Patriots 53-man roster projection: How will Mayo sort out his WR room?

Patriots 53-man roster projection: How will Mayo sort out his WR room? originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

With spring workouts in the rearview and the Patriots breaking for summer, let’s take a stab at predicting the regular-season roster, shall we? Feels like a good time to go through this exercise, considering the perceived strengths and weaknesses of the roster and with training camp about a month away.

Though minicamp — and the performances from a handful of standouts — is still fresh in our minds, we won’t overvalue performances from those shorts-and-t-shirts sessions. We will, however, highlight those who stood out in minicamp and OTAs as players to watch moving forward if they don’t end up making the cut on this particular projection.

Let’s get to it… (Players listed in italics are rookies.)

Jerod Mayo told Sports Illustrated before minicamp that he was hoping to narrow the quarterback reps to three players. He essentially had the reps split between two by the time spring workouts had ended.

Jacoby Brissett and Drake Maye took the vast majority of competitive work in the final minicamp practice of the spring, with Bailey Zappe not getting a single 11-on-11 rep in that session.

Joe Milton would have a chance to land on the 53-man roster by camp’s end just to ensure he’s not poached by another club. But at this point, based on how the spring ended, it looks like this could function as a two-player group when things get competitive in practices.

The top two players here are clear locks, with Rhamondre Stevenson and Antonio Gibson set to handle the bulk of the work — one fresh off an extension and the other fresh off a new deal in free agency. JaMycal Hasty, meanwhile, is one of the more interesting names on this projection in that he was busy during spring workouts.

Hasty caught eight of nine competitive throws sent his way in minicamp. If the Patriots are looking for a pass-catcher to add to this room, Hasty looks like the leader in the clubhouse to join Stevenson and Gibson. If they want a bigger body, then that would probably end up coming down to Kevin Harris and undrafted rookie Deshaun Fenwick, who were teammates at South Carolina during the 2019 and 2020 seasons.

The first takeaway from this crop of wideouts? It’s a long list. Six players is likely more than the Patriots would carry on their game-day roster during Week 1 of the 2024 regular season. And they don’t have a classic “No. 1” here. They do, however, possess NFL-caliber depth.

Even with JuJu Smith-Schuster not included here — he grinded to be a full participant, but he appeared to be limited by lower-body issues at times this spring — they have a mess of players who deserve roster consideration. If Kendrick Bourne needs a little extra time to be truly ready coming off his torn ACL, perhaps that would open a spot for Jalen Reagor, who impressed at times in minicamp. But this unit looks like it has five locks and one possible spot for an additional body.

In this scenario, that flier spot would go to Kayshon Boutte, who had an eyebrow-raising spring with a couple of contested touchdown catches from Drake Maye in minicamp. It’s unclear at this point if Boutte will face league discipline after being arrested in Baton Rouge in January on one felony count of Computer Fraud and one misdemeanor count of Gaming Prohibited for Persons Under 21. Boutte allegedly created a fake online gaming account as a minor to place wagers on close to 9,000 sporting events, including several LSU football games when he was still on the team.

If any of these players are going to approach No. 1 status, my guess is it ends up being Polk. Often touted as an all-the-little-things type of player — tough, a willing blocker, etc. — it’s been pointed out to me by those in the building that he has some high-end physical skills, which have them believing he’ll be much more than a role player in their receiver room.

Because we’re throwing this together with spring practices not all that far off in the rear view mirror, we’ll include La’Michael Pettway here. He made a handful of noteworthy plays in the passing game during OTAs and minicamp workouts.

Pettway is also built more like a traditional tight end than Jaheim Bell, giving the Patriots another possible in-line option to work with Hunter Henry and Austin Hooper. Given his size and unique athletic traits, Bell feels like a bit of a position group unto himself as a potential H-back.

Who will make up this unit? And how will they be deployed? This unit may have more question marks than any other on the roster.

Three starters seem relatively set in stone with Mike Onwenu, David Andrews and Sidy Sow locked in. But will Onwenu play right tackle or right guard? He ended up at guard to finish up minicamp.

Will Sidy Sow be on the left side or the right? He was on the left before the team broke for the summer. And what about the two tackle spots? Those were occupied by Chukwuma Okorafor (left) and Caedan Wallace (right) by the end of the spring.

The backup spots are up in the air, too, seemingly. We’ve included fourth-round pick Layden Robinson, versatile interior lineman Nick Leverett and backup center Jake Andrews, who was taken with a fourth-round selection last year. None of those players are tackles. But between Okorafor, Wallace and Onwenu, perhaps the Patriots will feel like they have some flexibility there.

This is one position group where a veteran signing — veteran tackles Donovan Smith and Charles Leno are both still available as free agents — might make some sense.

Hard to know what’s going to happen with the kicker situation. Let’s see how it plays out in camp, but second-year kicker Chad Ryland had some noticeable hiccups in the spring. Joey Slye is a journeyman veteran, having spent time with seven teams since 2019, but we’ll have him take the kicker spot in this particular projection.

If the Davon Godchaux contract situation comes to a head, the Patriots could be looking for a new nose tackle. But it might be hard to replace his size, durability and ability to effectively take on multiple blockers. For a defensive scheme that will likely still have some old-school principles under Jerod Mayo and DeMarcus Covington, a space-eating tackle is valuable. That’s Godchaux.

The Patriots just signed Armon Watts, and Jeremiah Pharms had some impressive moments last season. Still, the team doesn’t currently have another 330-pound body to do what Godchaux does.

Matthew Judon is another player who’d appreciate an alteration to his contract, but he’s in a different spot coming off a season-ending injury. Unlike Godchaux, he participated through minicamp, perhaps in an effort to show Patriots decision-makers that he’s good to go physically — and worthy of investing in beyond this season.

Keion White lands here because he was spotted in the spring often working off the edge. He’s athletic enough to be a standup outside linebacker despite his jumbo frame (6-foot-5, 285 pounds), but odds are he’ll be deployed as a versatile inside-out chess piece.

The top two names here seem locked into having big roles again in 2024, but Jahlani Tavai didn’t take part in minicamp practices as he appeared to be dealing with a lower-body issue. Sione Takitaki should have real responsibility right off the bat after being signed by Eliot Wolf, who had a hand in drafting him to the Browns back in 2019.

Christian Elliss and Marte Mapu both should be special-teams staples. For Mapu in particular, this season — his second — will be critical in ultimately determining what his role will be defensively.

Rounding out this group is well-respected veteran Raekwon McMillan, who has battled injury and played in just one game in the last three seasons.

If we were weighing spring-practice production alone, there’s a shot 25-year-old UCLA product Azizi Hearn would land here. He had a pick and two pass breakups in minicamp, making him someone to watch come training camp.

Alex Austin made a few plays in spring work — and he earned some praise from Mayo — to land him here. Marco Wilson and Isaiah Bolden ended up filling up the depth chart here, but those slots could end up going to a variety of different defensive backs.

Shaun Wade, for instance, has been trusted as a roster player the last three seasons and could be back for a fourth thanks to his understanding of several different spots in the scheme Mayo and Covington have coached the last several years.

Might want to familiarize yourself with Jaylinn Hawkins, Patriots fans.

Safety isn’t the deepest spot on the roster, and Hawkins has played in 46 games the last three seasons for the Chargers and Falcons. He didn’t receive much in the way of guaranteed money when he signed this offseason — $417,500, according to Over The Cap — but he could provide meaningful depth behind two of the most dependable and hardest-hitting players on the roster in Kyle Dugger and Jabrill Peppers.

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