Roster overhaul is a given in the NFL, but in 2020, the upheaval has been unprecedented.
Teams prepare for retirements, free agency, and rookie classes, but the added element of pandemic opt-outs and the reduction of training camp rosters to 80, has taken the changes to a new level for front offices and coaching staffs.
With limited practices and no exhibition games, decisions on jobs will be more difficult, though with an expansion of practice squads to 16, it’s possible only 11 players will receive pink slips at the end of camp.
With the opt-out deadline passed — the Patriots lost eight players — it’s time to take an initial run at an initial roster. We’ll go with 57 players as teams can protect up to four practice squad players (once they clear waivers after the first cut to 53) from being poached each week.
It’s important to remember that things change fast, especially considering the coronavirus and the fact that New England has approximately $35 million in available salary cap space.
Jarrett Stidham, Cam Newton, Brian Hoyer.
The battle for the starting job between the War Eagle boys should be closer than most think, especially given Stidham’s familiarity with the offense and the lack of preseason games. If Newton is healthy and can absorb Josh McDaniels’s playbook swiftly, this could remain a scary offense, but one that will look dramatically different from the one over the last two decades. Hoyer’s steady hand on the field and in the locker room is invaluable.
RUNNING BACK (4)
Sony Michel, James White, Rex Burkhead, Damien Harris.
Michel’s recovery from a foot procedure is the big question mark of this group — he’s currently on the PUP. White’s versatility (he can run, catch, and block) and dependability (he never fumbles) makes him a key cog. Burkhead is another dual threat weapon. Harris was buried on the depth chart as a rookie, but with a year in the program under his belt, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him push for an expanded role as both an interior runner and slot receiver.
His rookie roster rise was the biggest surprise of 2019. His combination of intelligence, work ethic, and power likely will lead to an expanded role.
WIDE RECEIVER (6)
Julian Edelman, N’Keal Harry, Mohamed Sanu, Damiere Byrd, Jakobi Meyers, Jeff Thomas.
Edelman is Edelman. Injuries hampered Harry’s and Sanu’s initial Patriot seasons and if their workout videos are any indication, both are healthy and ready to go. Expect them to be major contributors. Byrd had 32 catches last season (after 12 his first three years combined) with Arizona and he’ll get pushed by undrafted rookies Will Hastings and Isaiah Zuber. Thomas is one of the most intriguing prospects in camp. The potential home-run threat possesses exquisite speed and body control.
TIGHT END (2)
Devin Asiasi, Dalton Keene.
Many scouts and evaluators believed Asiasi could be the best combo tight end (a solid blocker and nifty receiver) in the draft and he’ll get plenty of opportunities to prove them right. Keene has the potential to be a hybrid move tight end, H-back, and fullback. Good things happen when the ball is in his hands. Would expect the Patriots to bring in a veteran soon to compete for a spot.
OFFENSIVE TACKLE (4)
Isaiah Wynn, Yodny Cajuste, Korey Cunningham, Justin Herron (protected practice-squader).
Outside of Wynn at left tackle, there’s a lot of openings in this group and it will be one of the most fluid situations of the summer. Cajuste missed last year but was entrenched in the program and is highly thought of in the organization. Cunningham played in just one game last season after being acquired from the Cardinals. Herron played 51 games at Wake Forest and though some projected him as a guard at this level, he could surprise with his size (6 feet 4 inches, 308 pounds) and athleticism. This is another spot where the team likely will bring in another veteran body.
Joe Thuney, Shaq Mason, Hjalte Froholdt, Michael Onwenu.
Thuney and Mason are among the best at their positions. Froholdt, who missed his rookie year (shoulder) and Onwenu were excellent college players at big programs and should be able to provide immediate depth.
David Andrews, Dustin Woodard (PPS)
Andrews is looking to bounce back after what was essentially a medical redshirt year. Woodard played every spot along the offensive line in college, so he could adddepth and saves roster spots in several areas.
DEFENSIVE TACKLE (4)
Lawrence Guy, Adam Butler, Beau Allen, Bill Murray (PPS).
Guyplays with great strength, leverage, and instincts. Plus, he can play all over the place. Butler has improved every year and there’s no reason to think that won’t continue. Allen is a proven bull over the nose. Murray’s college tape was fun to watch. With his athleticism and some added bulk, he projects as a Kyle Williams type.
DEFENSIVE END (4)
John Simon, Deatrich Wise, Derek Rivers, Byron Cowart.
Simon is an excellent edge setter against the run and Wise has arms that go on for days — he’ll disrupt the passer. Huge camp for Rivers, who has been ravaged by injuries. Cowart is a superb athlete and showed flashes as a rookie. He could end up being an end/tackle hybrid.
Chase Winovich, Ja’Whaun Bentley, Brandon Copeland, Josh Uche, Anfernee Jennings, Cassh Maluia, De’Jon Harris (PPS).
Winovich was the most productive member of the rookie class and he’ll continue to thrive on the edge. Bentley is an old-fashioned run-stuffing thumper. Both will need to set the pace and an example for a mostly young crew outside of Copeland. Uche and Jennings are versatile players who could get a ton of snaps. Expect Maluia and Harris to be immediate special teams contributors before eventually moving into the rotation.
Stephon Gilmore, Jonathan Jones, J.C. Jackson, Jason McCourty, Joejuan Williams.
The deepest grouping on the roster. The biggest questions: Will Jackson sign an extension? Can Williams crack this rotation?
Devin McCourty, Kyle Dugger, Terrance Brooks, Adrian Phillips.
McCourty is considered one of the best safeties in the league and he’s still underrated. He is a guiding force on the field and in the locker room. If you watched top pick Dugger’s college tape (including the Senior Bowl), you’re excited. Brooks shined in spots last season and Phillips looks like a perfect fit.
Matthew Slater, Justin Bethel, Brandon King, Cody Davis, Jake Bailey, Joe Cardona, Justin Rohrwasser.
Slater and Bethel are the best gunners in the business and King is an elite coverage player as well. Davis looks like the ideal replacement for Nate Ebner. All eyes will be on Rohrwasser, who takes over for the franchise’s all-time leading scorer (Stephen Gostkowski) just as Gostkowski did in 2006 when he supplanted Adam Vinatieri.