Foxboro Fifty-Three: Youth, Versatility Served as Patriots Set 2021 Roster

New England makes some bold moves in assembling its initial roster for the upcoming season.
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With the 2021 preseason now firmly in the past, the New England Patriots now turn their attention to the upcoming regular season. On Tuesday, the Patriots officially made their evaluations, based on position battles and individual performances, to set their initial 53-man roster.

After a few surprises, one major shock, and some expected reductions, it is time to meet the 2021 New England Patriots, version 1.0.

QUARTERBACK (1):

Mac Jones

Reserve/PUP: Jarrett Stidham

If you had the Patriots finishing the day with only one quarterback on their roster, you might want to refer to yourself as the “prognosticator of prognosticators.” The release of Cam Newton sent shockwaves through the New England region. While Newton performed well during training camp, Jones seemed to exude a greater deal of comfort in the Patriots passing offense. For all of the discussion surrounding New England’s desire to change their passing game, they are still operating under a timing-based system, predicated on vertical routes and completions from quick, accurate throws. It was the opinion of Bill Belichick, Josh McDaniels and the Patriots brain trust that Mac Jones was the best choice for that role from the start of the 2021 season. While Stidham continues to recover from preseason back surgery, Hoyer will likely be brought back after corresponding roster moves are made.

RUNNING BACK (5):

Damien Harris, James White, J.J. Taylor, Rhamondre Stevenson, Brandon Bolden

From top to bottom, New England’s positional grouping at running back is among the deepest on the team. Damien Harris will remain the team’s feature back, while J.J. Taylor will assume the ‘change of pace’ role. Bolden is a special teams ace, and should be a viable option on third down to help lessen the workload of James White. Rookie Rhamondre Stevenson possesses the necessary intangibles to be an effective option in both situational runs, or even receiving out of the backfield. All things considered, the running back corps should be among the most productive units in the Pats’ offense.

FULLBACK (1):

Jakob Johnson

Johnson has proven himself to be more than deserving of the starting spot at fullback. His ability as a blocker and situational runner make sure that his roster spot is earned, and not provided by default. The Patriots place a greater value on the fullback than most NFL teams, and they have a capable player at the position in Johnson.

WIDE RECEIVER (5):

Nelson Agholor, Jakobi Meyers, Kendrick Bourne, N’Keal Harry, Gunner Olszewski

Meyers, Agholor and Bourne provide the Pats with a versatile trio atop the depth chart at wideout. Each is more than capable of playing outside, or in the slot. Prior to suffering his shoulder injury, N’Keal Harry looked sharp, strong and engaged throughout training camp. As such, the oft-maligned receiver earned his roster spot. That being said, Harry is likely headed to injured reserve to start the season. Despite some struggles near the conclusion of the preseason, Olszewski gets the nod based on his All-Pro punt return prowess.

TIGHT END (3):

Hunter Henry, Jonnu Smith, Devin Asiasi

The talented tandem of Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry will provide the Patriots with the chance to run two-tight-end packages that will give opposing teams headaches in the upcoming season. After a brief stint on the COVID/reserve list, Asiasi seems to be headed toward a stronger 2021, getting the chance to show impressive athleticism and his upside as a route runner. With the Pats deciding to carry only three tight ends, it may be safe to assume that the outlook on the health of both Henry and Smith is promising.

OFFENSIVE LINE (9):

Isaiah Wynn, Michael Onwenu, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Trent Brown, Ted Karras, Justin Herron, Yodny Cajuste, Yasir Durant

The Patriots are poised to field one of the most formidable offensive lines in the NFL in 2021. While the starting unit is strong at every position, the value of the line rests within its depth. Karras, Herron, Cajuste, and the newly-acquired Durant give New England capable swing linemen at center, guard and tackle. Cajuste, particularly, closed camp and preseason as a key depth piece on a strong offensive line.

DEFENSIVE LINE (6):

Davon Godchaux, Lawrence Guy, Deatrich Wise, Henry Anderson, Christian Barmore, Carl Davis

Reserve/PUP: Byron Cowart

While it had its share of struggles last season, the Patriots defensive line should be a strength in 2021. Barmore has tremendous upside, and figured to factor prominently into the team’s plans on the d-line. Anderson’s versatility makes him an important piece, along with Godchaux, Guy and Wise. Carl Davis has been one of the defensive standouts in camp, thus far, proving his value within the system as a two-gapping interior defensive lineman.

LINEBACKER (8):

Dont’a Hightower, Ja’Wahun Bentley, Matthew Judon, Kyle Van Noy, Josh Uche, Chase Winovich, Harvey Langi, Ronnie Perkins

NFI; Cameron McGrone

Reserve/PUP: Terez Hall

While some may consider this number a bit high, eight is once again enough when it comes to the linebacker position in New England. Hightower, Van Noy and Judon provide a much-needed veteran presence, while Uche continues to emerge as one of the more exciting young pass-rushers in the NFL. Bentley’s knowledge of the Patriots defensive schemes make him a key rotational piece at the position. Winovich needs to focus on his consistency; especially when it comes to funneling run plays into the middle. While Langi may have been left on the cutting room floor on many projections (with the exception of Patriot Maven’s 53-Man Roster Projection, Episode III, of course) the veteran linebacker continues to show his talent to be in on the tackle, as well as improving his abilities to make plays on the ball. His tenacity, special teams acumen and (most of all) availability made him a surprise addition.

CORNERBACK (5):

J.C.Jackson, Jalen Mills, Jonathan Jones, Joejuan Williams, Shaun Wade

Reserve/PUP: Stephon Gilmore

With Gilmore missing the first six-week while on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list, the Patriots will continue to be a bit weak at outside cornerback. J.C. Jackson is ready for prime time, but who will emerge as his counterpart? Jalen Mills may see as much time at safety, as at corner, while Joejuan Williams should see increased snaps. The former second-rounder out of Vanderbilt has yet to emerge as a match with the Patriots press coverage schemes. Despite Williams’ size and length, newly acquired Shaun Wade may end up being a better fit there. Also, while primarily known for his special teams prowess, Bethel has seen a slight increase in snaps at corner during the preseason. That may continue into the regular season.

SAFETY (3):

Devin McCourty, Adrian Phillips, Kyle Dugger

NFI: Joshuah Bledsoe

McCourty continues to anchor a strong group at safety. Phillips has arguably been the Patriots best defensive player during training camp and preseason. Dugger plays with strength and a wisdom beyond his years. While the Pats will miss the veteran savvy of Patrick Chung, the Pats primary trio at the position is as versatile a group as can be found in the NFL.

SPECIAL TEAMERS (7):

Matthew Slater, Justin Bethel, Cody Davis, Brandon King, Quinn Nordin, Jake Bailey, Joe Cardona

The emergence of kicker Quinn Nordin has been one of the most popular stories in Patriots camp. To say that the undrafted free agent has a powerful leg would be an understatement. However, it is important to note that Patriots place optimal value on special teams’ consistency. To date, we have yet to see Nordin make kicks with pro-level consistency over a long period of time. Still, the rookie has gained enough publicity to ensure that he would not clear waivers, if cut. Therefore, the Pats make the choice to keep Nordin in a Patriots jersey. Bailey has emerged as one of the best punters in the NFL, while specialists Justin Bethel and Matthew Slater will ensure that the Pats’ special teams is one of the most efficient and well prepared in the NFL. Brandon King is once again healthy, and should provide stellar contributions on all special teams units.