By: Adam Wolpert
The preseason is over in New England following a Thursday night loss to the New York Giants. While it was only four exhibition games, there was still a big cost (or two, or three) to taking the practice field and hitting the turf come game time. We lost Derek Rivers two weeks ago on the practice field in Houston, Julian Edelman one week ago on the terrible turf in Detroit, and on Thursday we lost Cyrus Jones. If that's enough to make you not want to watch the preseason, I get it.
The games can be boring, you may not know three quarters of the players, or you may skip the game and watch HGTV. But Thursday night was different. Despite the loss, it was the best preseason finale that I've seen from the team in quite a long time. We got to see a ton of guys take the field and capitalize on their opportunity to play more, and many performed at a high level. While injuries are one of the most apparent cons to the preseason, Thursday night was a pro and is what it's really all about: young guys and journey men performing at their highest level to earn a coveted spot a what is sure to be a deep 53-man roster despite injuries. So with that being said, here are your final studs, duds, and honorable mentions of the 2017 preseason.
QB Jacoby Brissett (QB3): For much of the preseason, many people were speculating that Brissett's roster spot was not safe. Well, after a Thursday night thriller in which the QB looked better than he ever has, it appears that he is a lock to crack the final 53. Completing 28 of 39 passes, for 4 passing TD's, 1 rushing TD and 1 INT, he showed really good accuracy and timing, despite a few forced throws on the final drive. Not only did he shine through the air but he also excelled on the ground, specifically on a great rushing TD in the red zone where he juked a middle defender. Brissett likely made Belichick's decision on whether or not to carry three QB's a heck of a lot easier than it might have been. If I had to give you my best guess, I'd say that Brissett makes the final cut. If not, he'll be starting against us the first time we play the Jets this season.
WR Austin Carr (UDFA, Northwestern): At this point, a solid final preseason performance from Carr was no surprise. The rookie UDFA hauled in 3 of 3 targets for 48 yards and a TD. Though it is important to note that he is not an explosive player and he clearly lacks top-end speed, which will undoubtedly have some impact on his ability to create plays after the catch when he's facing starting level DB's, he has exhibited an ability to run extremely crisp routes in order to get separation rather than relying solely on his speed (or lack thereof). Now, it's time to rain on the parade. I simply can't see this guy making the roster, mainly because he's only seen 5 targets from Brady throughout all of training camp and practices. He's a good player, but I don't see him having a big role on this offense, regardless of Edelman's injury. Ultimately, if it comes down to how they fit specifically in this offense, both Lucien and Carr fit well, but Carr is the more apparent fit in the slot. It would certainly be a good move to sure up the slot WR position and maybe he could take the load off of Amendola as the primary guy so he can stay healthy.
WR Devin Lucien (2016 7th round pick): If it were up to me, that final spot at WR would go to this man right here. Lucien is a player with very good intangibles and has a similar build to Malcolm Mitchell. While Mitchell is stronger and slightly faster, Lucien has the slightest size advantage on him. Their combine numbers were fairly comparable, but Lucien played in a spread offense at ASU while Mitchell played in a pro offense with UGA. Lucien never put up great production in college until his final three collegiate games which is why he was a late pick despite a good combine. On Thursday night, he caught 5 passes for 96 yards and a TD. He displayed a burst off the line with a great 45-yard reception, and his route on the TD was beautiful as well. If I had to choose between Lucien and Carr, I would go with Lucien because he proved just as capable of a receiver and route runner, but exhibited the kind of speed you need to consistently get open against starting level DB's. I'm a fan of Carr's as well, but I personally see more NFL upside with Lucien. As I mentioned before, Carr is probably a better fit in the slot, but Lucien is the better fit outside.
CB Kenny Moore II (UDFA, Valdosta State): Have you all been sleeping on Kenny Moore? The answer is most likely yes. So far over training camp, joint practices, and the preseason, we have seen some standout plays and performances by UDFA CB's DJ Killings, Wil Likely, and Moore himself. While all three have shown flashes, I believe Moore has stood out the most with his consistency. He was pretty solid in coverage in the preseason finale, and with Justin Coleman being traded to Seattle for a late round pick, it appears that Moore might be able to snag the last CB spot behind Malcolm Butler, Stephon Gilmore, Eric Rowe, and Jonathan Jones. His playmaking in training camp earned him a good rep, and combine that with his preseason play, I think he earns one of the final roster spots.
RB/WR DJ Foster (KR/PR): DJ Foster played deep into the game and played well as he has in previous contests. He did not turn the ball over, he ran strong, he took some nice hits, and he made some nice catches. Following the injury to Cyrus Jones, he racked up 71 total yards on returns (an average just under 24) which was pretty impressive. Overall, I like his chances to make the roster over Austin Carr because he provides more value on special teams and has experience at WR from his time in college. Ultimately, he laid it all on the table and played himself into a spot on the 53-man roster this preseason, so the question becomes whether or not it will be on our roster or somebody else's; similar to the Carr dilemma.
The Hollister Twins (UDFA TE's): Both brothers have had a pretty solid preseason, and each had a TD grab in the finale against New York. Jacob came on strong in the first week against Jacksonville, while Cody showed more as of late. I don't see either guy getting a spot on the 53-man roster as the TE3 (that's going to James O'Shaughnessy), but I do think that they're strong practice squad players who could have a chance to join the roster baring any significant injuries occur.
LB Trevor Bates (Practice Squad LB in 2016): Trevor Bates, who was a 7th round draft pick for the Indianapolis Colts in 2017, is a player who seemed to stand out early on in training camp with nice coverage and tackling. I was curious to see if he could carve up a role for himself as a coverage LB over the preseason and while he was good in the tackling department, his coverage was not as good as it needed to be for him to lock up a spot. He had a good game against the Giants and racked up an acceptable number of tackles, but he didn't prove to be an asset in coverage. I have a good feeling that he could end up on our practice squad for the second straight year, but there's also potential somebody scoops him up. With guys like David Harris, Kyle Van Noy, Elandon Roberts, Shae McClellin, and of course Dont'a Hightower (who was listed as a DE in his return to practice), it's hard to see Bates receiving any opportunities to get on the field. UDFA Harvey Langi won that job with impressive pass-rushing and good coverage.
CB Cyrus Jones (IR): With what is believed to be an ACL tear, Cyrus Jones' second season in New England is officially over. Last night, he saw plenty of snaps before going down with the injury, and he looked alright on defense. It's tough to put him in the dud category, but while he improved a little here and there throughout the preseason, I think his playing time last night was a tell tale sign of where he stood on the team. Jones will head to the IR, opening up another roster spot for somebody to grab.
K Stephen Gostkowski (PK/KOS): #3 is officially back. After hitting another long distance, potential game winner in the last 40 seconds of the game without sending the ball wide-right( ! ), my confidence in Gostkowski is officially restored. He didn't have a perfect preseason, but there was reason for encouragement.
DE Geneo Grissom: I don't know how exactly I'd define Grissom's role on this team so I'm not going to try to. He is a very athletic DE who's flashed in the preseason before, but he's never shown the same flash at the NFL-level. He was a solid special teams contributor this past year, but he had a pretty impressive camp and looked solid against New York, namely on a nice sack early on. Belichick has also thrown some praise his way, so clearly he's in good standing with the coach. He hasn't lived up to his potential quite yet and there's certainly reason to be concerned that every time he flashes in the preseason he just flatlines in the regular season, but I would like to see him stick around for more DE depth when the roster is cut down to 53.