Wide Receiver (5): Jakobi Meyers, DeVante Parker, Nelson Agholor, Kendrick Bourne, Tyquan Thornton
After second-pick Tyquan Thornton’s reported shoulder surgery, a veteran trade at wide receiver, as some speculated, was unlikely. Thornton could be headed to non-season ending injured reserve, where he can return after sitting out four games, which will likely open a roster spot for one of the surprise veteran cuts. There are bigger questions along the offensive line than at receiver, but overall speed and downfield separation are question marks until Thorton returns. Agholor had a good summer and is the best field-stretcher in the healthy group. Still, there were times this summer when there wasn’t much going on down the field. Plus, the Pats need Kendrick Bourne to flip a switch when the games start to count. The Patriots are significantly better at wide receiver compared to a few years ago, though, and Parker is already showing signs of chemistry on jump balls and fades with Mac Jones.
Lil’Jordan Humphrey did everything he could to earn a spot on the roster as a hybrid wide receiver. He can catch passes over the middle, run the seam, and play in the kicking game. However, most of his production this summer came against backups. Humphrey was never fully elevated past the second-team offense and seldom ran with Mac Jones in practice. Hopefully, there’s a spot for him on the practice squad. The same goes for Tre Nixon, who showed separation ability at the top of his routes. If the Pats want to fill Thornton’s roster spot with a wide receiver, Humphrey is the likely favorite, especially since the team is only carrying two tight ends.
After he reportedly suffered a concussion during joint practices with the Panthers, wide receiver Kristian Wilkerson was placed on season-ending injured reserve. Wilkerson could play for another team this season if he reaches an injury settlement.
Tight End (2): Hunter Henry, Jonnu Smith
Ultimately, the Patriots felt that 2020 third-round pick Devin Asiasi and Matt Sokol didn’t do enough to protect them on the 53-man roster, which is valid given that other depth players presented more upside. Asiasi never reached his potential. There were flashes of quickness through the top of his routes, and he held his own as an in-line blocker in his rookie season. But he never took steps forward in his development and didn’t make enough impact plays. Sokol was a pleasant surprise and would be a good fit on the practice squad. His in-line blocking was solid, which makes him a good third tight end. Expect one or both of Asiasi and Sokol to end up on the practice squad.
Offensive Line (8): Trent Brown, Cole Strange, David Andrews, Mike Onwenu, Isaiah Wynn, Justin Herron, Yodny Cajuste, Chasen Hines
The Patriots offensive line is a work in progress. The good news is that most issues appear assignment-based rather than blocking failures. New England isn’t getting hat-on-a-hat often enough up front, in the running or passing games. Heading into the season, the offensive line is the Pats biggest question mark because, on paper, the quarterback and skill players can make plays.
After months of speculation and a position switch, starting right tackle Isaiah Wynn is still with the Patriots. The best thing for Wynn and the team is for the 2018 first-round pick to re-focus and buy into the transition to right tackle. It’ll allow Wynn to cash out as a free agent next offseason, and the Pats best five on the O-Line includes Wynn at tackle.
Backup tackles Justin Herron and Yodny Cajuste earned roster spots after seeing time with the starting offensive line during camp due to injuries. Cajuste had a nice summer, showing the necessary foot speed to mirror edge rushers in pass protection. But he is too inconsistent to trust as a starting tackle. Cajsute offers upside and is worth a roster spot to develop behind the veteran starters.
Sixth-round pick Chasen Hines is an intriguing tools-based prospect. He needs to work on getting his hands on defenders rather than throwing a shoulder. But Hines’s athleticism and play strength were noticeable in the running game. Plus, he had active eyes in pass protection. The rookie can move people in the running game and is an explosive pull blocker on power or counter schemes. Hines fits well into New England’s traditional gap schemes.
Whether it’s call-ups from the practice squad or outside additions, the Patriots don’t typically go into the season this thin along the offensive line. We would expect more moves to come.
Defensive Line (6): Christian Barmore, Davon Godchaux, Lawrence Guy, Deatrich Wise, Carl Davis, Sam Roberts
There’s a lot to like about sixth-round pick Sam Roberts, who makes the roster after making the jump from the division two level to the NFL. Roberts is well built, has impressive initial quickness out his stance, and plays with good pad level to shoot into gaps. Roberts needs to develop as a natural two-gapper and find the ball more regularly rather than just beating the blocker in front of him. But he has enticing physical tools.
Our guy Carl Davis also made the initial 53-man roster. His two-gapping and block-eating abilities as a true nose tackle over the center are too good of a system fit to let walk out the door. A defensive line of Guy-Davis-Godchaux will be very stout against the run.
EDGE/Outside Linebacker (4): Matthew Judon, Josh Uche, Anfernee Jennings, DaMarcus Mitchell
A season-ending injury to 2021 third-round pick Ronnie Perkins opened the door for Mitchell, who has been repping all summer on multiple special teams units and flashed late as a pass rusher. Mitchell likely won’t contribute on defense this season, but he could be a game-day active due to his contributions in the kicking game.
Behind Pro Bowler Matt Judon, the Patriots are counting on big things from 2020 day-two picks Josh Uche and Anfernee Jennings. New England typically bases out of an odd front (3-4), meaning they’ll put two stand-up edge rushers on the field together. But they’ve also played even fronts (4-3) in certain matchups. Those even front looks could become more prevalent if Uche and Jennings can’t combine to fill an every-down role. The optimistic view is that Jennings has emerged as an early-down option setting the edge, while Uche has always shown promise as a pass-rusher. The duo has talent but needs to stay healthy this season.