Roster Projection 3.0: Gordon and Thomas' return creates crunch at wide receiver for Patriots

AP PhotoWith Josh Gordon back in the fold, the Patriots may need to make some tough decisions at wide receiver on cutdown day Saturday.

The crucial third preseason game is in the books, and with the final roster cutdown less than a week away, we now have a good idea of how the final roster should look. Here’s our latest roster projection in advance of the final preseason game aand Saturday’s subsequent cut day.

Quarterbacks (2)

In: Tom Brady, Jarrett Stidham

Out: Brian Hoyer

Jarrett Stidham earning the No. 2 quarterback duties against the Carolina Panthers last Thursday was intriguing. While coach Bill Belichick explained the decision by noting that Brian Hoyer has played a lot of football — implying he didn’t need the reps — the quarterback to enter the game after Tom Brady in the third preseason game has almost always earned the No. 2 job in the past. Could the Patriots cut or trade Hoyer? It’s worth considering, especially now that the Andrew Luck-less Indianapolis Colts have need of a veteran quarterback to back up Jacoby Brissett.

Running backs (6)

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

Out: Nick Brossette, Jakob Johnson (FB)

Damien Harris left Thursday’s game with an injury but is reportedly ok. Barring any unexpected developments the running back group should be fairly set in stone to start the year.

Wide receiver (7)

In: Julian Edelman, Josh Gordon, N’Keal Harry, Phillip Dorsett, Demaryius Thomas, Jakobi Meyers, Matthew Slater

Out: Maurice Harris, Braxton Berrios, Gunner Olszewski, Ryan Davis, Damoun Patterson

PUP: Cam Meredith

Lingering injuries and other issues have kept New England’s best receivers off the field for much of the preseason, but things are starting to look up. Julian Edelman, Josh Gordon and Demaryius Thomas are all back, which could make for some tough decisions when it’s time to make final cuts. Even though he had a great start to the preseason, I think Maurice Harris has become the odd man out, especially after Phillip Dorsett caught all seven passes thrown his way in an impressive showing against the Panthers last week.

Tight end (2)

In: Matt LaCosse, Ryan Izzo

Out: Eric Saubert, Stephen Anderson, Andrew Beck

Suspended: Ben Watson, Lance Kendricks

Ryan Izzo got the start last Thursday and looked like he belonged. The second-year tight end was solid in the blocking game, made a beautiful 18-yard catch in the red zone from Brady and saw more snaps than any other tight end. Ben Watson and Lance Kendricks’ suspensions complicate matters, so the Patriots will likely go week to week at this position for the first month or so.

Offensive line (7)

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

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

IR: Yodny Cajuste

Isaiah Wynn is back to full health and looks ready to start the season as the starting left tackle. Ted Karras is the runaway favorite to earn back-up guard duties, and as far as swing tackle goes, the Patriots could probably sneak Dan Skipper and Cole Croston onto the practice squad, or pick up a better player off waivers after cuts.

Defensive line (9)

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

Out: Mike Pennel, Keionta Davis, Trent Harris, Ufomba Kamalu, David Parry, Nick Thurman

Rookie Byron Cowart appears to have gained an edge on Mike Pennel on the interior line, and fellow rookie Chase Winovich looks to have definitively locked down a starting job at edge rusher following his monster preseason game against the Tennessee Titans. Derek Rivers’ health is a big question mark, he was getting first team reps before going down against Tennessee but hasn’t been seen since. If he’s unable to play, that might be Pennel’s ticket back onto the 53-man roster.

Linebackers (7)

In: Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Ja’Whaun Bentley, Elandon Roberts, Jamie Collins, Calvin Munson, Shilique Calhoun

Out: Christian Sam, Terez Hall

IR: Brandon King

Elandon Roberts has played primarily with the starters the last two weeks, which should bode well for his roster status. Losing Brandon King with a torn quadriceps was a huge blow, but one that could potentially open an opportunity for Calvin Munson, who has been heavily involved on defense and special teams all preseason.

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

Duke Dawson is just about out of time to prove he deserves a spot on the team. If he winds up sticking, it will only be because Bill Belichick isn’t willing to give up on a former second-round pick after just two years.

Safeties (4)

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

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

Patrick Chung’s indictment on a cocaine possession charge will be worth keeping an eye on, but assuming the team and the league follow through on their promise to let the legal matter play out in court, then Chung should play out the season without issue. He hasn’t played all preseason as he recovers from offseason shoulder surgery, and in his place Terrance Brooks has emerged as a mainstay with the starters and on special teams. He could also make Nate Ebner expendable, and Obi Melifonwu’s absence from last Thursday’s game likely won’t help his own roster chances.

Specialists (3)

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

Out: None

Jake Bailey officially won the punter battle, beating out veteran Ryan Allen after two preseason games. Stephen Gostkowski and Joe Cardona are locks at kicker and long snapper respectively, so this group is effectively locked in for the regular season.

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

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