Hey there, football fans. While we enjoy the Celtics’ show of resilience and ignore the Red Sox’ ongoing jigsaw puzzle of a season (who fits where?), let’s delve into the Patriots’ swollen summer roster, shall we?
Instead of going with the players I think will make the final 53 – because no one gets them all right and no one remembers anyway – I’ll list the entire 90-man squad as of Wednesday evening, with some hot takes to be expected before training camp in late July. For a refresher on the new kids (no, not those New Kids), please read our “That Guy” 2017 Draft Review and our “Who’s the FA? UDFA!” rundown of undrafted free agents New England invited to camp.
A few positions also feature the Zach Sudfeld Nominee for the new roster addition who captures hearts during the preseason, much like the lanky tight end did in Foxboro way back in 2013. For a refresher, please read this Doug Kyed piece from NESN, which began, “Forget the breakout star in New England – Zach Sudfeld may be the breakout star of the NFL this summer.”
And you know what? Kyed had a point. Sudfeld had eight catches for 101 yards and one touchdown in four preseason games, seeming like a solid choice for a complement to Rob Gronkowski. Sudfeld went on to catch zero passes in three regular-season games, so the love was short-lived. His name now serves as shorthand for fans’ summer lovin‘. I’ve also included a few Summer Faves, i.e. players whom fans will like but won’t expect to make the September 53.
Regarding the hot takes, please keep in mind that, much like the pundits who will spew them, I do not believe in them. They’re for entertainment and preparation purposes only.
On to the roster!
Quarterback: Tom Brady, Jimmy Garoppolo, Jacoby Brissett
I mean, yeah. Right? No one could possibly think otherwise. Unless…
Toasty Take: The Pats should trade Garoppolo for a slew of picks after Brissett shows something in the preseason. “This Garoppolo kid? He’ll never be more valuable.”
Sizzlin’ Summer Take: After watching Garoppolo consistently demonstrate command of the offense in preseason, the brass trades Brady for an NFC team’s entire draft slate until 2020. “How long does Brady have? What about his concussions? Will Gisele let him play? This Garoppolo kid’s got amazing potential!”
Running Back: Mike Gillislee, James White, Rex Burkhead, Dion Lewis, D. J. Foster, Brandon Bolden, UDFA LeShun Daniels, Jr.; James Develin and Glenn Gronkowski (Fullbacks)
A deep, variable lineup. Gillislee has the potential to take over the time-consuming Blount carries, while Burkhead seems to have a little of everything. Oh, and White just set a bunch of Super Bowl records. Should be a fun group to watch this summer.
Zach Sudfeld Nominee: Foster. As the coaches rest White and Lewis, Foster will excel this summer, with the most chances to show off his receiving skills. Also keep an eye out for Daniels, who at 5-11, 222 pounds, will probably get some carries within a yard or two of the end zone.
Summer Fan Fave: Lil’ Gronk. He does so many Gronk-like things, just smaller. Someone get the Groot/Baby Groot comparisons going, stat!
Toasty Takes: They cut Bolden to make room for Burkhead; they cut Lewis to give Foster a chance. “Lewis can’t stay on the field! They love this Foster kid!”
Sizzlin’ Summer Take: They end up trading away Gillislee to Philly to get LeGarrette Blount back. “Gillislee has no locker-room presence. They miss Blount!” (Chances of this will increase exponentially if Gillislee fumbles.)
Wide Receiver: Julian Edelman, Brandin Cooks, Malcolm Mitchell, Chris Hogan, Danny Amendola, Matthew Slater, Devin Lucien, Andrew Hawkins, DeAndrew White, UDFA Austin Carr, UDFA Cody Hollister
Loaded with talent, the challenges will come with trying to discover the best combinations on the field and whether or not to add any youth to the aging mix. Cooks, for whom the Patriots traded a first-round pick, will come under close scrutiny regarding his ability to decipher the playbook. The clutch duo of Edelman and Amendola returns. Hogan lived up to expectations (and, in the case of his AFC Championship performance, beyond them). Mitchell, the first draft pick to make consistent, pressure-filled contributions in years, could break out as a sophomore.
I think it’s funny how we have to put Slater on this list. He’s caught one regular-season pass in his career. To put that in perspective, that’s only one more pass than (insert name of anyone you know here.) I mean, maybe he should be listed as a safety?
Zach Sudfeld Nominee: Rookie Carr had massive production at Northwestern and could thrive as a slot receiver in this offense, especially against second- and third-string defenders.
Summer Fan Fave: Whoever returns punts in place of Edelman or Amendola. If White, for example, brings one back 30-plus yards, he’ll get a fan reception he hasn’t seen outside of Tuscaloosa.
Toasty Take: New England should release Amendola after one of the young receivers starts to look pretty good. “They can’t justify paying that much to a guy who’s not that productive!”
Sizzlin’ Summer Take: Cooks is a huge disappointment (this particular take should be deployed upon Cooks’ first obvious training camp mix-up). “He just can’t figure it out. No one said he was smart!”
Scorchin’ Summer Take: They trade away Edelman. (This take begins after Carr has multiple catches in the second or third preseason game.) “He’s a new Edelman. They need to get younger at the position. That Super Bowl catch was all luck!”
Tight End: Rob Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen, James O’Shaughnessy, Matt Lengel, UDFA Jacob Hollister, UDFA Sam Cotton
I think we can all expect Gronk to have a slow-paced summer as the team brings him back from a surgery-shortened season. With Allen safely in the fold after a trade with Indianapolis, the third TE remains the spot in question. Lengel showed a solid understanding of the playbook and consistent blocking skills from different positions (in-line, backfield, motion). O’Shaughnessy’s a special teamer with eight receptions in two seasons, including two catches for -1 yard in 2016. Hollister caught 29 passes for 488 yards and six touchdowns at Wyoming last year. I know very little about Nebraska rookie Sam Cotton, but apparently the Patriots took some kind of a liking to him. (There’s probably a word for that.)
Zach Sudfeld Nominee: Hollister, who looks like the pass-catcher out of the new bunch. Summer scrimmage stats, baby!
Toasty Take: The Pats made a mistake letting Martellus Bennett go. “Dwayne Allen is fine, all right? But he’s no Martellus Bennett!”
Sizzlin’ Summer Take: Time to trade Gronk. He’s never on the field. “This Hollister kid can catch passes, and he’s so young and healthy!”
Tackle: Nate Solder, Marcus Cannon, Cameron Fleming, LaAdrian Waddle, fourth-rounder Tony Garcia, sixth-rounder Conor McDermott, UDFA Max Rich, UDFA Andrew Jelks
A surprising show of stability by Cannon at right guard brought everything together last season, helped along by the return of Coach Dante Scarnecchia, who should already have a book deal for his autobiography in the works. How about Dante’s Internal: The Innermost Thoughts of New England’s Longtime Coach? No? Whatever.
In any case, Solder’s presence gives Garcia and McDermott some time to learn and advance in the system. Fleming’s job may be in danger, though right now he’s the best backup in Foxboro. I get the feeling this O-line will change a lot in the next 12-24 months.
My Own Sincere Take: I have never been impressed with McDermott. He has the raw tools, but he has yet to put them together. Of course, if any coach can help him, it’s Scar.
Toasty Take: Solder gets traded to let Garcia learn on the job. “How else is he going to learn? Practicing against blocking sleds? Trial by fire!”
Sizzlin’ Summer Take: New England will have rookie starting tackles by September. “The team is too cheap. They’re mad at Brady for the concussion thing!”
Guard: Joe Thuney, Shaq Mason, Ted Karras, James Ferentz, Jamil Douglas, Chase Farris, UDFA Jason King, UDFA Cole Croston
A fundamentally well-executing pair, Thuney and Mason had some tough downs vs. bigger, stronger competition. Without any draft picks used on the interior, Bill Belichick could look for help here. As it stands, though, not a bad pair to be stuck with, and Karras has shown some promise.
Toasty Take: Mason gets replaced for a longer-limbed pass-blocker.
I know, I know. Not all that toasty.
Sizzlin’ Summer Take: Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels works up a new playbook without guards consisting of swinging gate plays. It is perfectly within the rules and lethally effective, causing NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to bleed from his tear ducts. “They’ve got to do something to shake things up. Besides, Belichick lives for this stuff!”
Center: David Andrews, UDFA Cole Croston
The Patriots just signed Andrews to a multi-year extension, not bad for an undrafted player entering his third year. Croston’s a bigger guy (6-5, 314 vs. Andrews’ 6-3, 295) but Andrews is stronger and quicker, and he has the trust of a certain guy we like to call Gisele’s neurological study subject.
Toasty Take: Croston takes over for Andrews. I mean, it could happen, I guess?
Sizzlin’ Summer Take: Pats coaches cut Andrews because, “They don’t like Georgia!” I don’t know. Seriously, I got nothing.
Defensive End/EDGE: Trey Flowers, Rob Ninkovich, Kony Ealy, Geneo Grissom, third-rounder Derek Rivers, fourth-rounder Deatrich Wise, UDFA Corey Vereen
The Patriots took Flowers in the fourth round in 2015. Nice pick. This year, they brought in more youth to be tutored by Ninkovich, a solid contributor whose locker room presence will set this crew on the proper path. Interested to see how often and in what way the team uses Ealy, who looks to position himself as a notable contributor. Rivers, New England’s top pick this year, has rare athleticism and seems only slightly less raw than sashimi. If Wise can follow the career of former Arkansas teammate Flowers, this position could stay in good shape for years to come.
Zach Sudfeld Nominee: Vereen has the kind of hustle that catches eyes and captures hearts. He should rack up some big plays against third-stringers and make the summer highlight reel. We could rename this the Justin Rogers Nominee, after the 2007 sixth-round edge player out of SMU who had a productive preseason in Foxboro and lasted until final cuts. (Confession: I loved Justin Rogers. Got picked up off waivers by Dallas and played special teams there for a couple of years.)
Summer Fan Fave: Grissom, a solid special teamer, should get some chances with the defense and make some plays. Hell, I’m rooting for him; there’s just not much room.
Toasty Take: Ninko’s out, Rivers is in. “He’s just not athletic, and that’s important.”
Sizzlin’ Summer Take: Rivers and/or Wise is/are total bust(s). “They just haven’t shown anything. This was a terrible draft!”
Lineman: Alan Branch, Malcom Brown, Lawrence Guy, Vincent Valentine, Woodrow Hamilton, Darius Kilgo, UDFA Josh Augusta, UDFA Adam Butler
Branch and Brown return to anchor the line, with Valentine seeking more time in the rotation after a strong playoff performance (including this goal-line stop vs. Pittsburgh). New England added Guy from free agency, an intriguing player (6-4, 305, 4.5 sacks for the Ravens in 2015) who spent seven seasons with three teams before coming to Foxboro. With some bigger, younger dudes like Hamilton (312 pounds), Kilgo (314) and Augusta (347!), the Pats have a chance to develop depth at the position.
Summer Fan Fave: Augusta. I mean, a humongous rookie who stepped in at fullback in college? If he gets just one snap as a backfield blocker in the preseason, the Foxboro fan base shall be smitten.
Toasty Take: With some murmurs about Brown’s disappointing effort this past season (ProJo’s Mark Daniels spells out the situation from last December here), any lack of playing time will be viewed as a condemnation of his status at Gillette. “Another first-round bust? What is wrong with Belichick’s drafts?!?”)
Sizzlin’ Summer Take: If the Patriots don’t start Augusta at the nose and go back to their 3-4, they’re missing a huge opportunity. “Belichick has clearly lost his touch. How old is he? He can’t evolve!”
Linebacker: Dont’a Hightower, Shea McClellin, Kyle Van Noy, Elandon Roberts, Jonathan Freeny, Trevor Bates, UDFA Harvey Langi, UDFA Ellis Brooks
Trading away Jamie Collins seemed to make no sense last season. Taking away the best athlete on that side of the ball seemed unnecessarily risky; however, a quick look at the highlights from the game up in Buffalo shows at least two occasions where Collins got himself out of position, hurting the defense and the team. So, to answer the question, “Are the Patriots better without Collins?” Maybe not on paper, but yes in terms of overall execution. The coaching staff will test this crew during summer scrimmages by seeing who fits where without Hightower on the field. The captain is more than the ‘backer glue, he’s the foundation. No one else listed above has his size-strength combo, so keep an eye on whether this crew can hold down the fort when he’s on the sidelines.
Zach Sudfeld Nominee: Langi got a $115,000 contract from the Patriots (thanks for the details, Mike Reiss), which seems like a serious downpayment for an undrafted player (read: the Pats must like him). Langi’s got decent size (6-2, 251) and speed (4.66 40), and made plays all over the field for BYU, even as a running back. Get them Langi jerseys ready! (Though, don’t, because he might not stay with 48.)
Summer Fan Fave: Bates is a quick-footed (6.75 3-cone) Maine alum who joined the Pats’ practice squad last fall. With a few well-timed plays, the former Westbrook, Maine resident seems like an ideal candidate to curry fan favor in the hot months.
Toasty Takes: Belichick is fine-tuning a way for McClellin to jump the line on passing plays (it’s now illegal vs. field goal attempts, but not during regular offensive downs, right?). “Juuuust by the edge of the rules, that guy.” Also, the Patriots will cut Van Noy because Langi looks so good. “They’ve got to go with the kid. Van Noy was never the answer. And by the way, how many BYU guys does one team need?”
Sizzlin’ Summer Take: If Hightower looks a little sluggish and/or doesn’t play much in the summer, look for trade rumors to start. “This is exactly like with Collins. Belichick doesn’t like that Hightower gets credit for two Super Bowl wins. BB hates the defense! The defense hates BB! So much hate everywhere!”
Magma Hot Summer Take: Belichick will cut all the linebackers and replace them with strong safeties to cater to today’s pass-first offenses. “He’s supposed to be a genius, but he’s going to outsmart himself!”
Cornerback: Malcolm Butler, Stephon Gilmore, Eric Rowe, Cyrus Jones, Jonathan Jones, Justin Coleman, UDFA Kenny Moore, UDFA D. J. Killings, UDFA Dwayne Thomas
Logan Ryan will be missed, but – again, on paper – after the addition of Gilmore and retention of Butler, this could be the team’s most talented corner crew in years. If Cyrus Jones can shake off the palpitation-inducing moments of his rookie year, he could become an essential contributor to this group. Wouldn’t be shocked to see a UDFA make it as a special teams player this fall.
Summer Fan Fave: D. J. Killings, if only for the awesome name-on-the-back-of-the-jersey potential.
Toasty Take: Gilmore is going to mess up at some point, and when he does, allusions to this play vs. Chris Hogan shall abound. (Also, if we’re going to belabor the point, to this play vs. Brian Tyms.) “You mean they spent all this money on this guy and didn’t extend Butler’s contract? They should call Gilmore ‘Quizno’s Sub’ because he’s always getting toasted!”
So, I guess a double entendre on “toasty.”
Sizzlin’ Summer Take: When someone plays well (Rowe, one of the Joneses, whoever), it’s time to trade away Butler. “He’s not happy here. Why not let him make money somewhere else? The Patriots are a selfish organization!”
Safety: Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon, Nate Ebner, Brandon King, Jordan Richards, UDFA Jason Thompson, UDFA David Jones, UDFA Damarius Travis
While I was half-kidding about the zero-linebacker defense, it’s easy to see that the Patriots value a stable of safeties, both for defense and special teams. The McCourty-Chung-Harmon combo remains intact, while Ebner and King partner with Slater to maintain a strong special teams base. The clock is ticking on Richards (“Second-round pick! Belichick the GM is hurting Belich-aaauuugh Ican’tbreathe!”), with a trio of undrafted rookies looking to make their marks.
Zach Sudfeld Nominee: Thompson, who had a notable pro day mentioned in our “Combine Snubs Who Showed ‘Em” series (where we compared him to Slater), has the athleticism (6.57 3-cone, 11-foot-1 broad jump) and experience at Utah to contribute on special teams right away. Should be a fun guy to watch develop.
Summer Fan Faves: I’m putting both Jones and Travis here, for different reasons. Jones can return punts and, if successful this summer, will get fans talking about him. He also had nine interceptions as a junior (his highlight reel is here). Travis, who’s more of a strong-safety type, hits like a locomotive with a grudge, as seen in this highlight reel.
Toasty Take: A few solid hits from Travis while Chung watches from the sidelines, and whispers will begin about replacing the veteran. “I mean, seriously: what has Chung really done? He was a bust! He was nothing coming out of college!”
Sizzlin’ Summer Take: McCourty’s time in New England is over. “I mean, it has to happen sometime, right? Belichick’s looking to replace him. The Patriots are notoriously cheap!”
Stephen Gostkowski, kicker; Ryan Allen, punter/holder; Joe Cardona, long snapper
Same triumvirate for the past two full seasons, ever since New England drafted Cardona in the 2015 fifth round. Gostkowski had an odd, up-and-down season, hitting 27 of 32 field goals (84.4 percent, lowest since 2012) and 46 of 49 extra-point attempts. Those three PAT misses (plus three in three playoff games over the past two seasons) marked the first misfires since Gostkowski’s rookie year in 2006, when he doinked one. Allen, a UDFA from 2013, remained steady, averaging 44.7 yards per punt (with a career-high 41.4 net) while dropping 23 footballs inside the 20. We don’t really talk about Cardona much beyond his Navy status, which is the perfect scenario for a long snapper.
Summer Fan Fave: The Patriots tried out kicker Josh Gable at rookie camp. The second he – or any other new kicker – gets on the turf at Gillette and makes a PAT, the next missile-toed messiah shall be anointed. Plus, Gable has a series of trick shot videos posted online that will attract any pundit. “I mean, if the kid can hit the goal post on purpose instead of by accident – sign him up!”
Toasty Take: If Cardona misses one or two snaps, some idiot will blame the Navy. “Let’s be realistic, here: being in the NFL is a full-time job, right? He’s lost focus. No disrespect, but they should cut him.”
Sizzlin’ Summer Take: With their success in the Super Bowl, Belichick should forego the PAT and try the two-point conversion every time. “They got a 100 percent success rate in the Super Bowl. All you need is 50 percent to break even. Belichick’s totally going to do this! He loves math!”
Man, these hot takes can get exhausting. Training camp begins in late July. Better rest up.
Chris Warner is just going to enjoy the 2017 season. No revenge, no nonsense, only a very good team working on playing well. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter @cwarn89.