Ezekiel Elliott reinforces RB room

Patriots 53-man roster projection: Ezekiel Elliott reinforces RB room originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

We’re a long way off from Bill Belichick having to decide who will be on his team when the regular season begins. But after every preseason game, it’s interesting to go through the roster to try to envision how the puzzle pieces will fit together come September.

Here’s our latest guess, which includes new names at the quarterback and running back positions…

If you want to develop Malik Cunningham, don’t get cute. Find a spot for him. If you want to develop him, by the way, you may have to find a spot for him.

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There are enough teams in the league now leaning into the quarterback run game that if Cunningham continues to play well in preseason, someone may scoop him up if the Patriots let him go with the hope of stashing him on their practice squad. Don’t tempt them.

Running back (3): Rhamondre Stevenson, Ezekiel Elliott, Pierre Strong

Kevin Harris doesn’t look like a true No. 2. The Patriots need someone they can trust to take real work right away. Someone who can wiggle forward in short-yardage situations. Someone with a little bit of juice to get to holes at the line of scrimmage quickly.

Harris doesn’t appear to be that kind of back. Ezekiel Elliott might be.

Pierre Strong gets a nod here as a “sub” option because his speed — which could land him special teams roles, as it did last year — will buy him time to figure out who he is as a player.

Douglas only playing a handful of snaps on Thursday seemed to be a pretty good indication of where he stands in the pecking order right now.

Could Kayshon Boutte end up here eventually? I’m not ruling it out. But it might require a trade. Will teams come calling for Kendrick Bourne again this summer, as they did a year ago?

This seems light at this position. Especially for a team that could be using multiple tight end sets on a regular basis. But unless Matt Sokol — who looks like the No. 3 — starts to light it up in preseason play, it would seem to me like there’s a good chance he could get through waivers and onto the practice squad.

It’s been a tough summer for Conor McDermott, but he would give the team some veteran depth at tackle. Calvin Anderson remains on the non-football illness list so we’ll leave him off here for now. If Mike Onwenu (physically unable to perform list) doesn’t get on the field soon, he may start the season unavailable as well.

The three rookies drafted on Day 3 this year — Andrews, Sow and Mafi — may have to be ready to play sooner than anyone anticipated.

Can the Patriots get Nick Folk onto the practice squad? Would he want that? At this point, the kicker job looks like Chad Ryland’s, but being able to keep Folk would give them a steady presence if Ryland should fall into a rut.

Bryce Baringer didn’t have a great night Thursday — he shanked one that rolled to 56 yards and put another in the end zone for a touchback — but he has the ability to hit some booming punts.

An under-the-radar rookie — Ameer Speed, taken in the sixth round — makes the club as coverage specialist in this scenario. Undrafted rookie Jourdan Heilig was a total unknown prior to the Patriots taking him, which may mean teams won’t be tripping over themselves to claim him on waivers if released. If that’s the case, Belichick may sprint to get Heilig on the p-squad.

Carl Davis got banged up against the Texans, but if he’s healthy, the Patriots like him as an early-down run-stuffer.

If they’re going to play more two-high safety coverages without Devin McCourty … that means one fewer body in the box … which means one fewer body to play the run. How will they make up for that? Maybe by playing Davis and others in this group who can two-gap. More space-eaters on the line could make up for lighter (in terms of number of bodies) boxes.

This is shaping up to be one of the best position groups on the team. Keion White looks like a real contributor after what he did to Houston on Thursday. Anfernee Jennings has had a solid camp and picked up multiple pressures in the preseason opener. Lots to like here.

No real shockers here. Nice to see Marte Mapu charting plays next to Steve Belichick during the game. Those two had plenty of conversations over the course of the night, and at one point Mapu could be seen listening in on a conversation between veteran safeties Jalen Mills and Adrian Phillips.

He didn’t play against the Texans; he’s still wearing a red non-contact jersey at practice as he recovers from an offseason pec injury. But he wasn’t just lounging around.

Versatile. Intelligent. Interchangeable in some circumstances. It’ll be interesting to see how this group develops its chemistry over the course of time.

Nice night by Mills — one pick, one tackle for loss — who could be vying for a real job with other more experienced safeties. He looks like a fit at the moment.

Four? Count ’em. That’s four first- and second-year corners in this room.

Christian Gonzalez looks smooth. Then there’s their seventh-round rookie out of Jackson State, Isaiah Bolden, who has impressed in practice and had a 26-yard kick return on a kickoff Thursday.

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