FOXBOROUGH — The Patriots have a conundrum with third-string quarterback Jacoby Brissett.
They thought highly enough of him last year to draft him with a third-round pick. Brissett then played admirably in fill-in duty for 2½ games, playing well enough to prove that he belongs in the NFL.
But, man, the Patriots sure could use his roster spot.
It was not easy putting together a Patriots 53-man roster projection following Thursday’s preseason opener against Jacksonville. We have Brissett making the team, but in lieu of several other talented young players.
We couldn’t find a spot for undrafted rookie receiver Austin Carr, who had five catches for 44 yards and a touchdown against the Jaguars. Same for tight end Jacob Hollister, who had seven catches for 116 yards, including several tough grabs over the middle.
We couldn’t find room for cornerback Cyrus Jones, last year’s second-round pick who is looking more and more like a bust. Nor for sixth-round pick Conor McDermott, whom the Patriots could always try to sneak back onto the practice squad.
Here are our last ones in: RB Brandon Bolden, TE James O’Shaughnessy, OT Cam Fleming, LB Harvey Langi, CB Kenny Moore, Brissett.
And our last ones out: DE Geneo Grissom, S Jordan Richards, OT LaAdrian Waddle, LB Jonathan Freeny, DT Adam Butler, Hollister, Carr, Jones, McDermott.
With Tom Brady still looking like he can play every snap, even at 40 years old, would the Patriots be better off keeping a third-string quarterback, or an extra corner in Jones, or an extra pass rusher in Grissom, or an extra special-teamer and three-down linebacker in Freeny?
The Patriots will need the next three weeks to figure it all out.
OFFENSE (25 players)
Quarterbacks (3 ): Tom Brady, Jimmy Garoppolo, Jacoby Brissett.
The Patriots could always try to sneak Brissett onto the practice squad, but that would expose him to waivers, and a quarterback-desperate team could certainly take a shot (like, heaven forbid, the Jets). It’s a risk the Patriots might have to take, based on how the roster shapes up for the rest of training camp.
Running backs (5): Mike Gillislee, James White, Rex Burkhead, Dion Lewis, Brandon Bolden.
We had a tough time settling on Bolden for a roster spot before deciding that he would be a better special teams contributor than Freeny and some of the younger guys on the roster. Bolden also has some value as a short-down back and blitz protector, though his ball skills are pretty limited.
Tight ends (3): Rob Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen, James O’Shaughnessy.
Allen, like Gronkowski, is an effective blocker in the run game and an athletic receiver, and should be in line for a decent number of red-zone targets. For the No. 3 spot, we chose the third-year O’Shaughnessy over the rookie Hollister, who looks like a good candidate for the practice squad.
Fullback (1): James Develin.
No reason not to have the Tasmanian Develin back this year playing 20 snaps per game and contributing on several special teams units.
Wide receivers (5): Brandin Cooks, Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell, Danny Amendola.
We really want to keep Carr, but the Patriots just have too many veterans on the depth chart ahead of him. Unless there is a training camp injury, it’s just too hard to justify keeping Carr as a sixth receiver when he doesn’t contribute enough on special teams. He played 66 snaps against the Jaguars, but none on special teams. The Patriots should try to keep him on the practice squad.
Offensive linemen (8): Nate Solder, Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Marcus Cannon, Tony Garcia, Ted Karras, Cameron Fleming.
The starting five is set with the same group from last year. The Patriots drafted Garcia to potentially be one of the tackles of the future, but he has been slowed by an injury during training camp, and we believe the Patriots would like to have a veteran serve as the primary backup tackle. Fleming and LaAdrian Waddle have been competing for reps during camp, and for now we have Fleming beating out Waddle for the third tackle spot. Karras can be the backup interior lineman, Garcia can be the fourth tackle, and then McDermott and James Ferentz can serve as depth on the practice squad.
DEFENSE (22 players)
Defensive ends (3): Trey Flowers, Kony Ealy, Deatrich Wise.
The Patriots are not deep at defensive end, though Lawrence Guy and Adam Butler could also be added to the position. Don’t be surprised to see the Patriots try to trade for more edge help before the season starts, or to scour the waiver wire after final cutdowns. But even with the shallow depth chart, we are cutting bait with Geneo Grissom, the 2015 third-round pick who spent last year on the practice squad and just hasn’t seemed to develop. He has practice squad options again this year.
Defensive tackles (4): Alan Branch, Malcom Brown, Vincent Valentine, Lawrence Guy.
The defense is deep up the middle, leaving little room for guys like Butler and Josh Augusta, who have shown good flashes through the first two weeks of camp and Thursday’s preseason game. Both are good candidates for the practice squad if they don’t crack the 53.
Linebackers (7): Dont’a Hightower, David Harris, Shea McClellin, Elandon Roberts, Kyle Van Noy, Derek Rivers, Harvey Langi.
The Patriots are deep at linebacker, but imperfect. Hightower is injury prone, Harris is in his 11th season, McClellin hasn’t been an every-down player, Roberts struggles in pass coverage, so does Van Noy, and Rivers and Langi are rookies. The best strategy for the Patriots is just to keep a bunch and try to find the best combination. Freeny could make it eight linebackers if he beats out Bolden for a roster spot.
Cornerbacks (5): Stephon Gilmore, Malcolm Butler, Eric Rowe, Jonathan Jones, Kenny Moore.
The back end of the depth chart is mostly untested, but the Patriots often use three safeties in their nickel defense. Rowe was having a good camp, but has missed the last week with an injury. Jonathan Jones has seen an increased role in the slot, and we have him beating out Cyrus Jones. Coach Bill Belichick always likes keeping one or two undrafted guys, and Moore looks like a good candidate after standing out in the first two weeks of camp.
Safeties (3): Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon.
Jordan Richards, a second-round pick in 2015, hasn’t been able to get on the field in two years, and he looked terrible against the Jaguars, having a hand in several of the long plays allowed by the Patriots’ defense. Special-teamers Nate Ebner and Brandon King also can play safety.
SPECIAL TEAMS (6 players)
Kicker: Stephen Gostkowski
Punter: Ryan Allen
Long Snapper: Joe Cardona
Special Teams: Matthew Slater, Nate Ebner, Brandon King.
Slater and Ebner are the best in the business, though Slater has been missing with an injury for the past week-plus. King could possibly lose a roster spot to Freeny, but it’s doubtful. King is younger, cheaper, and excellent on the punt and kickoff teams.