The Patriots finalized their initial 53-man roster yesterday with some 20 cuts, so the team appears to be set for the early part of the season, until QB Tom Brady and DE Rob Ninkovich return from 4-game bans. In this installment, let’s take a look at what the Patriots’ initial defense and special teams lineups will look like.
Ninkovich’s suspension leaves some depth concerns early on, which is one of the reasons why the Geneo Grissom cut was somewhat surprising. Flowers will be a solid rotational pass rusher, and, although listed at defensive tackle here, Anthony Johnson does have the versatility to play on the edge (a belief he shares with this writer, according to his Twitter bio).
Projected starters: Sheard, Long
As mentioned, Johnson can play both inside and outside and should see reps as a nickel pass rusher regardless of where he lines up. Brown, Branch, and Valentine give the Patriots some serious run-stuffing beef in the middle, and Tare perhaps part of the reason the Patriots sent Terrance “Pot Roast” Knighton packing.
Projected starters: Brown, Branch
Linebacker (6)- Dont’a Hightower, Jamie Collins, Barkevious Mingo, Jonathan Freeny, Elandon Roberts, Shea McLellin
No surprises here. Hightower and Collins are one of the best duos in the game, and Mingo and Freeny are both versatile contributors who will see time on special teams. Any of these players, especially McClellin, could also hypothetically be used as pass rushers with their hand in the dirt if Belichick wishes to offset some of the loss of depth caused by Ninkovich’s suspension. The Patriots are in a sub package more than half of the time on defense, and in this case the 2 starters at linebacker should be obvious.
Projected starters: Hightower, Collins
Cornerback (5)- Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan, Cyrus Jones, Justin Coleman, Jonathan Jones
The Patriots have one of the strongest cornerback duos in Butler and Ryan, and rookie Cyrus Jones can play both inside and outside. Coleman offers depth in the slot and Jones, who impressed in training camp and won the three-way battle for his roster spot with Darryl Roberts and Cre’Von LeBlanc, will play primarily on the outside.
Projected starters: Butler, Ryan, Jones (nickel)
Safety (4)- Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon, Jordan Richards
The Patriots round out their secondary with another solid starting duo in McCourty and Chung, as well as solid depth players in Harmon and Richards. This is one of the stronger positions on the roster.
Projected starters: McCourty, Chung
Special teams (3)- Brandon King, Matthew Slater, Nate Ebner
These 3 are cornerstones of Bill Belichick’s special teams corps. None of these players are surprising additions to the final roster.
Kicker- Stephen Gostkowski
Gostkowski is entering his 11th season as the Patriots’ kicker and remains arguably the most reliable leg in the league. He isn’t going anywhere.
Punter- Ryan Allen
Allen has been solid, if unspectacular, in his tenure with the Patriots, so it’s not a surprise to see him stick around. Given that no competition was brought in for training camp and Allen possesses the left-footedness and accuracy that Belichick covets in his punters, he should be around for a while.
Long snapper- Joe Cardona
Cardona enters his first season as the Patriots’ long-snapper after spending all of last season in service after graduating from the Naval Academy. Given that the Patriots spent a 2015 5th-round selection on him, he should be a very reliable snapper.