Patriots stock watch: Who is rising and falling after preseason finale?

Patriots

Several players on the roster bubble impressed Friday against the Titans, especially on defense.

New England Patriots quarterback Bailey Zappe (4) plays against the Tennessee Titans during an NFL preseason football game Saturday, Aug. 26, 2023, in Nashville, Tenn.
Bailey Zappe struggled during his heavy reps against the Titans on Friday. (AP Photo/John Amis)

The Patriots’ preseason slate has finally come to a close, with New England’s next matchup set for the Sept. 10 season opener against the Eagles at Gillette Stadium.

But there’s still plenty of work to be done in Foxborough, with Bill Belichick and his staff already in the process of cutting New England’s roster down to its 53-man grouping for the regular season.

As the Patriots’ player-personnel staff start to whittle down the roster, here’s our latest roster stock watch after last week’s practices and preseason finale against the Titans.

STOCK UP

WR Kayshon Boutte

It might seem curious to give Boutte a “rising” stock designation, considering he barely logged any snaps on Friday against the Titans.

But given his standing for most of this preseason as a roster-bubble player, those limited reps in New England’s final preseason game might signal that the former LSU wideout has shown enough to Belichick and Co. to warrant a roster spot.

After a sluggish start in minicamp and the start of training camp, Boutte has made the most of the reps handed to him, developing into a steady possession receiver with some explosiveness.

The former five-star receiver impressed during New England’s preseason reps against the Packers on Aug. 19, turning a seemingly harmless inside slant into a 42-yard touchdown after turning on the afterburners against Green Bay’s defense.

He then followed it up by catching nine passes off of nine targets during New England’s practices last Tuesday and Wednesday, including two red-zone touchdowns off of throws from Mac Jones and Bailey Zappe.

Belichick was complimentary of Boutte’s showing during camp when asked on Saturday morning.

“As camp went on, seemed to get stronger and more productive both in practice and games,” Belichick said. “Really in all the areas that he worked into, so that was very encouraging. He showed an explosive ability on the field when he played.

“So he’s had a good camp. We’ll take a look at everything here as we put things together here over the weekend and heading into the regular season, but yeah, Kayshon has had a strong camp.”

LB Calvin Munson

No player might have helped his case more for a spot on the 53-man roster than Munson on Friday night.

Even though Munson is projected to be more of a special-teams asset once the regular season begins, the 28-year-old linebacker was handed a ton of reps at linebacker during the preseason finale.

He made the most of his opportunity, recording 10 tackles (one being a four-yard tackle for loss) while also picking off Titans QB Malik Willis.

With Mack Wilson struggling against the run during his limited preseason reps at linebacker, Munson has a chance to leapfrog him on the 53-man roster.

Already a solid coverage option on special teams, Munson showed that he can add some valuable depth at a linebacker spot that gets pretty thin behind Ja’Whaun Bentley.

LB Ronnie Perkins

Drafted in the third round of the 2021 NFL Draft out of Oklahoma, Perkins’ potential as a pass-rushing asset up in the NFL ranks has never been in question.

But the 23-year-old linebacker’s ability to remain on the field has been his primary hurdle entering his third season in Foxborough.

After an undisclosed injury prompted Perkins to miss additional portions of this summer’s camp and preseason contests, Perkins was able to log steady reps against Tennessee on Friday.

He was a force throughout the night, landing a quarterback hit and recording both four hurries and three stops in New England’s loss. He also will likely get featured in New England’s film review after puking right before a defensive snap — and subsequently making a tackle just seconds later.

Given that Perkins’ only true limitation has been his health, Friday’s showing stands as a step in the right direction for a promising player still looking to log his first snaps in an NFL regular-season game.

DL Sam Roberts

After an undisciplined showing against the Packers that included a costly 15-yard penalty off a late hit against Green Bay QB Jordan Love, Roberts seemed like a potential roster-cut casualty going into the final week of preseason play.

But the 2022 sixth-round pick out of Northwest Missouri State rebounded in impressive fashion against the Titans, recording a run stuff, two tackles for loss, and a sack.

Even for his size (6-foot-5, 300 pounds), Roberts has a high motor during pass-rush situations while also bringing the thump against the run game. With Carl Davis standing as the first of many cuts for New England in the coming days, Roberts should have a roster spot locked up.

Honorable Mentions: Marte Mapu, Riley Reiff, Anfernee Jennings, Bryce Baringer

STOCK DOWN

QB Bailey Zappe

With Mac Jones and most of New England’s starters getting the night off on Friday in Tennessee, most of the reps under center went to the Patriots’ expected backup QB Bailey Zappe.

It didn’t go so well.

Yes, Zappe wasn’t helped out by yet another porous offensive line in front of him. Still, the 24-year-old QB struggled to execute on a night where New England generated just 79 total net yards on offense.

Zappe finished the game 8-for-15 for 57 yards with zero touchdowns and zero interceptions. He was sacked four times and fumbled three times — one of which led to the Titans gaining possession. 

“It’s football. Stuff is going to happen. People are going to be switching in and out,” Zappe said postgame. “It’s my job, the QB’s job, to go out and play football. And today, there was some good, some bad. I definitely could have done better with some of those things. But, it doesn’t matter who’s out there. It’s a matter of execution. That directly reflects on us as quarterbacks.”

It’s been a difficult preseason and camp so far for Zappe, who has struggled to stack positive practice days together while working primarily with New England’s second-team offense.

It sure feels like a long time ago that we were discussing a potential QB competition at the start of camp.

QB Malik Cunningham

There’s still a lot to like about what Cunningham can offer the Patriots as a potential gadget player, especially if given reps at QB during certain situations. 

His athleticism was on full display during his standout fourth-quarter performance against the Texans in New England’s preseason opener. But some of that momentum has dissipated over the last few weeks, especially as Cunningham’s reps at QB have started to dry up.

After not taking any snaps under center on Aug. 19 against the Packers, he only took part in two series in the third and fourth quarters against the Titans. As QB, Cunningham went 0-for-2 on the throws, while also gaining one yard on the ground.

The Patriots have utilized Cunningham in several other spots across the depth chart. But his raw play at wide receiver and lack of production at that position makes it hard to justify his spot on a New England roster that might already carry six wideouts.

Ultimately, the Patriots could try to sneak Cunningham onto the team’s practice squad, where he should be useful as a scout-team QB and will be given more opportunities to hone his versatile skillset.

Still, that fourth-quarter showing against Houston could prompt one of the other 31 NFL teams to claim Cunningham off waivers before he makes it to the practice squad.

“There’s a lot of stuff that I still need to work on, but I feel like I put enough good stuff on film to let the coaches make that decision,” Cunningham said postgame on Friday. “It’s not my decision. I can only control what I can control. Just keep my head down and keep working.”

OT Andrew Stueber and Patriots offensive line

It was yet another rough night for second-year tackle Andrew Stueber and a patchwork offensive line on Friday night.

In total, the Titans racked up six sacks, five tackles for loss, and three forced fumbles against New England, with Stueber in particular struggling at left tackle.

A week after Packers LB Kingsley Enagbare beat him clean en route to a strip sack against Mac Jones, Stueber labored against the Titans pass rush — allowing yet another strip sack on the first play of New England’s second offensive drive on Friday.

Later in the first quarter, Stueber was knocked for another sack after Rashad Weaver slipped past him, stalling another drive and forcing New England to punt.

CB Jack Jones

It’s been an interesting preseason for Jack Jones, and that’s looking beyond his ongoing legal issues.

All things considered, the second-year corner has had a strong camp as one of the team’s most utilized boundary options. According to Mark Daniels of MassLive.com, Jones led all Patriots players during 18 training camp and preseason practices with 11 pass breakups.

Jones has the skill set and on-field awareness to be a difference-maker as a ball hawk in New England’s secondary.

But Friday’s preseason finale was a game to forget for Jones. Despite some strong plays against the run in the early going, Jones was burned a few times in coverage — coughing up a 30-yard reception and getting flagged for a 32-yard defensive pass interference on what was an under-thrown ball by Willis.

He was also hit by a nasty stiff arm from Titans RB Tyjae Spears that eventually resulted in a 19-yard gain.

One thing worth noting was that Jones saw a ton of reps against the Titans, an odd distinction given that several other expected contributors on New England’s defense were given the night off.

If the NFL opts to levy a suspension or other discipline against Jones for his weapons charge earlier this summer, it makes sense that New England wanted to give Jones an extended look in his latest preseason outing.

(Dis)honorable Mentions: James Ferentz, Matt Sokol, Kevin Harris, Sidy Sow


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