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Patriots position-by-position roster breakdown


With the Patriots nearly three weeks into training camp, some players have already put their stamp on roster spots, while others are still trying to make an impression.

It was interesting that head coach Bill Belichick opted to sit most – if not all – of his starters, including quarterback Mac Jones, for the preseason opener against the Giants.

That left a significant number of projected backups and rookies to state their case. The way it looks, with arguably 40 spots pretty much locked up, there are a dozen or so jobs still up for grabs in the coming weeks.

That said, here’s a look at how each position group shakes out with joint practices on tap with the Carolina Panthers starting Tuesday.


Mac Jones’ frustration with the new offense still not clicking has been noticeable during recent practices. Along with an offensive line that hasn’t protected him very well, allowing free pass-rushers to blow up plays much too frequently, Jones also hasn’t risen to the occasion. He just doesn’t seem comfortable or confident with what’s going on around him. On Tuesday, however, he vowed to “figure it out” so we’ll see how that goes this week against the Panthers.

Brian Hoyer looks like he’ll be the primary backup, not to mention sounding board for Jones. He played well in the preseason game, hitting rookie Tyquan Thornton with a touchdown pass during his second series.

Rookie Bailey Zappe is clearly in his developmental phase, but showed signs of promise against the Giants, rallying the team back before the G-Men eventually kicked a game-winning field goal.

When the smoke clears, the feeling here is the Patriots will go with three quarterbacks to start the season.

Running back

The Patriots have a good one-two punch with Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson. While there hasn’t been much running room during the 11-on-11 sessions at practice, these two should provide a solid running game, once the line fully grasps the outside zone running scheme.

The biggest question here is who will replace the now retired James White in the third-down back role.

Ty Montgomery, who has the versatility to line up at receiver as well as running back, seems to be in the lead for that job. The veteran has had a good camp.

Rookie Pierre Strong, another in contention for the third-down role, is just getting his feet wet. He has a promising future, but Belichick might not want to trust a rookie in blitz pick-up situations. Strong looks like he needs a little work there, as he missed a block against the Giants in the preseason opener Thursday night.

Neither Strong nor fellow rookie Kevin Harris have really flashed as yet. It was pretty tough sledding for the duo against the Giants. But there’s still time.

There’s also the possibility that Stevenson will be utilized in the third-down back role.

Third-year back J.J. Taylor, meanwhile, saw a lot of action against the Giants both as a running back, and kick returner. He’s on the roster bubble.

Wide receiver

The Patriots might not have a bona fide difference-maker at receiver, but they do have a ton of depth at the position.

After DeVante Parker, Kendrick Bourne, Jakobi Meyers and Nelson Agholor, there’s plenty of competition to either join the top four, or possibly edge out someone.

Leading the way is rookie Tyquan Thornton. After showing flashes at camp, his overall speed and route-running ability were on full display against the Giants.

The Patriots second-round pick hit pay dirt, pulling in a touchdown pass from Hoyer in the first quarter. The former Baylor star battled through a defensive holding penalty in the end zone en route to the score.

Thus far, playing at a level up in competition hasn’t overwhelmed the rookie. Thornton’s long speed makes him unique among the group of receivers. He’s sure to make the team, the question is whether the Patriots will move one of the top four in order to afford him a bigger role.

Agholor’s name has come up, but given his contract, he’s going to be really tough to move. Not impossible, just tough.

If that happens, Tre Nixon, who seems to be a favorite of Belichick;, Kristian Wilkerson, who was the leading receiver against the Giants; and Lil’ Jordan Humphrey are likely battling for one spot to join Thornton.

In terms of the top guns, Parker has pretty much come as advertised. He’s been very good when it comes to making contested catches. Bourne started well, but disappeared a bit last week, while Meyers continues to be a reliable, go-to-guy for Jones.

Agholor has made some plays, and seems more comfortable than last year. If the Pats want to keep Thornton and one other receiver from the above group, or simply give Thornton more opportunities to make an impact, they’ll have to figure out what to do with Agholor, who signed a two-year, $22 million deal with the team last year.

Tight end

Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith have both enjoyed decent camps. Henry continues to make plays in the red zone, while Smith looks better, and more confident than last year.

It remains to be seen exactly how he will be employed in the new offense, and how well they can take advantage of his skill set.

After Henry and Smith, there’s a huge gap. Both Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene are hurt, which has been an ongoing storyline for both 2020 third-round picks. Of the two, Asiasi was more involved, and seemed poised to land a third spot behind Henry and Smith before suffering the injury.

Matt Sokol is the other tight end on the roster, but he’s a long shot to make the team.

Offensive line

It’s hard not to look at the struggles of the line and see it as being the top reason the new offense and outside zone scheme has been a train wreck.

Whether it’s the starting unit, or second unit, the linemen have had a tough time adapting. That has to change if the new offense is going to have a chance to succeed.

On the positive side, a trimmed-down Trent Brown is back at left tackle and determined to show he’s among the best in the game. Rookie first-round pick Cole Strange looks like he he’s going to be a long-time fixture on the line, but he’s still a little rough around the edges.

Center David Andrews, meanwhile, has been notable for his leadership, addressing the team after one poor practice, while also doing a bit of coaching.

During the Giants game, he had a tablet on the bench and appeared to be handling some of the offensive line assignments while Matt Patricia called plays.

Michael Onwenu has been rotating at right guard with James Ferentz and Arlington Hambright. Onwenu is not best suited to an outside zone scheme, so we’ll see how it plays out with him.

Isaiah Wynn is earmarked for right tackle, but he’s hurt. Yodny Cajuste has looked the best of the replacements. Justin Herron has endured a rough training camp. Both were injured against the Giants.

So right now, there are more questions than answers with this group.

Defensive line

Christian Barmore is the headliner here. The question with him, is whether he’ll just be a force on pass-rush downs, which was the case as a rookie last year, or whether he can an impact as an every-down defender up front.

Davon Godchaux, Lawrence Guy and Deatrich Wise will be in the mix up front. Godchaux got the pay bump. We’ll see if he can be a little more consistent than last year. The Patriots need to do a better job against the run. It would help if Godchaux rises to the occasion.

Carl Davis played well against the Giants, and should earn a job as a backup nose tackle. Henry Anderson might also wind up on the final 53, but there’s some competition brewing with some of the younger players showing well.

Rookie Sam Roberts hasn’t stood out during practice, but against the Giants, the seventh-round pick was very noticeable, generating pressure on almost every down.

Interior lineman LaBryan Ray, an undrafted rookie out of Alabama, has also looked good in practice and has made a push to make the team.


The Patriots desperately wanted to get speedier with this group, especially with their off-the-ball ’backers. Judging by how it looked against the Giants in particular, they have made some strides toward that goal.

Mack Wilson, acquired in the offseason trade that send Chase Winovich to the Cleveland Browns, clearly has some speed and athleticism. He had five tackles against the Giants and seemed to be buzzing all over the field.

Wilson is expected to be used situationally along with Ja’Whaun Bentley and Raekwon McMillan.

Jahlani Tavai appeared to have a spot on the roster locked up, but suffered an injury last week. As for Cameron McGrone, he still hasn’t moved the needle despite all the offseason buildup.

On the outside, third-year edge rusher Josh Uche has made his usual training camp splash. He sacked Giants QB Daniel Jones Thursday night. Anfernee Jennings, meanwhile, has been one of the surprises in camp. He also got to Jones, with his monster hit on the Giants quarterback on third down ultimately forcing a field goal.

At this point, either Uche or Jennings, or both, will be used to play opposite Matthew Judon.

Ronnie Perkins, meanwhile, is well behind that group.


This is perhaps the team’s best overall position, and little has happened to change that narrative.

Newcomer Jabrill Peppers is off the PUP list, but still isn’t doing much in the way of team drills. He’ll get there eventually. Adrian Phillips and Kyle Dugger have done most of the heavy lifting, with Devin McCourty chipping in around the veteran breaks he’s been given. So those four are in the lock category.

Second-year player Joshuah Bledsoe, who missed all of last season due to injury, came out strong in the early days of camp and remains in the hunt.

Brenden Schooler, an undrafted free agent, has spent a lot of time with the group of core special-teamers, which is his ticket to making the roster. He’s also part of the backup squad at the position.


There’s definitely some intrigue with this group. Jalen Mills can be penciled into one of the boundary spots, but after that, it gets a little murky.

The Patriots seem to be moving toward having Jonathan Jones, normally a slot corner, play out on the boundary, with rookie Marcus Jones taking over in the slot.

Looking at the Patriots first opponent, it’s possible they’ll use this alignment to try and combat Miami’s Tyreek Hill, Jaylen Waddle and Cedrick Wilson.

Or, they’re simply experimenting, considering they have more depth at slot corner, than out on the boundary.

Terrance Mitchell, a veteran journeyman, has played surprisingly well on the outside. He was one of their best defenders against the Giants.

As for Malcolm Butler, he’s struggled defending the long ball throughout camp. He’s been better in the red zone. He’s fighting for a spot.

Along with Marcus Jones, rookie Jack Jones looks the part. He’s a confident kid, and should provide help out on the boundary, whether he starts, or adds depth.

Myles Bryant has looked good, both in coverage, and as a returner.

Shaun Wade and Joejuan Williams appear on the outside looking in.

Special teams

Nick Folk, Jake Bailey and Joe Cardona should once again handle the kicking, punting, and long-snapper duties.

Punter Jake Julien and kicker Tristan Vizcaino have both had practice and game reps, but they’re basically window dressing. They’re lessening the load on Bailey and Folk.

The core special-teamers should once again be led by Matthew Slater, along with Justin Bethel, and Cody Davis. It’ll be interesting to see if undrafted rookie Schooler can join the group. It certainly looks like he’s being groomed for a role.

Myles Bryant, meanwhile, did a good job returning punts Thursday night. Will rookie Marcus Jones, the best returner in the country last year, beat him out?

Taylor and Nixon returned kicks against the Giants.


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