Football is less than three months away. The New England Patriots have certainly made it tough for their fans and followers to wait until the jerseys are donned and the laces are tied.
After making headline acquisition time and time again throughout the 2017 NFL offseason, the Patriots are favored by almost everybody in the football community to reach, and win their sixth title in franchise history. With head coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady at the helm yet again, the supporting cast is arguably as talented as Belichick has deployed in his 17th season as the Patriots’ head honcho.
Let’s take a look at the projected depth chart heading into offseason workouts.
Most eyes were drawn to whether backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo was going to be traded this offseason, but as ESPN’s Insider, Adam Schefter, reported, the Patriots had no intention to move the talented, 25 year old Garoppolo.
Brady will obviously hold his starting job, while Brissett learns for another year, under quarterback guru and Patriots offensive coordinator, Josh McDaniels.
Offseason acquisitions Mike Gillislee and Rex Burkhead look to lead a new look backfield. James White will particularly be used in passing game heavy gameplans, as well as clear passing situations.
Dion Lewis looks to be their utility player, specifically being used in advantageous situations. Bolden is on the roster bubble, since Burkhead is essentially Bolden, but more talented. The Patriots will look to stash D.J. Foster in the practice squad again, although another team may be intrigued by his skill set.
James Develin had a great season last year and was rewarded with a contract this offseason, and is slated to be the starting fullback to an offense that hadn’t used a fullback in years.
Brandin Cooks is the big name player in this group, and for good reason. Edelman is still the oil that runs this machine. His over the middle route running and lateral quickness makes him lethal.
Both Hogan and Mitchell clicked with Brady in their first year, a rarity in the Patriots complex system. Amendola provides insurance for Edelman, as well as the knack for big time plays.
Slater remains a special teams captain, and one of the best at his job in the league. Austin Carr has a legitimate chance at making the roster if there is an early season injury, or the Patriots may stash him on the practice squad.
The group that comes out of the preseason will ultimately depend on the health of star tight end Rob Gronkowksi. Dwayne Allen provides excellent insurance for a team that depends on a tight end who can both block and effectively run routes and catch the ball.
The third tight end spot seems to be up for grabs though. O’Shaughnessy was acquired during the draft, and is primarily a special teamer. Hollister is an undrafted free agent, who had a productive college career and may have a spot on an NFL roster.
The Patriots look to bring back the same starting five from the previous year for the first time in a while. Continuity is so underrated when it comes to the offensive line, and it really showed last season, as the same five players started all but one game.
Tony Garcia and Conor McDermott seem to be heading towards the Nate Solder route, as they develop and get spot time in order to prepare for Solder’s potential replacement, as his contract is up after the 2017 campaign.
The Patriots seem to be starting a trend with undersized, yet athletic interior offensive linemen, such as guards Joe Thuney, Shaq Mason and David Andrews. All of them are under the age of 25, so expect further improvement from them.
If you’re a Patriots fan, this unit should make you giddy for the now and the future. The interior offensive linemen are young as just stated, and the two tackles are two of the best at their respective positions, with some rookie reinforcements ready to be developed.
Defensive Line (14): Kony Ealy, Alan Branch, Malcolm Brown, Trey Flowers, Lawrence Guy, Vincent Valentine, Derek Rivers, Deatrich Wise, Woodrow Hamilton, Geneo Grissom, Darius Kilgo, Josh Augusta, Corey Vereen, Adam Butler
The defensive line looks to be a terror for opposing offenses. Branch and Brown are as good a tandem as any other in the league, in terms of stopping the run.
Look for Trey Flowers to build on his terrific second half, as well as his dominating Super Bowl performance, and develop into an all around edge rusher.
Ealy is a talented player who has yet to reach his potential. Being coached up by Bill Belichick will sure change that. Rivers and Wise will get their snaps, more specifically Rivers, who seems to slot as the passing down get after the quarterback edge rusher.
Linebackers (9): Dont’a Hightower, Elandon Roberts, Rob Ninkovich, Shea McClellin, Kyle Van Noy, Jonathan Freeny, Harvey Langi, Trevor Bates, Brooks Ellis
Here lies some issues with the Patriots. Had they not re-signed Dont’a Hightower, this group could be looking a lot worse. But even with Hightower on the roster, the linebacking corps is weak.
Roberts is a downhill tackler, and struggles with coverage. The same can be said about McClellin, Van Noy and Freeny.
Ninkovich is being forced into a stand up linebacker role, simply because they do not have the talented bodies you would hope in the middle of the defense.
Cornerback (8): Malcolm Butler, Stephon Gilmore, Eric Rowe, Cyrus Jones, Justin Coleman, Jonathan Jones, Kenny Moore, Dwayne Thomas
Butler and Gilmore make for one of the best cornerback tandems in the league, combining compete, quickness and size, allowing Belichick to mix and match all he wants.
Rowe and Cyrus Jones are important pieces for this secondary, and Patriots fans hope Jones’ special teams gaffes were just rookie mistakes.
Justin Coleman showed potential in 2015 but took a major step back last season.
Safety (10): Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon, Nate Ebner, Jordan Richards, Brandon King, David Jones, Jason Thompson, D.J. Killings, Damarius Travis
McCourty proved again why he is one of the best safeties in the game last season, and he is one of the most underrated players in the league.
Patrick Chung was not as dominating as he was in 2015, as he struggled in coverage last season, but is still slated to start opposite McCourty.
Re-signing Harmon was a great move by the Patriots, as they love to roll out three safety looks to deploy McCourty and Chung closer to the line of scrimmage, and allow Harmon to patrol the deep half of the field.
Special Teams (3): Stephen Gostkowski, Ryan Allen, Joe Cardona
Nothing changed here. I thought the Patriots may have drafted a kicker in the 7th round or sign an undrafted free agent to push Gostkowski after an off year, but that is not the case. Instead, they’ll hope he returns to near automatic form, like in 2015.
Allen improved in 2016 and proved he is one of the most accurate punters in the league.