2017 NFL Season Preview

Road to 53: Final Patriots roster analysis

(Raj Mehta/USA TODAY Sports)

After giving Bill Belichick a little time for any final tweaks, I feel confident that, for at least one day, this is the Patriots' 53-man roster (famous last words). We'll go through each position group. Where they were, where they are and whether there are any concerns.

My thoughts:

OFFENSE

Quarterback

Where they were: It appeared "The Wolfpack" would stay together for another season after Jacoby Brissett finally showed something as he lit up the Giants in the preseason finale.

Where they are: Brissett was traded to the Colts, and I'm guessing he would have been cut if the Patriots didn't find a trade partner. Why? The same reason why I had him off my last version: he's not special (even though he does have that Jameis Winston/leadership/charisma thing going on). The Patriots should be able to find better in next year's draft, or in free agency. This had nothing to do with the future at the position. Whoever the Patriots choose, they'll find an appropriate backup.

Level of worry: Low, if we're talking about level of play. High if you're talking about health, because Brady is 40. He looks super human, but he's still 40 and this is tackle football.

Running back

Where they were: The groundswell among the fans was to keep six running backs (seven if you include a fullback) because for some reason people thought D.J. Foster was something more than a good JV back. After the initial cut, they kept only four with Bolden also getting the ax. He was quickly brought back.

Where they are: Still crowded. Not sure Mike Gillislee's hamstring will allow him to take the feature back role, but that's the idea. Rex Burkhead spells him, but he's also the utility back: he's the one back who can play every down and not telegraph to the defense what's coming. Expect more Burkhead against the better defenses. Finally, in Burkhead, the Patriots have a running back that can actually run against five or six defensive backs. James White and Dion Lewis will split the passing downs. Lewis is the better runner. Expect to see both of them at times on the field causing matchup problems.

Level of concern: Low, if Gillislee gets healthy and his burst back. If he doesn't, this is a really small group that could get worn down. They need this group to take some heat off Brady at least a few times.

Receivers/tight ends

Where they were: Unless something funky happened, we figured to see the top five back (including Julian Edelman) at receiver and two at tight end with a possible extra TE. We saw some nice training camps from Devin Lucien, Austin Carr, Jacob Hollister and James O'Shaughnessy, but not enough to crack the top group.

Where they are: Same spot, with Phillip Dorsett acquired for Brissett to bring more speed on the outside. He could very well be Cooks insurance, because he tends to get hurt. So does Dorsett, so maybe between the two of them, the Patriots can piece together one speedy x receiver. We still don't know how much Dorsett will be able to understand the playbook, which is a huge factor. I thought O'Shaughnessy would make it over Hollister because of the upside as a receiver, but in the end, O'Shaughnessy couldn't block his way out of a paper bag, and Hollister could block and brought a lot more on special teams. I got teased by the the athletic ability. Forty lashes for me.

Level of worry: High. No Edelman is big. And Cooks, Mitchell, Hogan (he's missed some practice but no games), Amendola and Gronkowski haven't exactly been iron men. The Patriots will be fine in the short term, but serious health issues could crop up.

Offensive line

Where they were: The starting group returned, but there was some worry because left tackle Nate Solder missed most of training camp. Suddenly he's fully healthy. Yeah, OK. The real question was which backup tackle they would keep because it looked like Ted Karras was the man on the interior.

Where they are: The Patriots kept both Cam Fleming and LaAdrian Waddle. Plus, instead of Steady Teddy, they kept Cole Croston, who is nondescript. He plays with strength and smarts, can play both guard and tackle, but his pad level is high right now and he can be moved.

Level of worry: Medium. Solder's health is key, and an injury to Andrews suddenly moved Thuney to center and Croston into the lineup. That's not optimal.

DEFENSE

Defensive line

Where they were: There wasn't much concern on the interior and with Trey Flowers' spot. But everything else was a big question mark. The cuts went about as expected.

Where they are: Where is Dont'a Hightower going to be? That would answer a lot of questions. Where is Deatrich Wise, who was hurt after a great start to camp, now? Can Harvey Langi hold up as a smaller guy? When will Cassius Marsh be able to help?

Level of concern: Medium. I have zero level of concern on the interior. Alan Branch, Malcom Brown and Lawrence Guy, with Adam Butler a pass rusher, will be terrific if healthy. It's a great group but a little thin. As far as left end, I have a high level of concern. But they'll make it work with matchups. They always do.

Linebackers

 

Where they were: Other than the late trade for Marquis Flowers and the addition of David Harris, this is the same band-aid group as last season, and it was good enough to win a Super Bowl. No real surprises here.

Where they are: Would expect Harris to start in the middle on the first two downs, especially against power teams. Would expect Kyle Van Noy to be in the one constant. He's really become valuable because he's adept at a number of things, but not a master of anything. Elandon Roberts will be on the spot. If he doesn't improve, I could see him cut loose at some point.

Level of worry: Medium. It would be high if the Patriots coaches didn't show they could piece things together. You really worry about speed at running back and tight end against this group.

Secondary

Where they were: The only question was how many safeties they were going to keep, and which ones they were going to be. Cyrus Jones' injury probably cleared up a lot of things.

Where they are: The cornerback spot is really good, provided Malcolm Butler plays like Butler and not Butler in a contract year. The top three safeties are among the league's best.

Level of worry: Low. The only question is who will take the slot: Butler or Eric Rowe? Rowe had a spectacular summer, but he's big and might be better at the boundary. At safety, they've been mixing and matching a lot more as far as responsibilities. A little bit of concern if that puts Patrick Chung in more space, where he has traditionally struggled.