Roster cut-down day is nearing for all 32 NFL teams. I’ve decided to try my luck at predicting what the illustrious and unpredictable Bill Belichick’s roster will look like with just 53 players. For my third and final piece on this subject, I’ll look into linebackers, cornerbacks and safeties, along with who our kicker, punter and long-snapper are.
Patriots Linebackers (6)
Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins, Ja’Whaun Bentley, Calvin Munson, Elandon Roberts
Hightower is hands-down the Patriots best linebacker. He can stop the run, rush the passer and drop into coverage. Hightower can also play on the inside or on the outside. He is dependable, versatile and effective. No doubt he will make the roster.
Van Noy burst onto the scene after being traded by the Lions to New England in 2016. Van Noy started just 7 games out of a possible 30 for the Lions in 3 seasons, recording just 1 sack and 36 tackles. In his three seasons with New England, he started 30 of a possible 36 games with 2 interceptions, 2 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries, a touchdown, 10 sacks and 192 tackles. He has taken over as the Patriots number two linebacker. He can cover really well, but he is also a solid pass-rusher across from Hightower.
Jamie Collins and Ja’Whaun Bentley
Collins was the Patriots top linebacker in 2016 before he was shockingly traded half-way through that season to the Browns. He had played from 2013 to 2016 and performed well the whole way. He recorded 41 starts in 50 total games played with 5 interceptions, 10 forced fumbles, 4 fumble recoveries, a touchdown, 10.5 sacks and 326 tackles. From the half-way point of 2016 to 2018 with the Browns, his stats were far less impressive.
He recorded 30 starts in 30 total games played with 2 interceptions, 3 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery, 7 sacks and 204 tackles. Collins was a free agent this off-season and decided to return to the Patriots. He has looked dominant this summer. He is probably the best coverage linebacker and has the potential to be the best pass-rusher too. Collins could rotate with Van Noy on the outside or swing to the inside linebacker spot.
Bentley was drafted in the fifth round, 143rd overall, in the 2018 draft by the Patriots. He impressed last off-season and started 2 of the first 3 games last year. However, he suffered an injury that ended what was a promising rookie year. He has done well this summer and in the preseason, not taking any steps back. So, with his continued success and the fact that he was a starter before going down last year, it’s very unlikely he would be released. Bentley is good in coverage but lacks in pass-rush. He is more of an interior linebacker, which means he could be the Patriots starting middle linebacker.
Calvin Munson and Elandon Roberts
Munson and Roberts are battling for one spot, at least according to many analysts. However, I have both making my roster. However, if it did come down to one spot, the Patriots should keep Munson and trade Roberts. Munson has been super impressive this season while Roberts hasn’t exactly done the same. But Roberts started 11 of the 16 Patriots games last season and deserves to stick around, at the very least as a rotational player with Bentley and Munson on the inside.
Injured Patriots Linebackers
Shilique Calhoun and Brandon King are both currently injured, with King on injured reserve. Calhoun has been super impressive this preseason as a pass-rusher and run-stopper. King has been a special teams’ ace for the Patriots for a couple of seasons and was likely a roster lock before he suffered a major injury in the third preseason game. I had Calhoun making it before I began writing this article, but he hasn’t been practising or playing since preseason week 2. That being said, I made the decision to waive him with an injury designation similar to that of Maurice Harris, with a chance to be brought back, if healthy, with an injury settlement when week 8 rolls around.
Who The Patriots Cut
Terez Hall, Christian Sam and Scooby Wright get booted. Hall is a decent player, but with the competition at linebacker, there is a very small chance he actually makes it. It’s an even smaller chance he gets snuck onto the practice squad. So, I feel as though the Patriots will attempt to waive him to the practice squad and thus, he gets claimed by another team.
As for Sam, he too can play. He was very underwhelming last summer when initial reports were that he could be a sneaky good player for the Patriots. But again, with the fact that the Patriots have so many good linebackers and Sam is too good to be placed on the practice squad, I see him getting claimed by another team or traded away for a late draft pick.
Wright was brought in earlier this week by the Patriots. However, it’s due to the fact that the Patriots are without Calhoun and King at linebacker and are not going to play Hightower, Van Noy, Bentley, and Collins. That would have left them with Roberts, Munson, Hall and Sam, which is too small of a group to work with. Wright is simply a filler for the week. I don’t see him making the roster.
Patriots Cornerbacks (6)
Stephon Gilmore, Jason McCourty, JC Jackson, Jonathan Jones, Joejuan Williams, Keion Crossen
Gilmore is arguably one of the best corners in the league. He will without a doubt make the team. Jason McCourty proved his value last season and has looked good this summer. He too should easily make the team.
JC Jackson was an undrafted corner from last years draft. He played 13 games, starting 5, last season. Jackson earned those games as he was extremely impressive in camp last summer. He recorded 3 interceptions and 6 pass break-ups and allowed one of the lowest quarterback ratings when targeted (per Doug Kyed of NESN). Jackson will likely rotate with Jason McCourty as an outside corner, with the ability to play slot depending on the matchups.
Jonathan Jones is a really good slot corner. He did extremely well last season covering speedy slot receivers, even managing to give Tyreek Hill problems in the AFC Conference Championship game. With those performances, he has a spot on the team. He will certainly be the top slot corner, with Jackson giving him some rest between plays or based on matchups.
Williams and Crossen
Joejuan Williams was selected in the second round of this past draft, meaning he will absolutely make the team. He is a physical corner with real good size (6’4, 208Ibs) and, depending on matchups, will rotate in and out with both Jackson and Jason McCourty.
Keion Crossen is a really good special teams’ player for the Patriots. This off-season, it has been made clear that he is firmly on the roster bubble and competing with Duke Dawson for a spot (more on him later). With the fact that he played a big role on special teams’ already, I feel as though the Patriots should hang onto him this season.
Injured and Practice Squad Cornerbacks
D’Angelo Ross was an undrafted free agent out of New Mexico. He’s undersized, standing at 5’9, 190Ibs. Ross was impressive at camp but went down with an injury before the preseason began. He was placed on IR.
As for the practice squad, I have Obi Melifonwu getting waived. Melifonwu looks like a linebacker (6’4, 224Ibs) and is a freakish athlete. Unfortunately, he hasn’t really shined and is a longshot for making the roster. On a positive note, his lack of positive and negative news allows the Patriots to sneak him onto the practice squad for this season.
Who Gets Cut?
Ken Webster is the lone corner getting released. He was drafted in the seventh round, 252nd overall, in the last draft. He could be a practice squad candidate, but he is less deserving than the ones who made the 10-player list in my predictions.
Patriots Safeties (6)
Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon, Terrance Brooks, Nate Ebner, Duke Dawson
Devin McCourty has been with the Patriots since 2010 and has been a starter since. He has been a leader and a role model on the Patriots defense. He will, without a doubt, be on the final 53-man roster.
Chung has been dealing with legal situations. He was charged with a felony for the possession of cocaine but has been battling against that. Despite that, it has been talked about clearly by New England reporters that if he were to face any discipline, it would effect next season. For that reason, he will likely make the roster, though I still feel iffy about having him here. Time will tell.
Harmon has been with the Patriots since 2013 but has never been a consistent starter. Reason being Chung and McCourty being around longer and keeping him back on the depth chart. Harmon has proven to be very reliable, playing corner and linebacker in the past. He has also risen as a leader in the locker room and a role model for young players. I see him as a lock.
Brooks and Ebner
Brooks has been a surprisingly good player this summer. I see him as a fourth safety, rotating with Chung, McCourty and Harmon. He won’t have a large role, but he’s worthy of sticking around. Ebner is more of a special teams’ player than a true safety, but he does have some value there.
Dawson has been not-so-good since joining the Patriots in 2017. As a second-rounder, he was expected to play a somewhat big role. Both starting safeties Chung and Devin McCourty are getting up there in age and it’s only a matter of time before they begin a decline or retire. Dawson could rotate in and out with those two players to decrease their workload and prolong their careers.
However, he struggled in camp and got injured. He returned for week 8 but did not play a single game. He was also held out of playoff games. This summer, he struggled even more than last year. Keion Crossen, who was considered his direct competition for a roster spot but is only utilized as a special teamer, was performing much better than Dawson.
But after preseason week 2, he started to piece together some decent practices and had a quiet week 3. Quiet, by the way, is better than hearing bad news on his game. With his slight improvements, I feel as though he could be kept around. Again, he was a former second-rounder and you don’t release a second-rounder after one full season that was shortened by injuries.
Practice Squad Safeties
There is only one spot left on the practice squad and it comes down to the final skill-position group on the defensive side of the ball. Malik Gant was my tenth and final selection to be waived to the practice squad.
Gant was a walk-on at Marshall and earned a scholarship in 2017. His determination and work ethic was tested heavily in college, yet he pushed right through it. He was projected to go in the 5th or 6th rounds but instead wound up undrafted. He is a good special teams’ player and has the upside to be a depth option as a safety, similar to Nate Ebner. Hasn’t built up enough film to garner interest from other teams just yet, but we all know Belichick loves a hard-working player who follows the “Do Your Job” mantra. Gant checks those boxes and I feel as though he is deserving of that last practice squad spot.
Patriots Special Teamers
Gostkowski is the only Patriots kicker on the depth chart, so there’s no denying his spot on the team. He has been one of the best kickers in the NFL for a long time now but has seen some decline in his game. Gostkowski has missed three field goals thus far in preseason. He has also missed at least one field goal in every single Super Bowl game that he has played in. Is this Gostkowski’s last season as a Patriot? It could be if he doesn’t start hitting field goals more consistently.
Bailey was locked into a hard-nosed competition against Patriots veteran punter Ryan Allen. Allen was coming off one of the best Super Bowl performances a punter could possibly have but that didn’t make Bailey hesitate. He kept at it and eventually won out for the position. His best trait which I believe led to the release of Allen was the fact that he can handle kickoffs. Gostkowski has handled kickoffs ever since Allen was with the team and that was relatively the time he began looking less and less like the Gostkowski he once was. Maybe Bailey taking over for kickoffs will help get Gostkowski back on track. The one down-side; Bailey isn’t the best holder for field goals and extra points. But that’s more than coachable and as he gains chemistry with Gostkowski, he should do just fine.
Long Snapper (1)
Cardona has been the Patriots long-snapper since 2015. Fun fact: the Patriots drafted Cardona in the fifth round in 2015, marking the fourth time in NFL history (and the second time in Patriots history) that a pure long-snapper was selected. Another fun fact: Cardona holds the ranking of Lieutenant in the US Naval Reserve after graduating from the US Naval Academy. He’s a lock on the team for being the only pure long-snapper and the fact that he has been at it for so long.
I have finally finished the series on my roster predictions! I have the full 53-man roster filled out, along with the entire 10-man practice squad. There was also one free spot held by an International Pathway player. There are also seven injured players, four of which have the chance to return mid-way through the season. There’s one player I have making the roster that is suspended and won’t count against the roster until his return.
In all, I released 18 total players, not counting the release of three others prior to my articles.
Following Friday, August 30th, which marks the cut-down day, I will look into who I believe will start and where when the season begins, along with the results of my predictions.
Thank you to all the people that have followed my roster prediction series! If you have missed my first two parts, check them out here:
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All stats via football-reference