Patriots 53-Man Roster Projection for 2021, Episode II

New England makes a surprise cut at running back, takes a bold step on special teams, and even makes a trade in Patriot Maven’s second roster projection of 2021.
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As the New England Patriots progress through the 2021 preseason, several roster hopefuls continue to make their respective cases to earn a spot on the 53-man final product. With the Pats set for their second preseason game with the Philadelphia Eagles on Thursday, August 19, all eyes will be on position battles and individual performances.

With the first wave of roster adjustments approaching on Tuesday, August 17 (teams must reduce their rosters from 90 to 85 players) here is Patriot Maven’s second attempt at what the New England Patriots roster might look like when the team opens the 2021 regular season.

QUARTERBACK (3)

Cam Newton, Mac Jones, Brian Hoyer

PUP: Jarrett Stidham

The Pats should still opt to carry three quarterbacks in 2021. While it is unlikely that Hoyer will see any meaningful action during the regular season, injury concerns and COVID protocols will keep him around, at least until Jarrett Stidham returns from PUP. Based on his performance on Thursday against Washington, Jones has proven that he is ready for NFL action. However, it is important to note that the 22-year-old still has a very limited pro-level resume. Despite the clamoring from some sects of the fan base for Jones to start the season as the main man under center, Newton has shown both the poise and the skill required to begin 2021 as the Patriots' starting quarterback.

RUNNING BACK (5)

Damien Harris, Sony Michel, James White, Rhamondre Stevenson, Brandon Bolden

Out: J.J. Taylor

When a running back with the prowess and potential of J.J. Taylor is left off the finished product, it speaks volumes about the depth at this position on the Patriots roster. Taylor was a very tough cut, as his skillset has tremendous upside. To complicate matters, his value is visible enough to make it difficult to stash him on the practice squad. Bolden is a special teams ace, and should be a viable option on third down to help lessen the workload of James White. While some (including myself) have speculated that Sony Michel might be a roster casualty, the former first-rounder has looked solid thus far; earning his way onto the depth chart. 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 might be the deepest positional depth chart on the Patriots’ roster.

FULLBACK (1)

Jakob Johnson

Johnson has proven himself to be more than deserving of the starting spot at fullback.Despite having a roster exemption for the 90-man roster, Johnson would count against the 53-man active roster should he make the team again this season. Still, his ability as a blocker and situational runner make sure that his roster spot is earned, and not provided by default.

WIDE RECEIVER (5)

Nelson Agholor, Jakobi Meyers, Kendrick Bourne, Gunner Olszewski, Kristian Wilkerson

Out: Isaiah Zuber, Tre Nixon, Marvin Hall, Devin Ross

Trade: N’Keal Harry

Trading Harry in this scenario might not exactly be a bold move; especially when his representation has publicly requested such action. However, his stellar camp performance might make this decision a bit risky. Harry has looked sharp, strong and engaged throughout training camp. As such, the Patriots would be unwise to simply leave the former first-rounder on the cutting room floor. Still, Harry was only targeted once on Thursday evening, despite being on the field for 36 snaps. His upside should attract an adequate suitor. On the other hand, Wilkerson has been demonstrating a greater ability to separate from his defenders, as well as a newfound role on special teams. The 24-year-old earns his spot on the roster, while Uzbek and Nixon remain likely practice squad candidates.

TIGHT END (3)

Jonnu Smith, Hunter Henry, Devin Asiasi

Out: Matt LaCosse, Troy Fumagalli, David Wells

IR: Dalton Keene

While Henry has been briefly sidelined with a shoulder injury, Smith continues to show his abilities as a dual-threat tight end. Once healthy, the talented tandem 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 should have a stronger 2021, getting the chance to show impressive athleticism and his upside as a route runner. Despite having a solid camp, both Matt LaCosse and Troy Fumagalli are casualties, due the need for roster spots at other positions.

OFFENSIVE LINE (8)

Isaiah Wynn, Michael Onwenu, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Trent Brown, Ted Karras, Justin Herron, Will Sherman

Out: James Ferentz, Korey Cunningham, Yodny Cajuste, Marcus Martin, Alex Redmond, R.J. Prince

James Ferentz was another difficult cut, as capable offensive linemen are usually at a premium. The Pats perennial practice-squadder, and occasional depth lineman, is having a great training camp in 2021. However he has limited versatility. Sherman gets the nod here, as the rookie could be a swing tackle on both sides, and also has the potential to transition to guard. Yodny Cajuste, Korey Cunningham and R.J. Prince likely will find it difficult to garner a spot on the Pats’ line in 2021, as their performance has been underwhelming, to date.

DEFENSIVE LINE (6)

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

Out: Montravius Adams, Akeem Spence, Nick Thurman, Bill Murray,

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. Montravious Adams was a tough cut, considering his experience along the line.

LINEBACKER (8)

Dont'a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Matt Judon, Josh Uche, Chase Winovich, Ronnie Perkins, Anfernee Jennings, Ja’Whaun Bentley

Out: Rashod Berry, Tashawn Bower, Harvey Langi

IR: Raekwon McMillan

NFI; Cameron McGrone

PUP: Terez Hall

While some may consider this number a bit high, eight is enough when it comes to the linebacker position in New England. Bentley’s knowledge of the Patriots defensive schemes make him a much more likely roster candidate than Terez Hall or Harvey Langi . Langi and Hall could be in line for spots on the practice squad. Ronnie Perkins' positional switch to outside linebacker seems to be working well, as the rookie performed well in limited action against Washington in his first preseason game.

CORNERBACK (5)

Stephon Gilmore, J.C. Jackson, Jonathan Jones, Jalen Mills, Joejuan Williams

Out: Michael Jackson Sr., D’Angelo Ross, Dee Virgin, Myles Bryant

Beyond Gilmore and J.C. Jackson, the Patriots are a bit thin at outside cornerback. Joejuan Williams is a former second-round pick with a lot of upside. His strong showing on Thursday evening gives him the edge over defensive back Myles Bryant in a close positional battle. While players like Dee Virgin, D’Angelo Ross and Michael Jackson, Sr. could be practice squad options, the Pats may have to take the risk of losing them.

SAFETY (4)

Devin McCourty, Adrian Philips, Kyle Dugger, Cody Davis

Out: Adrian Colbert

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 and Davis will parlay strong performances in 2020 into being roster locks at safety. Colbert has performed well enough to deserve roster consideration. However, it is unlikely that the Patriots carry five safeties, considering the need for openings at other positions.

SPECIAL TEAMS (5)

Quinn Nordin, Jake Bailey, Joe Cardona, Justin Bethel, Matthew Slater

Out: Nick Folk, Brandon King, Brian Khoury (LS)

The Rookie Rises.

While that may sound eerily similar to the title of a superhero movie, 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. When healthy, Folk is steady and reliable. 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 units in the NFL.