Wide receiver (5): Jakobi Meyers, DeVante Parker, Nelson Agholor, Kendrick Bourne, Tyquan Thornton
After No. 2 pick Tyquan Thornton’s reported shoulder surgery, a veteran trade at wide receiver, as some speculated, was unlikely. Thornton could head to preseason injured reserve, where he can return after missing four games, likely opening up a roster spot for one of the surprise veteran cuts. There are bigger questions along the offensive line than at receiver, but overall speed and field separation are question marks until Thorton returns. Agholor had a good summer and is the best orderly in the healthy group. Still, there were times this summer when not much was happening on the field. Also, the Pats need Kendrick Bourne to flip a switch when games start counting. However, the Patriots are significantly better at the wide receiver position compared to a few years ago, and Parker is already showing signs of chemistry in the jumps and fades with Mac Jones.
Lil’Jordan Humphrey did everything he could to earn a roster spot as a hybrid wide receiver. She can catch passes up the middle, run the seam, and play in the kicking game. However, most of his production this summer was done against reinforcements. Humphrey never completely got over the second-team offense and rarely ran with Mac Jones in practice. Hopefully, there’s a spot for him on the practice squad. The same goes for Tre Nixon, who showed separation ability at the top of his routes. If the Pats want to fill Thornton’s spot with a wide receiver, Humphrey is probably the favorite, especially since the team only has two tight ends.
After allegedly suffering a concussion during joint practices with the Panthers, wide receiver Kristian Wilkerson was placed on injured reserve at the end of the season. Wilkerson could play for another team this season if he comes to an injury deal.
Tight end (2): Hunter Henry, Jonnu Smith
Ultimately, the Patriots felt that 2020 third-round picks Devin Asiasi and Matt Sokol didn’t do enough to protect them on the 53-man roster, which is valid given that other safety players featured more upside. Asiasi never reached his potential. He had flashes of quickness at the top of his routes, and he held his own as a line blocker in his rookie season. But he never took a step forward in his development and didn’t make enough impact plays. Sokol was a pleasant surprise and would be a good fit for the practice squad. His line blocking was solid, making him a good third tight end. Expect one or both of Asiasi and Sokol to end up on the practice squad.
Offensive line (8): Trent Brown, Cole Strange, David Andrews, Mike Onwenu, Isaiah Wynn, Justin Herron, Yodny Cajuste, Chasen Hines
The Patriots’ offensive line is a work in progress. The good news is that most of the problems seem to be based on allocations rather than crash errors. New England isn’t facing off often enough up front, in the running or passing games. Heading into the season, the offensive line is the Patriots’ biggest question mark because, on paper, the quarterback and skilled players can make plays.
After months of speculation and a change in position, starting right tackle Isaiah Wynn is still with the Patriots. What’s best for Wynn and the team is for the 2018 first-round pick to refocus and accept the transition to right tackle. It will allow Wynn to cash in as a free agent next offseason, and the Patriots’ top five in the O-Line include Wynn at tackle.
Backup tackles Justin Herron and Yodny Cajuste earned roster spots after spending time with the starting offensive line during camp due to injuries. Cajuste had a good summer, showing the foot speed needed to mirror edge rushers in pass protection. But he’s too inconsistent to be trusted as a starting tackle. Cajsute offers advantages and is worth a roster spot to develop behind the veteran starters.
Sixth-round pick Chasen Hines is an intriguing tool-based prospect. He needs to work on getting his hands on defenders instead of throwing a shoulder. But Hines’ athleticism and playing strength showed in the running game. Plus, he had active eyes in pass protection. The rookie can move people around in the running game and is an explosive blocker in power or counter schemes. Hines fits well into traditional New England breccia schemes.
Whether it’s practice squad call-ups or outside additions, the Patriots don’t typically enter the season this skinny along the offensive line. We would expect more moves to come.
Defensive line (6): Christian Barmore, Daph Godchaux, Lawrence Guy, Deathrich Wise, Carl Davis, Sam Roberts
There’s a lot to like about sixth-round pick Sam Roberts, who makes the list after making the jump from the division two level to the NFL. Roberts is well built, has impressive initial quickness in his stance and plays with a good level of padding to shoot through the gaps. Roberts needs to develop as a natural double-gapper and find the ball more regularly instead of just beating the blocker in front of him. But he has attractive physical tools.
Our guy Carl Davis also made the starting 53-man roster. His abilities to open up two spaces and eat blocks like a true nose tackle over center are too good a system to let out the door. A Guy-Davis-Godchaux defensive line will be very strong against the run.
EDGE/Outside Linebacker (4): Matthew Judon, Josh Uche, Anfernee Jennings, DaMarcus Mitchell
A season-ending injury to 2021 third-round pick Ronnie Perkins opened the door for Mitchell, who has been representing all summer in various special teams units and shone late as a pass-rusher. Mitchell likely won’t contribute on defense this season, but he could be active on game day due to his contributions in the kicking game.
Behind professional bowler Matt Judon, the Patriots are boasting great things in 2020 second day picks Josh Uche and Anfernee Jennings. New England is usually based on an odd front (3-4), which means they will put two edge running backs standing on the field together. But they have also played even fronts (4-3) in certain matchups. Those uniform frontal glances could become more frequent if Uche and Jennings can’t combine to fill an all-in-alls role. The optimistic view is that Jennings has become an early, lead-establishing option, while Uche has always shown promise as a pass-rusher. The duo have talent but need to stay healthy this season.