December 4, 2021

Analyzing the Patriots’ initial 53-man roster: Why only 1 QB? Surprises at DB – Patriots Wire

The New England Patriots have their initial roster for the 2021 NFL season, and while they have 53 players on the roster at this moment, the team is likely to make additional moves, whether claiming players off waivers or signing guys in free agency. That’s inevitable because Bill Belichick is sure to stash a few players on injured reserve with the designation to return. (Players placed on IR before the 53-man deadline cannot return. Players placed on IR after the deadline can return after missing three games.)

But this depth chart is what we have to analyze — for now. Let’s take a look at the decisions Belichick and the Patriots made to get down to 53.

Quarterback (1)

Mac Jones

PUP: Jarrett Stidham

Cam Newton (Cut on Aug. 31, per the Boston Globe’s Jim McBride)
Brian Hoyer (Cut on Aug. 31, per the transaction wire.)

Analysis: It is almost symbolic that the Patriots decided to cut all the way down to one quarterback: Jones. He’s the present and the future. By releasing Newton, the Patriots made that clear. It will be all Jones all the time for the foreseeable future. Hoyer will likely return to the roster at some point in the next day or so. Stidham can return after six weeks.

The release of Newton was surprising.

“Hopefully you build a relationship that will last well beyond football. And I believe that’s the case here,” offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said on Wednesday.

The emergence of Jones was predictable.

“I really feel confident about his approach, his ability to process information and really his ability to make a mistake and learn from those,” McDaniels said. “He’s a great listener. … He’s really showed at a young age the ability to put those mistakes behind him.”

Running back (6)

Damien Harris
James White
Rhamondre Stevenson
J.J. Taylor
Brandon Bolden
Fullback Jakob Johnson

Sony Michel (Trade on Aug. 25)

Analysis: There weren’t any surprises past the Michel trade, which made sense at the time. New England had an obscene amount of depth and Michel was their best way of recouping value — even if it meant accepting a fourth-round pick for a player selected in the first round.

Receiver (6)

Matthew Slater
Nelson Agholor
Jakobi Meyers
Kendrick Bourne
Gunner Olszewski
N’Keal Harry

Tre Nixon (Cut on Aug 30)
Isaiah Zuber (waived on Aug. 31, per ESPN’s Mike Reiss)
Marvin Hall (cut on Aug. 25)
Kristian Wilkerson (Cut on Aug. 31, per PFF’s Doug Kyed)

Analysis: I was probably overthinking it when I wrote Wilkerson could supplant Olszewski after continued issues as a receiver. Ultimately, Gunner is a Pro Bowler. Belichick values that level of excellence.

The one mild surprise is that Harry is still on the team. He could end up on IR-return, and should be back soon after suffering a shoulder injury in the preseason. It will be interesting to see whether he can put up production in 2021 and revitalize a career that’s on a downward trajectory.

Tight end (3)

Jonnu Smith
Hunter Henry
Devin Asiasi

IR: Dalton Keene, Troy Fumagalli

Matt LaCossse (Cut on Aug. 31, per the Providence Journal’s Mark Daniels)

Analysis: No surprises here. I do wonder, however, whether the Patriots might add another option at tight end in the coming days.

Offensive line (10)

Isaiah Wynn
Michael Onwenu
David Andrews
Shaq Mason
Trent Brown
Ted Karras
Yasir Durant (acquired in a trade on Aug 30)
Justin Herron
Yodny Cajuste

IR: Marcus Martin

William Sherman (Cut on Aug 31, per ESPN’s Mike Reiss)
Alex Redmond (Cut on Aug 31, per PFF’s Doug Kyed)
Korey Cunningham (per the transaction wire)
James Ferentz (per the transaction wire)

Analysis: The Patriots are looking at a very deep group of linemen, with a whopping 10 players at the position. Durant joined the team at the last minute to help with the interior depth that Martin seemed likely to provide before his injury. Tackles Herron and Cajuste both have plenty of potential.

Safeties (4)

Devin McCourty
Adrian Philips
Kyle Dugger
Cody Davis

NFI/IR: Joshuah Bledsoe

Myles Bryant (Cut on Aug. 31, per PFF’s Doug Kyed)
Adrian Colbert (Cut on Aug 30)

Analysis: Bryant made contributions in 2020 on defense and special teams. He seemed to be playing well before the team cut him. That’s what made his cut a surprise. The team will hope to stash him on the practice squad, but he’s one player they may ultimately lose.

Cornerback (6)

J.C. Jackson
Jonathan Jones
Jalen Mills
Shaun Wade (acquired in a trade on Aug 26)
Joejuan Williams
Justin Bethel

PUP: Stephon Gilmore (moved to PUP on Tuesday)

D’Angelo Ross (Cut on Aug. 31, per PFF’s Doug Kyed)
Dee Virgin (cut on Aug. 31, per the Providence Journal’s Mark Daniels)

Analysis: Williams was the biggest beneficiary of Bryant’s departure. New England apparently deemed his special teams contributions valuable — and his defensive efforts salvageable.

The fact that the Patriots put Gilmore, who once said he should be ready for training camp, on PUP is a surprise. Gilmore could have gone on IR-return, which would get him back sooner. It’s hard to imagine Gilmore’s six-week absence to start the season is wholly injury-related. It seems related to his contract dispute, too.

Linebacker (9)

Dont’a Hightower
Ja’Whaun Bentley
Kyle Van Noy
Matt Judon
Josh Uche
Chase Winovich
Ronnie Perkins
Brandon King
Harvey Langi

PUP: Terez Hall
NFI: Cameron McGrone
IR: Raekwon McMillan, Anfernee Jennings

Analysis: It was impressive to see King, a special teams player, and Langi, a depth linebacker and special teams standout, make the roster. They were both a bit of a surprise, but clearly, the Patriots felt they needed to boost their special teams aptitude. Langi can provide depth at inside and outside linebacker. New England looks a little thin at inside linebacker, in particular.

Defensive line (7)

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

PUP: Byron Cowart

Bill Murray (Cut on Aug 30)
Montravious Adams (Cut on Aug. 31, per ESPN’s Adam Schefter)
Akeem Spence (Cut on Aug. 31, per PFF’s Doug Kyed)
Nick Thurman (per the transaction wire)
Tashawn Bower (per the transaction wire)

Analysis: Davis beat out Spence. That position battle was fierce, and while Spence started camp at the top, Davis battled his way on the ther final roster. Anderson, who didn’t have a particularly strong offseason, managed to earn a spot.

Specialists

Jake Bailey
Joe Cardona
Quinn Nordin

Nick Folk (Cut on Aug. 31, per ESPN’s Field Yates.)

Analysis: A stunner! The Patriots elected to go with a young and inconsistent kicker in Nordin. Folk hasn’t looked great, but he had been more accurate in camp. It will be interesting to see whether Nordin can keep his nerve throughout the season.