Football is about to be back in Foxboro, Massachusetts. The New England Patriots are set to report to training camp in nearly one month, with the first practice to follow a few days later. At that time, all memories of a sub-par 2020 season will be put aside in favor of focusing solely on creating a successful 2021.
As the 2021 Patriots take the practice fields adjacent to Gillette Stadium, all eyes will be on position battles and individual performances. Team practice will give way to preseason games. Of course, the ultimate goal for each training camp attendee is to procure a spot on the 53-man roster. While we are still several weeks away from the final roster being set, here is a pre-camp prediction of what the New England Patriots roster might look like when the team opens the 2021 regular season.
Cam Newton, Jarrett Stidham, Mac Jones
While Jones performed admirably during spring practices, the Pats likely will opt to carry three quarterbacks in 2021. For starters, the rookie’s minicamp showing was not quite good enough for the Patriots to consider carrying only two quarterbacks. Stidham’s experience likely will keep him in a Pats uniform this season. Despite the clamoring from some sects of the fan base for Jones to start the season as the main man under center, Newton closed mandatory minicamp showing both the poise and the skill required to begin 2021 as the Patriots' starting quarterback.
RUNNING BACK (5)
Damien Harris, James White, Rhamondre Stevenson, Brandon Bolden, J.J. Taylor
It may seem like a crowded backfield, but it makes sense to keep five running backs on the roster. While some (including myself) have speculated that Sony Michel might be a roster casualty, the former first-rounder is likely to find himself on the trading block. Rookie Rhamondre Stevenson struggled to impress running backs coach Ivan Fears and the Patriots offensive brain trust during mandatory minicamp. However, he possesses the necessary intangibles to be an effective option in both situational runs, or even receiving out of the backfield. In addition to his special teams prowess, Bolden should be a viable option on third down to help lessen the workload of James White.
Jakob Johnson, Dalton Keene
This might raise an eyebrow or two. However, 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. Keene had a less-than-stellar rookie season in 2020, but has the versatility to earn a roster spot as a backup fullback, or fill-in tight end.
WIDE RECEIVER (5)
N’Keal Harry, Nelson Agholor, Jakobi Meyers, Kendrick Bourne, Gunner Olszewski
Despite some prognostications to the contrary, this could be one of the most competitive groups of wide receivers the Pats have fielded in quite some time. Perhaps devoid of a notable name such as Jones or Beckham, the Pats' current corps is not short on talent. Meyers might have done enough during minicamp to "make his bones" with the Patriots coaching staff. (Thank you for humoring my gratuitous reference to "The Godfather"). Amid the vitriol thrown his way from some within the fan base, Harry showed promise during minicamp, and should benefit from the presence of newcomers Agholor and Bourne. Rookie Tre Nixon was a tough cut here, but could find his way onto the roster with a strong showing in training camp.
TIGHT END (3)
Jonnu Smith, Hunter Henry, Devin Asiasi
Following a disappointing season in 2020, the Patriots have upgraded the tight end depth chart to be among the best in the NFL. Henry and Smith will provide the Patriots with the chance to run two-tight-end packages that will give opposing teams headaches in the upcoming season. Asiasi should have a stronger 2021, getting the chance to show impressive athleticism and his upside as a route runner.
OFFENSIVE LINE (8)
Isaiah Wynn, Michael Onwenu, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Trent Brown, Ted Karras, Justin Herron, William Sherman
Korey Cunningham was another difficult cut, as capable offensive linemen are usually at a premium. Alex Redmond also was tough to cut. Should the Pats suffer an injury on the O-line, Redmond likely would be a prime candidate to fill an open roster spot. Should the Pats maintain a healthy line come early September, Yodny Cajuste, James Feretz and R.J. Prince likely will find it difficult to garner a spot on the Pats’ line in 2021. Sherman could be a swing tackle on both sides, and also has the potential to transition to guard, or even center.
DEFENSIVE LINE (5)
Davon Godchaux, Lawrence Guy, Deatrich Wise, Christian Barmore, Henry Anderson
Despite significant depth at the position, the Pats likely will go five deep on the defensive line. Byron Cowart was serviceable in 2020, as was Carl Davis. However, the upside of Barmore, along with the versatility of Anderson make them important pieces, along with Godchaux, Guy and Wise. Monty Adams was a tough cut, considering his experience and versatility along the line.
Dont'a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Matt Judon, Josh Uche, Chase Winovich, Ronnie Perkins, Anfernee Jennings, Ja’Whaun Bentley
Completing the linebacker depth chart might just have Bill Belichick and the Pats coaching staff singing a chorus of The Clash’s 1982 hit, “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” This may be the deepest depth chart New England has had at the position in quite some time. Bentley’s knowledge of the Patriots defensive schemes make him a much more likely roster candidate than Terez Hall, Harvey Langi or Raekwon McMillan. Langi and Hall could be in line for spots on the practice squad. However, it is likely that McMillan will be signed by a team in need of depth at linebacker, unless he makes himself invaluable with a strong camp showing.
Stephon Gilmore, J.C. Jackson, Jonathan Jones, Jalen Mills, Myles Bryant
When considering the depth of talent at the cornerback position, it is hard to believe that the Patriots might only carry five at the position. However, the Pats have five strong candidates on a loaded depth chart. 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. Joejuan Williams is a former second-round pick with a lot of upside. Still, he is edged out by Myles Bryant in a close positional battle.
Devin McCourty, Adrian Philips, Kyle Dugger, Cody Davis
McCourty continues to anchor a strong group at safety. Phillips, Dugger and Davis will parlay strong performances in 2020 into being roster locks at safety. Despite being a sixth-round pick in the 2021 draft, Joshuah Bledsoe may face an uphill battle to make this roster. If rookies, in general, find it difficult to find spots across the league, Bledsoe may be a strong candidate to make the practice squad.
SPECIAL TEAMS (5)
Nick Folk, Jake Bailey, Joe Cardona, Justin Bethel, Matthew Slater
The Patriots place optimal value on special teams, and that trend will continue into 2021. Folk remains steady and reliable, and should be the team’s best option at kicker. Jake 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.