan Jones, Joejuan Williams, Justin Bethel
The best secondary of 2019 remains largely intact, led by superstar Stephon Gilmore. The reigning Defensive Player of the Year is joined by an absolutely stacked depth chart featuring J.C. Jackson, Jason McCourty, and Jonathan Jones. It’s hard to think of a better top-four than that quartet. Joejuan Williams played well in limited opportunities last year and could steal some snaps from McCourty and Jackson in the right matchup. Justin Bethel is one of the best special teamers in the league and should be considered an absolute lock.
In: Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Adrian Phillips, Terrence Brooks, Kyle Dugger, Brandon King
Carrying six safeties feels like a lot, but it’s hard to find anyone to cut. Devin McCourty is a lock, as the Patriots just re-signed the franchise icon to a big-money deal. Adrian Phillips was arguably New England’s biggest non-quarterback signing, and Kyle Dugger was a second-round pick. Patrick Chung is locked into his role and Terrence Brooks is too good to let go. Brandon King, a safety in name only, is one of the core members of the special teams unit.
In: Justin Rohrwasser, Jake Bailey, Joe Cardona
These three are locked and loaded as the only players at their respective positions.
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