Despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the NFL is going to try to have a 2020 season. The New England Patriots had a league-high seven players opt out, which means that there are some dramatic changes to the Patriots roster projection.
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 practice squad players having the ability to go from the active roster to the practice squad without getting cut.
New England Patriots Roster Projection 3.0 – Post-COVID Opt Outs
In: Cam Newton, Jarrett Stidham, Brian Hoyer
No changes here, as all three quarterbacks are going to play the upcoming season. Cam Newton is still the presumed starter, but head coach Bill Belichick says he needs to win the job in camp. This leaves the door open for Jarrett Stidham to win the job, although it would be an absolute shock if he pulls it off. Brian Hoyer is still there as valuable insurance and a well of knowledge from his time in the system.
Running Back/Fullback (5)
In: Sony Michel, James White, Damien Harris, Rex Burkhead, Jakob Johnson
Danny Vitale and Brandon Bolden both made the first iteration of this list, but both players opted out of the 2020 season. The incumbent Jakob Johnson takes Vitale’s spot, although it’s easy to see him splitting snaps with tight end Dalton Keene. Bolden’s spot remains vacated, as he primarily serves on special teams and there isn’t another running back on the roster fit to fill that role.
The other four names on the list are the obvious ones. Assuming he’s healthy, Sony Michel will continue to be the early-down running back with James White coming in on passing downs. Damien Harris will be Michel’s primary backup and Rex Burkhead shall once again be the jack of all trades.
Wide Receiver (7)
In: Julian Edelman, N’Keal Harry, Mohamed Sanu, Jakobi Meyers, Matthew Slater, Damiere Byrd, Jeff Thomas
Julian Edelman, N’Keal Harry, and Matthew Slater are locks for the final roster, with Mohamed Sanu being the next-closest thing. Everything after that is a little up in the air. Jakobi Meyers flashed some impressive tape last year and could stick around if he gains a better grasp of the playbook. Damiere Byrd offers a speed element that this offense desperately needs, and undrafted rookie Jeff Thomas offers a lot of physical upside. It’s going to be hard for him to contribute in a shortened offseason, but he might be too good to let go.
Tight End (3)
In: Ryan Izzo, Devin Asiasi, Dalton Keene
Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene aren’t going anywhere, but they’re rookies trying to pick up the hardest non-quarterback position in the offense during a shortened offseason. Expecting both players to contribute right out of the gate is expecting too much, so incumbent Ryan Izzo sticks around in the Patriots roster projection. Matt LaCosse, of course, opted out on Sunday.
Offensive Line (8)
In: Isaiah Wynn, Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Yodny Cajuste, Hjalte Froholdt, Michael Onwenu, Korey Cunningham
Arguably the biggest hit to this team came when Marcus Cannon opted out. Isaiah Wynn, Joe Thuney, David Andrews, and Shaq Mason are locked into their respective roles, but the right tackle position is up in the air. 2019 third-round pick Yodny Cajuste will have the first shot at the starting job, but he missed his entire rookie season to injury. If he’s not up for the task, then Korey Cunningham is probably the next man up. Don’t be surprised if the Patriots sign a tackle in the coming weeks. Hjalte Froholdt and Michael Onwenu earn the other depth spots, as both players can play multiple spots along the interior, if needed.
Defensive Line (8)
In: Lawrence Guy, Adam Butler, Beau Allen, John Simon, Byron Cowart, Chase Winovich, Deatrich Wise, Derek Rivers,
Lawrence Guy and Adam Butler are locks on the interior, with both Beau Allen and Byron Cowart making the team in this Patriots roster projection. John Simon and Chase Winovich should be the top two edge defenders, at least in the early part of the season. 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 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: Ja’Whaun Bentley, Josh Uche, Anfernee Jennings, Brandon Copeland, Cassh Maluia
With Dont’a Hightower opting out, third-year linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley becomes the top linebacker on the roster. The former fifth-round pick looked good in small doses over the past two seasons, but only time will tell if he can handle a starting job. Josh Uche and Anfernee Jennings both possess solid upside, but might not be ready for a Week 1 starting role.
Brandon Copeland has the potential to be a free agent steal, as he possesses a lot of the traits that Belichick likes in a linebacker. Cassh Maluia, the teams sixth-round pick, makes the roster with Hightower sidelined. He’s smaller than your traditional inside linebacker, but knows how to play the run and is a solid early-down player. Basically, he’s Elandon Roberts.
In: Stephon Gilmore, J.C. Jackson, Jason McCourty, Jonathan Jones, Joejuan Williams, Justin Bethel
No changes here, as the Patriots continue to have one of the deepest cornerback rooms in the league. Stephon Gilmore is still the best in the league, while J.C. Jackson, Jason McCourty, and Jonathan Jones all provide above-average play in their respective roles. Joejuan Williams played well as a situational cornerback last year and could earn a bigger role in 2020. Justin Bethel is one of the best special teams players in the league and should be a roster lock.
In: Devin McCourty, Adrian Phillips, Terrence Brooks, Kyle Dugger, Brandon King
Even with Patrick Chung out of the equation, New England should be good to go at safety. Both Adrian Phillips and Terrence Brooks should be able to handle Chung’s responsibilities, and Kyle Dugger has the potential to be Chung’s long-term heir. Devin McCourty will remain his reliable self, while Brandon King will help out on special teams.
In: Justin Rohrwasser, Jake Bailey, Joe Cardona
No surprises here, as these three are the only players at their respective positions.