After selecting 10 players in the 2020 NFL draft, and then agreeing to terms with 14 rookie free agents, the New England Patriots‘ roster has a much different look than it did last week. The biggest question, however, remains right at the top: Is Jarrett Stidham ready to take over the reins at quarterback?
The 2019 fourth-round draft choice was arguably the biggest winner of draft weekend when the Patriots passed on not only Jordan Love at No. 23, but then passed on every other quarterback in the draft as well. That further cleared his path to earn the QB1 job, although coach Bill Belichick isn’t just going to hand it to him. Stidham will still have to duplicate what he did last preseason, when Belichick tabbed him over Brian Hoyer for the all-important No. 2 job.
As for what Stidham can do, there’s more of a blind spot because he simply hasn’t had the opportunity. And therein lies the intrigue for what’s ahead for the Patriots as their 90-man roster has taken shape (* = rookies).
The Patriots usually carry only three quarterbacks, because there are only so many snaps to go around. But in an offseason when all the learning is virtual, it makes it easier to add a fourth player, which also sparks memories of 2000, when the fourth quarterback behind Drew Bledsoe, John Friesz and Michael Bishop was a youngster named Tom Brady.
Running backs (6)
From top to bottom, this is potentially the best position group on offense. A competition between Michel and Harris for the top spot could bring out the best in both runners, while Taylor — an undrafted free agent from Arizona — will be an interesting player to watch from a Dion Lewis-type perspective (undersized playmaker facing longer odds to stick).
The Patriots utilize the position as much as any team, and after the retirement of James Develin on Monday, Johnson and free-agent signee Vitale (Green Bay Packers) provide more options, while versatile tight end Dalton Keene — the third-round pick from Virginia Tech (101st overall) — will factor into the mix.
Tight ends (6)
Check out highlights of UCLA’s versatile tight end Devin Asiasi.
If Asiasi (third round, No. 91) can get up to speed quickly, he has a chance to be TE1, but that might be asking a lot in a virtual offseason. The Patriots finished last in the NFL in tight end receptions and targets last season, but that is poised to change with more options for coordinator Josh McDaniels to tap.
Wide receivers (13)
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Belichick noted how the Patriots invested a first-round pick in Harry last year, and technically used a 2020 second-rounder to bring Sanu aboard, so he hardly views the cupboard as bare. He’s banking on improvement from young pass-catchers. The undrafted group of Hastings (Auburn), Riley (Syracuse), Zuber (Mississippi State) and Thomas (Miami) will all get a long look, with Thomas viewed as worthy of a draftable grade.
Offensive tackles (5)
Cajuste, a 2019 third-round draft pick from West Virginia who spent his rookie season on injured reserve, is healthy again. If he elevates to the swing tackle role, and Cannon can return to form, it would strengthen a position that was a trouble spot in 2019 (in part because of injuries).
Andrews says he is cleared to return after missing 2019 because of blood clots in his lungs, but the Patriots still need an insurance policy behind him, which is why nabbing Woodard (Memphis) in the seventh round might be one of their most important selections.
Froholdt, a 2019 fourth-round pick from Arkansas who spent his rookie season on injured reserve, is healthy again and pairs with 2020 sixth-rounder Onwenu (Michigan) to fill the pipeline with youth and depth.
Defensive tackle (7)
The Patriots are banking on Allen, a free-agent signing from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, filling the void created by Danny Shelton‘s free-agent departure, as well as 2019 fifth-round pick Cowart (Maryland) contributing more.
4-3 defensive end (2)
The Patriots are a multiple-front defense, with the pieces fitting differently depending on whom they are playing, and Wise and the undrafted Coe (Auburn) would factor into the mix more in a four-man front.
3-4 outside linebacker (8)
Catch some standout moments of former Alabama outside linebacker Anfernee Jennings’ career with the Crimson Tide.
Replacing Kyle Van Noy will be a challenge, and it might take more than one player given his versatile skill set. Winovich (2019 third round) offers a high-upside pass-rush option, while Jennings (third round, Alabama) is a physical player who impressed scouts with his toughness.
3-4 inside linebacker (7)
Check out some of the highlights of former Michigan defensive end Josh Uche.
Uche, the second-round pick from Michigan, was viewed by some teams as more of an off-the-line linebacker because of his size (6-foot-1, 245 pounds), but his pass-rushing skills should also make him part of sub packages in obvious non-running situations.
This is arguably the deepest position on the entire roster, led by the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year (Gilmore), and returns completely intact from 2019.
Dugger, the team’s top draft pick (second round, No. 37) from Lenoir-Rhyne, projects to help immediately on special teams and in sub packages. He’s the type of fast, explosive athlete the Patriots will need to call on to get through the AFC and to defend the likes of Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes and Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson.
P: Jake Bailey
LS: Joe Cardona
Belichick has noted several times how fortunate he has been to go from Adam Vinatieri to Stephen Gostkowski at kicker, and now the attention turns to Rohrwasser, the fifth-round pick from Marshall.