2018 New England Patriots starters, 53-man roster, schedule prediction

The New England Patriots roster heading into the 2018 season (starters in bold):

QUARTERBACK (2): Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer

Word is that they’d like bring back Danny Etling (seventh round, No. 219) on the practice squad, where he could help in Week 1 preparations against athletic quarterback Deshaun Watson and the Houston Texans, and possibly be a developmental prospect similar to Matt Cassel as a seventh-rounder in 2005.

RUNNING BACK (4): Rex Burkhead, James White, Sony Michel, Jeremy Hill

Hill beat out Mike Gillislee for the power role as he hopes to revive his career after four years with the Bengals, while veteran Brandon Bolden could be in a situation similar to last year, where he was cut and brought back shortly thereafter as part of standard roster management with the 63-player snapshot in mind: 53 on the roster and 10 on the practice squad.

FULLBACK (1): James Develin

The 2017 AFC Pro Bowl fullback, he’s a valuable presence as a lead blocker and a chess piece to help tip off the defense’s intentions before the snap, and special-teamer.

WIDE RECEIVER (3): Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett, Cordarrelle Patterson

Julian Edelman doesn’t count against the initial 53-man roster as he serves a four-game NFL suspension to open the season. This is extremely light, which sparks a question as to whether the Patriots have another move to come. Riley McCarron could return on the practice squad to add important depth.

TIGHT END (4): Rob Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen, Jacob Hollister, Ryan Izzo

Izzo, the seventh-round pick from Florida State, is expected to be moved to injured reserve, according to a source. Izzo played well in the preseason opener but then didn’t play in the final two preseason games. Moving him to IR would open up another roster spot for the inevitable moves the Patriots make after setting their initial roster.

OFFENSIVE LINE (7): Trent Brown, Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Marcus Cannon, LaAdrian Waddle, Ted Karras

The Patriots are going light along the line, which signals that another move is to come from across the NFL, or they are planning that offensive tackle/guard Cole Croston and/or center/guard James Ferentz make it through to the practice squad. A bit risky here.

DEFENSIVE TACKLE (4): Danny Shelton, Lawrence Guy, Malcom Brown, Adam Butler

This was one of the easier parts of the projection to make, with Vincent Valentine the tough cut (he still has practice squad eligibility). The Patriots appear to be more talented and deeper at this spot than last season.

DEFENSIVE END (6): Trey Flowers, Adrian Clayborn, Derek Rivers, Deatrich Wise Jr., Keionta Davis, Geneo Grissom

Similar to defensive tackle, this was pretty clear-cut by the end of training camp/preseason. The Patriots are deeper and more talented at this spot than they were in 2017, with Clayborn the signature addition on the right side. Grissom, who has bounced around between the practice squad and roster in recent seasons, earns an initial spot with his primary value coming on special teams.

LINEBACKER (5): Dont'a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Elandon Roberts, Ja’Whaun Bentley, Nicholas Grigsby

The most notable cut was Marquis Flowers, who played 26.2 percent of the defensive snaps in 2017 and was a core player on special teams. The emergence of the speedy Grigsby likely contributed to him not making the cut. Bentley, the fifth-round pick from Purdue, has a chance to make an early impact.

CORNERBACK (6): Stephon Gilmore, Eric Rowe, Duke Dawson, Jonathan Jones, J.C. Jackson, Keion Crossen

Jackson, the undrafted prospect from Maryland, was one of the surprise stories of spring practices and training camp. This marks the 15th straight year that the Patriots have kept at least one undrafted player on the roster coming out of training camp. Crossen’s uncommon physical traits – coupled with recent history of the Patriots having young cornerbacks get claimed by other teams on waivers – made it too risky to try to sneak him to the practice squad.

SAFETY (4): Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon,, Jason McCourty

The inclusion of veteran Jason McCourty might have been part of the plan all along, or perhaps the Friday trade of Jordan Richards officially opened the door for the respected veteran and solid locker-room presence. Jason McCourty was just moved to safety in recent weeks.

SPECIALISTS (6): Stephen Gostkowski (kicker), Ryan Allen (punter/holder), Joe Cardona (snapper), Matthew Slater, Nate Ebner, Brandon King

Allen held off rookie challenger Corey Bojorquez for the punter/holder job, with Bojorquez a serious consideration to return on the practice squad if he clears waivers.