5 Patriots position battles to keep an eye on

There remains uncertainty at wide receiver and left tackle, and Bill Belichick may have to make a tough decision at running back.

New England Patriots NFL Tom Brady
The Patriots run onto the field before a preseason game on Aug. 16, 2018. –The Associated Press

The Patriots selected 10 players in the 2019 NFL Draft. They signed nine more undrafted rookies upon the draft’s conclusion.

Mandatory minicamp is scheduled to start June 4, but the team will hold a number of voluntary workouts in May and June.

Here are five position battles Bill Belichick has set up this preseason:

Wide receiver

Super Bowl LIII MVP Julian Edelman is the Patriots’ top option at wide receiver.

Whether or not the indefinitely suspended Josh Gordon, who remains signed with the Patriots, will be reinstated to play in 2019 remains an important question. The Patriots signed three undrafted rookies (Xavier Ubosi, Jakobi Meyers, and Ryan Davis) to compete with veteran newcomers Demaryius Thomas, Bruce Ellington, and Maurice Harris.

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N’Keal Harry, the Patriots’ first-round draft pick this year, figures to receive plenty of playing time in his rookie season no matter where he officially lands on the depth chart. For now, though, the team’s website lists 26-year-old Phillip Dorsett as the starter in the second receiver slot.

Second-year player Braxton Berrios, who spent all of last season on injured reserve, will push for a spot on the 53-man roster too.

Left tackle

Isaiah Wynn, a Patriots first-round pick in 2018, missed the entire 2018 season with a torn Achilles. After Trent Brown’s departure in free agency, there is some uncertainty at left tackle, though Wynn tops the Patriots’ depth chart.

The Patriots drafted Yodny Cajuste, who started at left tackle with West Virginia, in the third round. The team also reportedly signed 31-year-old veteran Jared Veldheer to a one-year contract May 7.

Veldheer started twelve games at tackle for the Broncos in 2018 and has experience playing both the left and right side.

Running back

The Patriots’ running back depth chart was solid before they added Damien Harris in the draft’s third round.

Sony Michel and James White are the presumptive starters, but as  The Boston Globe‘s Jim McBride put it, Harris “represented too much value to pass up in the third round. He was the proverbial ‘best player available.'”

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Brandon Bolden re-joined the Patriots in March after one year with the Dolphins and is currently listed as a third-string running back behind Rex Burkhead and Michel. Bolden reportedly is owed $1 million in guaranteed money for 2019, though, giving some analysts reason to believe he should make the team.

Six-year veteran James Develin’s presence, too, will make decisions tough for Belichick come August.

Punter

Ryan Allen earned his spot on the Patriots in 2013 by besting Zoltan Mesko, who was the team’s punter for the preceding three seasons, in a training camp battle.

Belichick gave Allen competition in the 2018 preseason by bringing in Corey Bojorquez. Allen won again.

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In 2019, Allen will battle fifth-round pick Jake Bailey for a spot on the Patriots’ roster.

Why did the Patriots spend a draft pick on a punter and initiate competition with Allen, who is one of the league’s most consistent punters over the course of his career? It all comes down to salary cap space.

“Bailey will sign a standard four-year contract worth a total of roughly $2.8 million, while Allen just signed a one-year, $1.5 million contract in free agency,” The Athletic‘s Jeff Howe wrote. “Allen got less than expected after firing his agent, which led to the short-term deal. If he beats out Bailey for the job and maintains his performance on the field during the season, Allen would probably get a four-year contract in 2020 worth between $10 and $12 million.”

Quarterback

Tom Brady is still the starter. Don’t expect that to change. But the Patriots carry three more quarterbacks behind him into training camp.

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The last two seasons, Bill Belichick opted to leave only one backup quarterback, Brian Hoyer, on the 53-man roster. 2018 seventh-round pick Danny Etling was placed only on the practice squad last season.

Belichick drafted former Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham in the fourth round of the NFL Draft in April, who Bleacher Report listed as the draft’s third-best quarterback in Sept. 2018. An 8-5 season may have lowered Stidham’s draft stock, but the Patriots may see a future with Stidham in it.

While none of Hoyer, Stidham, or Etling could conceivably replace Tom Brady in 2019, a cut at the backup level appears likely.