Bill Belichick and staff will have to trim the roster to 53 men come September.
The burning question is, who will stay and who will go? Will any notable veterans be shown the door? Will any undrafted free agents beat the odds? Not even head coach Bill Belichick knows at this point.
It's still early, but the time has come to predict the Patriots' 53-man roster.
Tom Brady isn't going anywhere.
There's no reason to believe that any of these quarterbacks will be packing their bags on cut-down day.
As the cornerstone of the Patriots franchise, Tom Brady is one of the greatest to ever play the game. The real camp competition will be for the No. 2 spot. Brian Hoyer is a dependable back-up QB who should have been drafted in 2009, while second-year man Ryan Mallett will look to give Hoyer a run for his money, and has the potential to do so.
On the outside looking in is former Kentucky Wildcat Mike Hartline, as there's just no room for a fourth-string quarterback.
As a 2011 second-round pick, Shane Vereen's role is likely to expand in 2012.
Stevan Ridley will look to take the reigns next season, but Danny Woodhead and Shane Vereen should factor into that mix as well. Woodhead and Vereen are built more for passing downs and third-down draw plays, but their impact will be felt. As for Joseph Addai, he will make the team due to experience and versatility in terms of blocking and receiving.
That said, it's hard to rule out undrafted Ole Miss rusher Brandon Bolden, who is following in the footsteps of ex-Patriot BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Yet with talent ahead of him on the depth chart, Bolden may be a candidate for the practice squad.
Without a doubt, the backfield's youth movement has garnered great expectations and excitement.
Spencer Larsen brings a lot to the table.
Anticipate New England to use a fullback in 2012. Last year, the Patriots went without a blocking back until Lousaka Polite was signed in December. But with no bruising rusher on the team, the Patriots may want to open up some holes with a fullback.
The Patriots currently have three fullbacks on the roster: Spencer Larsen, Tony Fiammetta and Eric Kettani.
Yet when the roster is reduced, only one fullback will remain standing, and that's Spencer Larsen.
According to NBCSports.com, Larsen is capable of doing more than blocking. He can play linebacker as well as special teams. He's totaled 25 special teams tackles since 2008 and played under Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels during his tenure with the Denver Broncos.
The 28-year-old can do it all, which will help him secure a spot on the 53-man roster.
Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski have been match-up nightmares.
Daniel Fells, on the other hand, will have to fight for the No. 3 spot. He will have to beat out Brad Herman, an undrafted rookie from Iowa. Yet Fells is a veteran backup who is up to the task.
Fells has hauled in 88 balls for 1,001 yards and eight touchdowns during his career, but for the Pats, he will spend most of his time blocking.
Chad Ochocinco's job is in jeopardy.
The Patriots have 12 wide receivers on the 90-man roster, but that number will dwindle to at least six by the time preseason ends.
The only guaruntees at the receiver position are Wes Welker and the newly-acquired deep threat, Brandon Lloyd. Although it's also hard to count out Julian Edelman and Matthew Slater, because they do more than catch passes. Both men can play defense, special teams and help out in the return game, so they will make the cut.
This offseason, New England brought in Donte Stallworth and the oft-injured Anthony Gonzalez to compete at wide receiver. However, it's a numbers game, and there's simply not a spot for every veteran wideout.
Bill Belichick and director of player personnel Nick Caserio are willing to throw darts at a board to see which ones stick. Unfortunately for guys like Stallworth, Gonzalez and Chad Ochocinco, they won't.
Ochocinco's failure to grasp the playbook, as well as his ineffective statistics (15 catches for 276 yards and one touchdown in 2011), hurt his chances of making the squad. Barring an outstanding preseason and training camp, the Ochocinco experiment will be over in New England.
The signing of Jabar Gaffney even puts possession receivers like Deion Branch in hot water. Gaffney spent three seasons with the Pats, totaling 85 receptions for 1,059 yards and eight touchdowns. What's most impressive is that at age 31, he's not slowing down. Since 2010, he's amassed 133 catches, 1,822 yards and seven scores.
One thing's for sure: The Patriots are deep at wide receiver.
Dan Koppen is back for another season in New England.
The re-signing of Dan Koppen in April shored up the Patriots offensive line. Koppen's two-year, $6 million deal should keep him in front of Brady for at least another season.
Beyond Koppen, the Patriots have three-year pro Ryan Wendell. Like Dan Connolly, Wendell can play both center and guard.
With experience and depth, the center position should be all set to go for 2012.
Logan Mankins anchors the left side of the Patriots' o-line.
In 2011, the Patriots had two Pro Bowlers among their offensive guards: Logan Mankins and Brian Waters. However, the 35-year-old Waters may retire instead of returning for a 13th NFL season.
"I don’t have anything on that," Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels told ESPNBoston.com's Mike Reiss on May 11.
If, in fact, Waters does not return, then that makes room for Robert Gallery.
"Both are basically one-year players at this point," said Reiss. "Waters is solely a guard, while Gallery offers a little more flexibility between guard and tackle. If both stick, it could come at the expense of a younger prospect who projects to help more in the future. Those can be tough calls."
Aside from Waters' unclear future, Mankins is recovering from surgery to repair a torn ACL. The injury should keep him out of commission for at least part of training camp, which opens the door for Donald Thomas, who played in 10 games for the Pats last season.
Nate Solder should slide into the starting left tackle spot.
Four-time Pro Bowl left tackle Matt Light decided to retire after 11 seasons with the Patriots. Light will be missed, but fortunately, some young talent is ready to step up.
Nate Solder was the Patriots' first-round draft pick in 2011 and started 13 games as a rookie. If Sebastian Vollmer can stay healthy on the right side of the line, then Solder will be able to man the left tackle position.
Second-year man Marcus Cannon, who played in seven games as a rookie, should continue to develop behind Solder and Vollmer.
The Patriots also have Iowa tackle Markus Zusevics, who went undrafted in April after tearing a pectoral muscle. Zusevics is a skilled blocker and might fall onto the Physically Unable to Perform list, or the practice squad, if healthy.
Jake Bequette and Chandler Jones will have an opportunity to play as rookies.
The Patriots underwent a facelift at defensive end by drafting Syracuse's Chandler Jones and Arkansas' Jake Bequette.
Aside from the new guys, 2010 draft pick Brandon Deaderick continues to progress and started five games last year for New England.
Andre Carter is still a free agent after suffering a quad injury late last season. Now it may appear doubtful, but Carter's 10-sack campaign in 2011 could keep him in consideration for a return to Foxboro. Perhaps he could land on the Physically Unable to Perform list to start the 2012 season.
But all in all, the defensive end position has become a strength for the Patriots.
Vince Wilfork knows how to clog the lanes and disrupt plays.
The Patriots are blessed to have a man like Vince Wilfork in the middle of their defensive front. The nose tackle is a four-time Pro Bowl selection who makes life easier for those around him—aside from his opposition.
Alongside No. 75 is Kyle Love, who has become a viable defensive tackle despite going undrafted out of Mississippi State. Love started 13 games in 2011, racking up 33 tackles and three sacks.
Filling out the reserve defensive tackle spot is Myron Pryor, who has struggled to stay healthy since the Patriots selected him in the sixth round of the 2009 NFL draft. Nonetheless, the 25-year-old has a shot at beating out the 33-year-old Gerard Warren and 2009 second-round pick Ron Brace for backup duties.
It should be known that some defensive ends on the roster also have the size to play on the interior of the line, Jonathan Fanene and Brandon Deaderick, in particular.
Overall, the flexible defensive front is loaded with options.
Rob Ninkovich will have some company at outside linebacker.
The number of outside linebackers is contingent upon if New England stays in the 4-3 defensive scheme or not. Either way, the Patriots used a great deal of sub packages in 2011, and the trend is likely to continue.
Therefore, Rob Ninkovich and Dont'a Hightower will duke it out for the starting outside linebacker gig. As a first-round pick in 2012, Hightower is a gifted athlete who can play on the outside or inside. He has to potential to start right away, which would push Ninkovich back into a third-down pass-rushing role.
Tracy White is on the opposite end of the spectrum. He's a special teamer who happens to fit as an outside linebacker. White will make the team instead of former first-rounder Bobby Carpenter and second-rounder Jermaine Cunningham because of his proficiency in the "big four"—kickoff coverage, kick return, punt coverage and punt return.
Don't be surprised if Jake Bequette, Chandler Jones and Trevor Scott also see time at outside linebacker in the "elephant role" that Willie McGinest made famous.
Brandon Spikes found his niche in 2011.
Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes were a force at the interior linebacker spots last season. Spikes finally started playing like a top-tier draft pick. Their past success has raised the expectation level for 2012.
Dane Fletcher should make the team for serviceability on special teams and for his back-up duties on defense.
In addition, Dont'a Hightower will spell in at the "Mike" or "Will" linebacker spots and has already stirred up a competition with Brandon Spikes for a starting inside linebacker spot, Mike Reiss reports.
2012 is a make or break year for Devin McCourty.
This cornerback corps is loaded with young talent. Devin McCourty will look to return to rookie form, but the pressure won't all be on his shoulders now. If Kyle Arrington and Sterling Moore can pick up where they left off and Ras-I Dowling can stay healthy, then the cornerback position is in good shape.
Will Allen will make the team for his veteran leadership, and seventh-round pick Alfonzo Dennard should be able to find a role as a nickel or dime back—that is, if he overcomes some character concerns.
Six cornerbacks seems like a good number for the final roster. After all, the Patriots secondary did rank 31st in pass yards allowed last season. So, the more defensive backs, the merrier.
Second-round draft pick Tavon Wilson is a multifaceted athlete who will find his way onto the football field.
Patrick Chung will be starting again at strong safety in 2012, while Illinois rookie Tavon Wilson should thrive in a reserve role. Wilson will see the field as a backup safety, but he also can play corner and special teams. As of now, he's listed as the No. 2 strong safety on the depth chart.
Strong safety and cornerback Malcolm Williams will have an uphill battle to make the 53-man roster in his second year in the NFL. However, he could land back on the practice squad.
Steve Gregory is in position to start for the Patriots.
Ex-San Diego Charger Steve Gregory has inked a three-year deal with the Patriots and looks like the No. 1 option early on.
However, when it comes to the back-up free safety job, sixth-round pick Nate Ebner has the makings of a folk hero already. The Ohio State product played just a handful of snaps on defense for the Buckeyes, but he brings special teams intensity to the table. The toughness he exemplified from his days playing rugby doesn't hurt either.
Ebner will have to prove that he's more than just a raw athlete who can run downfield like a madman on kickoffs. Yet he may already have an edge special teams-wise on incumbents Sergio Brown and Josh Barrett, who currently proceed him on the depth chart.
Zoltan Mesko and Stephen Gostkowski have been assets for the Patriots.
Punter: Zoltan Mesko
Placekicker: Stephen Gostkowski
Long-snapper: Danny Aiken
If nobody is talking about the kicking game, then that's a good thing.
Very little competition has been brought in to challenge the specialists, which is perfectly fine. Zoltan Mesko, Stephen Gostkowski and snapper Danny Aiken have done all that could be expected of them.
Former UMass kicker Chris Koepplin is back in camp for a second-straight year. But at the end of the day, Gostkowski has one of the best legs in the NFL.