Phil Perry

Patriots 53-man roster projection: Have Pats been hiding Cunningham?

There may have been a reason Cunningham's QB reps were limited in the preseason.

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Cutdown day eve has arrived, folks. Teams need to trim their rosters to 53 players by Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET, and the Patriots already got started Sunday by releasing 11 players.

Here's our final projection for who will remain on the 53-man roster past Tuesday.

Quarterback (2): Mac Jones, Bailey Zappe

My only lingering concern here is that Bill Belichick may have tried to keep Malik Cunningham's quarterback ability out of sight these last few weeks. If he wants to be able to waive Cunningham and get him onto the practice squad, limiting the quarterback film Cunningham was able to post this summer would be one way to do it.

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Remember, the Patriots were willing to pay $200,000 guaranteed for Cunningham as an undrafted player. That would suggest there was at least one other team interested in him... and interested in paying him a not-so-insignificant amount for someone not drafted.

Any chance that team would want to claim Cunningham if waived? If it were me? I wouldn't risk it. Keep him as a No. 3 quarterback and develop him. But I'm thinking the Patriots may treat it differently.

Running back (2): Rhamondre Stevenson, Ezekiel Elliott

Do I think the Patriots would like to keep Ty Montgomery and J.J. Taylor around? I do. Especially now that they've traded away Pierre Strong.

But do I think the Patriots believe either Taylor or Montgomery would be grabbed by another club if let go this week? Of that I'm less sure. Just because they keep two backs on the initial roster doesn't mean those will be the only ones available to them.

My guess is Taylor would get the game-day call-up if he gets through waivers and lands on the practice squad. Montgomery has missed so much time this summer, it might be a lot to ask him to contribute in any meaningful way early.

Wide receiver (6): DeVante Parker, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Kendrick Bourne, Demario Douglas, Kayshon Boutte, Tyquan Thornton

No changes here since the last time around. Kayshon Boutte's three snaps played in the preseason finale -- combined with Tyquan Thornton and Pop Douglas' injuries suffered in Green Bay -- seemed to indicate his spot is secured.

Tight end (2): Hunter Henry, Mike Gesicki

This is another thin spot, but another spot where it seems like the third player on the depth chart would be one who could return to the club after the initial cut down to 53 players.

Matt Sokol seems like the next man up here if Henry or Gesicki (who shed his red non-contact jersey Sunday) get dinged up. It wouldn't surprise me if the Patriots were scouring the waiver wire -- or some last-minute trade possibilities -- at this spot.

Offensive line (10): Trent Brown, Cole Strange, David Andrews, Mike Onwenu, Riley Reiff, Jake Andrews, Sidy Sow, Atonio Mafi, Tyrone Wheatley Jr., Vederian Lowe

Massive group here. But Wheatley and Lowe are keepers after they were acquired via trade Sunday. Perhaps the overstocking here is an indication that Reiff's injury -- suffered in Tennessee on Friday -- could keep him out a while. 

Specialists (9): Chad Ryland, Nick Folk, Bryce Baringer, Joe Cardona, Matthew Slater, Brenden Schooler, Chris Board, Ameer Speed, Calvin Munson

You wanna get nuts? Let's get nuts.

If there's one coach in the NFL who'd be willing to hold onto two kickers on his initial 53-man roster, wouldn't it be Bill Belichick? He recently highlighted the competition between Ryland and Folk, complimenting both. And Folk hasn't done anything to lose his job. Could see Belichick wanting to give his rookie a little time to get comfortable -- assuming Ryland is comfortable with a veteran kicker in the locker room -- while allowing the rookie to handle kickoff duties.

In my opinion, unlike quarterback, tight end or running back, releasing one of these two would result in that player getting scooped up fairly quickly. 

Defensive tackle (5): Davon Godchaux, Christian Barmore, Lawrence Guy, Sam Roberts, Daniel Ekuale

With Carl Davis out, that leaves room for the team to hold onto a promising second-year player in Sam Roberts, who has done nothing but get better since arriving from Northwest Missouri State. In a league where teams can never have enough talented defensive linemen, Roberts is ascending. 

Edge defender (5): Matthew Judon, Josh Uche, Keion White, Anfernee Jennings, Deatrich Wise

Standard group here. Anfernee Jennings has impressed this preseason with his early-down work and should hold onto a gig. The others are locks.

Linebacker (3): Ja'Whaun Bentley, Jahlani Tavai, Marte Mapu

This unit looks thin. But when you factor in all the safeties used at the linebacker level, along with the fact that Calvin Munson and Chris Board are included here in the "specialist" category, then the Patriots should be able to get away with this group the way it stands.

Of course, there should be a p-squad addition or two here -- make the most of those 16 non-active-roster spots -- for depth. 

Safety (4): Kyle Dugger, Adrian Phillips, Jalen Mills, Jabrill Peppers 

This unit could also include Mapu, although I feel as though it's more likely he sees time as a sub linebacker than an every-down safety early in his career.

There's no obvious Devin McCourty replacement here, but they'll be deployed in a variety of two-high-safety coverages on the back end that could help them disguise their intentions on a snap-to-snap basis.

Cornerback (5): Christian Gonzalez, Jack Jones, Jonathan Jones, Marcus Jones, Myles Bryant

Isaiah Bolden looked poised to make a push for a roster spot before the second preseason game, when his night was ended by a scary-looking concussion. Christian Gonzalez and Jonathan Jones have been banged up lately, but Jones (who returned to practice Sunday) told reporters over the weekend that his goal was to be ready to play Week 1.

If Jack Jones is looking headed for league discipline stemming from his offseason arrest, perhaps the team would consider hanging onto Shaun Wade to give itself a boundary option with some length on the 53-man roster. That's a spot within this position group that looks relatively thin at the moment.

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