Thursday, September 7th. Three weeks from this evening, the 2017 NFL season kicks off in Foxborough, Massachusetts. You can pretty much be guaranteed of three things happening. The 95 will become a parking lot after the game. Andy Reid will be disappointed in whatever bbq he finds in the area (but he’ll still eat it). And grown men will pretend like they’re 16 year old girls seeing the Beatles step off the plane when Tom Brady (christened the Greatest American Hero Alive by The Dude) runs out of the tunnel.
As we prepare for game 2 of the NFL pre-season (something that has become all but meaningless for the Patriots. Following joint practices with the Jaguars, and Texans, and an additional joint practice scheduled with the Lions, Belichick is truly turning the pre-season into a JV schedule as his core guys are getting reps in a controlled practice environment) we’ll take a look at whom we project to be the final 53 when the final cuts are made.
In this years draft New England was regulated to 4 selections thanks to trades for WR Brandin Cooks, TE James O’Shaughnessy, and TE Dwayne Allen, as well as the loss of a 4th rounder from the Ted Wells “Investigation”. Using 2 selections on edge rushers, and 2 on offensive tackles the Pats went heavy on a large Undrafted Rookie Free Agent class (UDRFA). In my projections 3 of those UDFA and 3 of the draftees make the final roster.
Keep in mind the term “final roster” in the NFL is a very fluid term. Injuries, alterations in needs due to scheme, production, etc. will result in numerous cuts, signings, cuts, re-signings, practice squad additions, etc. during the season. Additionally the Patriots have been known to make trades during training camp when they see an opportunity. With CB Eric Rowe being last year’s best example.
So with all that in mind, lets get right into it. Feel free to check back September 7th to see how many I nailed. Trust me, if the results are subpar, I’ll hear about it from those other Duckers.
Easily the easiest group to predict. No surprises here
I wouldn’t say there are any shocking cuts, but maybe some names you’re familiar with. (Brandon Bolden, DJ Foster, and Glenn Gronkowski) This is a group without any headliners, but is productive top to bottom. Plus, don’t forget the Patriots have never lost a regular season, or playoff game when Dion Lewis is suited up.
James Develin (FB)
It’ll be fun to see what Brandin Cooks brings to the offense. If they can all remain healthy, it’ll be really tough for defenses to cover Gronkowski, Cooks, and Edelman (let alone everyone else). There is a mildly surprising cut here in that I don’t see Danny Amendola making the final cut as Belichick may see Edelman’s eventual successor in Northwestern grad Austin Carr.
Matt Slater (ST)
The question here is who makes the team as the 3rd TE? Holdover Matt Lengel? Trade acquisition James O’Shaughnessy? Or rookie free agent Jacob Hollister?
The biggest question seems to be whom from the Cam Fleming/LaAdrian Waddle group makes it? With Hollister being my selection as 3rd TE, I think that lends the advantage to Fleming who has grown accustomed to playing as a blocking TE in jumbo packages. Conor McDermott is the lone draftee I see getting cut, but is a likely practice squad signee.
A small but stout group. I only see 4 guys making the team, but could certainly see Josh Augusta making the practice squad. You’ll also see some “edge” guys kicked inside fairly frequently, an area I could see off season trade target Kony Ealy excel.
This is a group with no superstar, no Von Miller, JJ Watt, Tamba Hali. Though it wouldn’t be shocking based upon his 2nd half and playoff run to see Trey Flowers make that leap. But there is a lot of depth and versatility here. Keep in mind with the Pats “edge” guys, that means they could end up anywhere from inside linebacker (McClellin) to inside rusher (Ealy)
Kyle Van Noy
Again, Bill Belichick values versatility. David Harris and Elandon Roberts are pretty much set as straight, stand up line backers. But the others Hightower and Langi would have no issues putting a hand in the dirt and pinning their ears back. Rutgers product and special teams contributor Jonathan Freeney gets beat out by BYU UDRFA backer Langi for the final spot.
I’ve gone back and forth on the 5th cornerback position a few times. At the end of the day I think that the staff knows what they can expect from Justin Coleman, that he’s reached the peak of what he can be, and I don’t know that its significantly better than Cyrus Jones on an “average” day. Granted Jones’ struggles, when they occur, have been very noticeable, but he still has a higher upside, and its tough to give up on a 2nd rounder after just 1 season.
This really is a 3 man rotation as Ebner and King are pretty close to strictly special teams players. Its not a coincidence that the Patriots special teams are always one of the league’s top units. No other teams invests as much draft and roster capital into players who’s primary function is that of a special teamer. In New England it truly is a third unit, and not just an after thought.
You legitimately could list 6 guys here with Slater, Ebner, and King, but since they’re already listed under the positions they’re listed as on the roster, we’ll just name the 3. There are zero surprises here.
So there you have it, your 2017 New England Patriots. As shown above, this 53 will include 14 guys that were not with the team when they came back from 28-3 in February’s Superbowl. It also includes 6 rookies. In contrast, it is expected that the Boston Celtic’s 15 man roster will have 6 rookies when they break camp in October.
Get ready, get your wings order, your beers chilled, and your big screen tilted just the way you like it. We’re only 3 weeks from opening night!
- Jason Sullivan
- You can find me on Twitter at @TopDucker