Roster Projection 2.0: Rivers' stock rises, more uncertainty at tight end for Pats

Courtesy of the New England Patriots/David SilvermanDerek Rivers recorded two sacks for the Patriots in last Thursday’s preseason game against the Detroit Lions. The third-year defensive end has seen his role increase this summer and is looking like a stronger bet to make the 53-man roster.

The first preseason game is in the books, and as the New England Patriots hit the road again for a second set of joint practices in Nashville, a clearer picture is beginning to emerge of who might make the 53-man roster. Here’s our latest projection of how the final team might look.

Quarterbacks (3)

In: Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer, Jarrett Stidham

Out: Danny Etling

Tom Brady is still your starter, but rookie Jarrett Stidham has progressed much faster than anyone could have anticipated. My guess is the Patriots will carry all three quarterbacks, but with so much depth elsewhere, it’s not out of the realm of possibility the Patriots could trade or cut Brian Hoyer if they feel Stidham can be counted on as the primary back-up.

Running backs (6)

In: James White, Sony Michel, Rex Burkhead, Damien Harris, Brandon Bolden, James Develin (FB)

Out: Nick Brossette, Jakob Johnson (FB)

Barring an injury or a huge push by Nick Brossette, the running backs group looks set in stone. Sony Michel, who has begun to flash more pass-catching ability in practice, looks like the clear-cut lead back, and James White figures to remain a focal point in the passing game as well.

Wide receiver (6)

In: Julian Edelman, N’Keal Harry, Phillip Dorsett, Maurice Harris, Jakobi Meyers, Matthew Slater

Out: Braxton Berrios, Gunner Olszewski, Dontrelle Inman, Ryan Davis, Damoun Patterson

PUP: Demaryius Thomas, Cam Meredith

Suspended: Josh Gordon

Undrafted rookie Jakobi Meyers has been the fastest riser of training camp and is now starting to look like a roster lock. N’Keal Harry made some great catches in his limited action last Thursday, and Julian Edelman, Phillip Dorsett and Maurice Harris are all proven NFL receivers. Demaryius Thomas, Josh Gordon and newcomer Cam Meredith are all intriguing players as well, but for now it’s not clear if any will be available at the start of the season.

Tight end (2)

In: Matt LaCosse, Eric Saubert

Out: Lance Kendricks, Ryan Izzo, Stephen Anderson, Andrew Beck

Suspended: Ben Watson

What a mess. Assuming Matt LaCosse’s injury from Thursday isn’t serious, he’s making the team. If not, then who knows what this could look like? Eric Saubert, who the Patriots just acquired from Atlanta for a seventh-round pick, would seem a likely candidate, and Ryan Izzo has seen his stock rise over the last week too as a blocker. Regardless, it feels like the best solution for the Patriots here is to just try and get by until Ben Watson returns from his PED suspension.

Offensive line (8)

In: LT Isaiah Wynn, LG Joe Thuney, C David Andrews, RG Shaq Mason, RT Marcus Cannon, OG/C Ted Karras, OG/C Hjalte Froholdt, OT Dan Skipper

Out: Cole Croston, Cedrick Lang, James Ferentz, Tyler Gauthier, Tyree St. Louis, Martez Ivey

IR: Yodny Cajuste

Here’s the good news, Isaiah Wynn was a full participant in 1-on-1 drills and competitive 11-on-11 team drills for the first time in camp on Monday. That’s a major step forward for the first-round pick, who has been eased back into action after last summer’s torn Achilles. The rest of the starting line is set in stone, and Ted Karras, Dan Skipper and rookie Hjalte Froholdt appear to have the edge as the reserves.

Defensive line (9)

In: DEs Michael Bennett, John Simon, Chase Winovich, Deatrich Wise, Derek Rivers; DTs Lawrence Guy, Mike Pennel, Adam Butler, Danny Shelton

Out: Byron Cowart, Keionta Davis, Trent Harris, Ufomba Kamalu, David Parry, Nick Thurman

Danny Shelton has had a solid preseason, and Derek Rivers continued to shore up his spot on the roster with a two-sack performance against the Lions. The rest of the D-line should be locks, though Byron Cowart has flashed at times and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Patriots try to find a way to keep him around, whether on the 53-man roster, the practice squad or as a redshirt on injured reserve.

Linebackers (5)

In: Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Ja’Whaun Bentley, Jamie Collins, Brandon King

Out: Elandon Roberts, Christian Sam, Shilique Calhoun, Terez Hall, Calvin Munson

Ja’Whaun Bentley and Elandon Roberts’ skillsets are similar enough that the Patriots could get by with just one, and defensive end Derek Rivers has seen his role expand to the point where he could effectively bolster this group as a sort of hybrid edge rusher too. Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins are all locks, and core special teamer Brandon King has seen his role on defense increase through the preseason as well.

Cornerbacks (6)

In: Stephon Gilmore, Jason McCourty, J.C. Jackson, Jonathan Jones, Joejuan Williams, Keion Crossen

Out: Duke Dawson, Ken Webster

IR: D’Angelo Ross

Keion Crossen and Duke Dawson have been trending in completely different directions over the past week. Crossen has recorded numerous pass breakups while Dawson was one of the few major no-shows in last Thursday’s game against Detroit. Crossen has also proven himself as a standout on special teams, while Dawson has been consistently outplayed at slot corner by Jonathan Jones. At this point it feels like he’d be a prime candidate to get traded if the Patriots decide the former second-round pick isn’t working out.

Safeties (5)

In: Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon, Terrance Brooks, Obi Melifonwu

Out: Nate Ebner, Malik Gant, A.J. Howard

Longtime special teams standout Nate Ebner’s time in New England could be running short. The 30-year-old safety just came off the PUP list on Monday, and he’ll have some work to do to fend off a challenge from newcomer Terrance Brooks, a well established special teams star in his own right who has also gotten regular looks with the starting defense. Obi Melifonwu makes the cut as the last man in, he’s had a great summer and has been particularly effective against tight ends.

Specialists (3)

In: Stephen Gostkowski (K), Jake Bailey (P), Joe Cardona (LS)

Out: Ryan Allen (P)

Jake Bailey took kickoffs and was the starting punter in last Thursday’s Lions game, continuing a trend we’d seen in practice the week prior. The talented rookie, who has shown off a booming leg all preseason, is starting to look like the favorite to unseat veteran Ryan Allen.

Mac Cerullo can be reached at mcerullo@newburyportnews.com. Follow Mac on Twitter at @MacCerullo.