Exploring New England Patriots hot topics in a weekly mailbag:
Gary, the biggest takeaway for me is that Mike Gillislee, barring an injury to others, is fighting for a roster spot after opening last season as the team's No. 1 running back. First-round draft pick Sony Michel, six-year veteran Rex Burkhead and "passing back" James White are locks, which leaves Gillislee, Jeremy Hill, Brandon Bolden and undrafted free agent Ralph Webb as the next layer on the depth chart vying for one or two spots. That's an unexpected turn for Gillislee, who signed a two-year, $6.4 million contract as a restricted free agent last offseason, costing the Patriots a fifth-round draft choice when Buffalo didn't match the offer (the Bills selected linebacker Matt Milano with the pick). Part of the reason Gillislee's spot on the roster isn't a guarantee is that the Patriots could cut him with no dead money on the salary cap, which is another important layer to consider. So Gillislee, who totaled 383 yards and five touchdowns on 104 carries last season and lost the top spot on the depth chart to Dion Lewis in Week 6, is one of the fascinating personnel storylines heading into 2018.
Mike Pats have so many running backs on their roster who & how many will make the team in your opinion?— Gary Smith (@BostonRocks) May 2, 2018
Lefty, part of what makes 2017 third-round pick Derek Rivers and 2017 undrafted free agent Harvey Langi an interesting topic is that they could be included in this year's draft class because they missed last year with injuries. Rivers, who tore his ACL during a mid-August joint practice, has had no setbacks and should be on the field at the start of training camp. The Patriots are hoping he can help their pass rush, as he had set the Youngstown State record for most sacks in a career (41). Langi, an outside linebacker, played sparingly in one game last season before being involved in a car accident that ultimately landed him on injured reserve. He has made progress from back, neck and knee injuries suffered in the accident. Those close to him relay that he's doing great and is ready to go.
@MikeReiss mike have u heard anything lately on the progress of Derek Rivers or Harvey Langi? Thx man— Lefty2Guns (@tod_rodger) May 2, 2018
Alonso, my belief is that the Patriots plan to play first-round pick Isaiah Wynn at left tackle initially and see how the competition unfolds. If he's beaten out there, he could then kick inside to guard, possibly pushing Joe Thuney on the left side. Either way, Wynn should be out there because the Patriots will play their best five linemen, and he projects as a top-five player based on his traits and performance in college against high-level competition. From a big-picture standpoint, if the Patriots didn't think Wynn had a chance to be in the tackle mix, I don't believe they would have picked him at No. 23. It comes down to positional value and there are few positions more important than left tackle.
@MikeReiss hi Mike, just read your article on the OTs. I feel like there's a chance they might try Wynn at guard, at least this year. What do you think? A Cannon, Brown, Waddle, Croston, Garcia 5 man group at tackle seems like enough, no? With Wynn, Mason, Andrews, Thuney inside.— Alonso (@AlonsoNFL) May 4, 2018