FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — One of my favorite things to do each year is an “accountability check” on my 53-man roster projection, mainly to learn where I made missteps in hopes of correcting them in the future.
I often say I’m playing “fantasy GM” when evaluating players, which is a way to acknowledge that I’m not a scout, and wouldn’t disrespect that line of work by pretending to be one. Yet by talking to scouts and coaches over the years, one can try to learn what they look for and then apply some of those things when making a projection.
I predicted 51 players on the initial roster. The team kept 52.
Here goes …
QUARTERBACK (2): Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer.
Nailed it. I had initially considered putting seventh-round pick Danny Etling on the roster, but ultimately felt his chances of passing through to the practice squad were strong enough to take the risk.
RUNNING BACK (4): Rex Burkhead, James White, Sony Michel, Jeremy Hill
Nailed it. Hill over Mike Gillislee seemed pretty clear-cut for the No. 4 spot based on how much quicker to the hole he was in the preseason, and I played the odds that Brandon Bolden would have a similar situation as last year: Cut initially and then potentially brought back in the coming days.
FULLBACK (1): James Develin
This is like getting credit for the first selection of a mock draft when everyone knows who will be because it’s so obvious.
WIDE RECEIVER (3): Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett, Cordarrelle Patterson
Nailed it. It was unconventional going with just three, but the feeling was that there wasn’t a clear-cut choice as a worthy No. 4. Riley McCarron has a good chance to return on the practice squad.
TIGHT END (4): Rob Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen, Jacob Hollister, Ryan Izzo
Didn’t trust my instincts enough on Izzo (pictured), who will be moved to injured reserve as early as Sunday, giving him a chance to be activated later in the season. Izzo played very well in the preseason opener, should have never slipped to the end of the seventh round, and I knew that yet still projected him to the practice squad. The lesson next year: Stay true to your conviction on a young player even when an injury that sidelines him for the final two preseason games clouds the picture.
OFFENSIVE LINE (7): Trent Brown, Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Marcus Cannon, LaAdrian Waddle, Ted Karras.
I had them keeping eight, with Matt Tobin as the fourth tackle, and went with Tobin because he was more of a natural left tackle than Ulrick John. Also, tackle/guard Cole Croston had hardly played until the preseason finale and seemed to fall out of favor (he had made the initial roster last year). Easy to second-guess now, but I felt that was sound reasoning, especially because keeping just seven linemen is quite light. Croston and center/guard James Ferentz are strong candidates to return on the practice squad, which would add needed depth.
DEFENSIVE TACKLE (4): Lawrence Guy, Danny Shelton, Malcom Brown, Adam Butler
Nailed it. This one seemed pretty straight-forward, with Butler’s interior pass-rushing skills making him a more valuable option than Vincent Valentine.
DEFENSIVE END (6): Trey Flowers, Adrian Clayborn, Deatrich Wise Jr., Derek Rivers, Keionta Davis, Geneo Grissom
Missed on Grissom, who has been on and off the roster in recent years but seemed to flash more on defense this preseason, albeit against lesser competition. I still wonder about his staying power, but if he sticks, the lesson would be not to pigeonhole players based on what they’ve been in the past.
LINEBACKER (5): Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Elandon Roberts, Ja’Whaun Bentley, Nicholas Grigsby
Nailed it. At one point I had considered whether Roberts would stick, but he’s had a nice preseason with Bentley (fifth round, Purdue) making a charge for his spot. Glad I stuck with him. Marquis Flowers was a tough cut, but the feeling was that Grigsby had become more valuable.
CORNERBACK (6): Stephon Gilmore, Eric Rowe, Jonathan Jones, Duke Dawson, Keion Crossen, J.C. Jackson
Nailed it. Jackson seemed like an easy pick despite his undrafted status, but sticking with Crossen despite a penalty-filled preseason performance against the Eagles was a reward for staying true to something colleague Field Yates taught me: Special traits warrant special consideration.
SAFETY (4): Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon, Jason McCourty
Missed on Jason McCourty, as I had given Jordan Richards (traded to Falcons) his spot instead based on his special-teams value. Jason McCourty is a true professional and the type of player who makes any locker room better, but the presence of the young corners, and McCourty’s lack of experience at safety in the NFL and some up-and-down play in the preseason led me to having him on the outside looking in. It’s easy to second-guess now, but that seemed fair at the time.
SPECIALISTS (6): Stephen Gostkowski (kicker), Ryan Allen (punter), Joe Cardona (long snapper), Matthew Slater (captain), Nate Ebner, Brandon King
Nailed it. True to form, Bill Belichick devotes as many roster spots to special-teams-only players as any team in the NFL on a consistent basis.