Trimming the New England Patriots' roster from 75 to 53 players is a difficult task. It's also a practice in futility, since one of the most important pieces of information—the medical records of the players—is currently unavailable.
Those medicals may have had something to do with the surprise release of wide receiver Jabar Gaffney. They may not have had anything to do with it. We won't know until well after the 53 men on this roster are announced.
So, with a hat tip to Ian Logue of PatsFans.com, who designed this great tool to assemble a 53-man roster, let's take a shot in the dark at predicting the final roster. These lists are in no particular order.
QB (3): Tom Brady, Ryan Mallett, Brian Hoyer
There are small circles of people who question whether the Patriots would keep all three quarterbacks. They would sooner keep all three and trade one of the two backups (I'll let you figure out which one) than release one of their backups and allow another team to pick him up without gaining any compensation of their own.
RB (5): Stevan Ridley, Jeff Demps, Danny Woodhead, Shane Vereen, Brandon Bolden
Missed the Cut: Eric Kettani
This is one of the spots where there could be a tough decision coming. I can see room for all five backs on the roster, but the Patriots may feel differently. Brandon Bolden has more special teams value than Danny Woodhead and Shane Vereen, but Bolden has also had a more up-and-down camp, including a muffed punt in the final preseason game against the Giants.
Vereen may get the benefit of the doubt as a result of the lockout-shortened offseason program last year, which may have steepened his learning curve a bit. That final spot could come down to Woodhead vs. Vereen, and while Vereen offers more special teams value, Woodhead is tough as nails and rarely injured. In the end, I think five of the six make the roster.
WR (5): Wes Welker, Deion Branch, Matthew Slater, Julian Edelman, Brandon Lloyd
Missed the Cut: Jeremy Ebert, Tyler Urban, Kerry Taylor, Jesse Holley
This list was made a bit easier by the release of Gaffney, who would have likely cut into one of the available spots at running back (and still may, if he returns).
Jeremy Ebert should warrant a spot on the practice squad, if he clears the waivers—which he should, since the buzz around him has been minimal this preseason.
TE (3): Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Daniel Fells
Missed the Cut: Visanthe Shiancoe, Alex Silvestro
Daniel Fells has the benefit of knowledge in offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels' system, and head coach Bill Belichick clearly values a blocking tight end with some pass-catching ability.
We simply haven't seen enough out of Visanthe Shiancoe to formulate a solid opinion on him, and he's missed a bunch of practice with an injury. The Patriots guaranteed him $400,000, but that shouldn't stop them from making the move if they feel he's unable to contribute.
C (2): Dan Koppen, Ryan Wendell
If Koppen wasn't going to make the 53-man roster, they would have likely done him the courtesy of making him part of the first wave of cuts to allow him to catch on elsewhere.
Wendell has been in the system for a long time, and he offers enough versatility as an interior linemen to warrant a roster spot.
G (4): Logan Mankins, Donald Thomas, Brian Waters, Dan Connolly
Missed the Cut: Dustin Waldron, Derek Dennis, Nick McDonald
How can Brian Waters be on the roster if he hasn't practiced yet? Don't forget that Waters wasn't part of the Patriots roster until after the final preseason game last year, and that he hadn't participated in any training camp before that point—he was released by the Chiefs on July 28, 2011 and signed by the Patriots on September 4. The lack of practice didn't seem to bother him last year.
Waldron, Dennis and McDonald could all be headed for the practice squad if they clear waivers.
T (3): Nate Solder, Marcus Cannon, Sebastian Vollmer
Missed the Cut: Mat Kopa, Jeremiah Warren, Darrion Weems
No huge surprises here. The Patriots have depth concerns at tackle, but they can't make Kopa, Warren and Weems ready for the NFL if they're not. The only way to do that is through the practice squad, which is a reasonable possibility for all three.
DE (5): Chandler Jones, Brandon Deaderick, Jake Bequette, Jermaine Cunningham, Trevor Scott
I might be a bit of an optimist to think the Patriots could find room for all five of these guys on the roster, but each has value. Trevor Scott has been up-and-down in games but has been very consistent in practices. He also has special teams value.
Cunningham has carved out a nice niche for himself as an interior sub package pass-rusher, an interesting role for the former defensive end turned hybrid outside linebacker and a role the Patriots have struggled to fill in recent years.
If one of these guys is a surprise cut, I would expect it to be either Deaderick or Scott.
DT (4): Vince Wilfork, Kyle Love, Justin Francis, Ron Brace
Missed the Cut: Aaron Lavarias, Marcus Harrison, Marcus Forston
Justin Francis has some versatility to his game in his ability to play both defensive end and defensive tackle. We know how much the Patriots love scheme flexibility, especially up front, so while Francis may seem like a better candidate for the practice squad, he could warrant a roster spot.
Brace has really made big strides this preseason. Everyone is noticing. He'll provide nice rotational depth behind Love and Wilfork.
ILB (4): Jerod Mayo, Brandon Spikes, Donta Hightower, Jeff Tarpinian
Missed the Cut: Niko Koutouvides, Mike Rivera, Tracy White
White has been a special teams contributor for a few years, but he's missed a lot of camp with injuries. Jeff Tarpinian offers enough in that role to make White expendable. Keeping Scott, who also has special teams value, also reduces White's value.
Niko Koutouvides has been on and off the roster since two years ago, and an injury in last night's game against the Giants puts him off again.
OLB (2): Rob Ninkovich, Bobby Carpenter
Ninkovich is a lock, and Carpenter offers enough on special teams and as a sub package coverage linebacker to warrant the spot. He's much better in those roles than Gary Guyton ever was, and he was a steady presence on the roster for years.
CB (6): Ras-I Dowling, Kyle Arrington, Alfonzo Dennard, Sterling Moore, Marquice Cole, Devin McCourty
Missed the Cut: Malcolm Williams
Marquice Cole has taken many of the special teams responsibilities once assumed by safety Sergio Brown, and Cole has looked much better on defense in recent weeks. His corner-safety versatility will come in handy if injury strikes.
The only one on this list whose status I'm less certain of is Dennard. He doesn't play on special teams and missed a lot of training camp, but he has looked good when he's been out there, and chances are slim of sneaking him onto the practice squad. His versatility is an asset to the Patriots secondary.
FS (2): Steve Gregory, Tavon Wilson
Missed the Cut: Derrick Martin
Not much to talk about here. Wilson has looked very solid in camp and in preseason action as the "big" nickel defensive back, lining up in the box on occasion. His versatility will be a huge asset to this defense.
SS (2): Patrick Chung, Nate Ebner
Missed the Cut: Sergio Brown, James Ihedigbo
Nate Ebner has impressed Patriots coaches with his ability to contribute on multiple special teams units, and he has come along nicely in the limited defensive roles he's been given. He played 21 of the team's 32 first-half snaps against the Eagles, the last time the starters played any significant time.
It's safe to say that he has usurped James Ihedigbo as the team's special teams ace with value at safety.
If you need me to explain Sergio Brown being cut, you clearly weren't paying attention to the Patriots defensive backfield in the 2011 season.
ST (3): Zoltan Mesko, Stephen Gostkowski, Danny Aiken
Erik Frenz is the AFC East lead blogger for Bleacher Report. Be sure to follow Erik on Twitter and "like" the AFC East blog on Facebook to keep up with all the updates. Unless specified otherwise, all quotes are obtained firsthand.