Early Projections for Patriots' Final 53 Man Roster
The Patriots already had one of the youngest defenses in the NFL, and now, with the addition of five rookie defenders and a complete revamping of their receiving corps, they're poised to get even younger overall.
The young depth at almost every position is outstanding and should make for an entertaining array of training camp positional battles. It also provides some insurance against the injuries that always seem to strike.
After taking some time to analyze the new additions, here's an early projection for how the Patriots' 2013 53-man roster might end up.
QB (2): Tom Brady, Ryan Mallett
Unlike many other positions, quarterback is one that has not seen a major overhaul in recent years, and the reason why is obvious. Tom Brady is still in elite form.
This year's test of an almost entirely new receiving corps should be one of the most interesting of Brady's career. Unlike 2006, he has a collection of young talent to work with. It's just a question of whether he can find the magic that he found with Deion Branch, Randy Moss and Wes Welker with some or all of this new crew?
There were plenty of rumors that the Patriots were looking to trade Ryan Mallett earlier this offseason and in the early days of the draft, but keeping Mallett in New England makes the most sense. With Brady turning 36 in August, having a capable backup behind him is the safest move the team can make.
Had they gotten rid of Mallett, they would've been left with no experienced quarterback on the roster outside of Brady. Mallett might not be Brady's heir apparent, but he knows the offense and has a capable live-wire arm. If he is forced into action, it will be interesting.
RB (4): Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, Brandon Bolden, Leon Washington
The Patriots lost Danny Woodhead to the Chargers this offseason. Woodhead was arguably their most consistent back, especially in the passing game, but the "starter" in Stevan Ridley returned.
Ridley versus Brandon Bolden could be an underrated camp battle, while Shane Vereen takes over Woodhead's role in the spread offense. Leon Washington didn't get many carries in Seattle last season, and it's unlikely he will in New England either barring injuries.
LeGarrette Blount will compete with Bolden for short-yardage carries, but if Bolden returns to the form he showed early in 2012 he should win that competition, if not dethrone Ridley as the primary back.
WR (6): Aaron Dobson, Danny Amendola, Josh Boyce, Julian Edelman, TJ Moe, Matthew Slater
The Patriots' wide receivers will have an entirely different look this season, much like the great turnover in 2007. Unlike that year, when the additions were entirely free agents, this time will be primarily led by rookies Aaron Dobson, Josh Boyce and TJ Moe.
Free Agent Danny Amendola should become a reliable outlet for Brady, but the rookies will be counted on to bring an element of explosion that has been missing from the Patriots' attack in recent seasons.
Moe has great strength and quickness, and should have enough upside to make veteran free agent Donald Jones expendable. Julian Edelman sticks based on his experience and special teams ability, but he'll have to prove his worth as a receiver with Leon Washington being a capable punt returner.
TE (4): Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Jake Ballard, Michael Hoomanawanui
The biggest problem of 2012 with the tight end injuries was their inability to replicate Gronkowski's run-blocking. Ballard should cover that if they lose Gronk for any period of time again in 2013.
Michael Hoomanawanui gets the fourth tight end role over Daniel Fells. He's a better backup to Hernandez.
C (1): Ryan Wendell
G (4): Logan Mankins, Dan Connolly, Nick McDonald, Marcus Cannon
T (3): Nate Solder, Sebastian Vollmer, Will Svitek
With the re-signing of Sebastian Vollmer, the Pats return their entire offensive line from 2012. An offseason to get fully healthy from knee and back problems should help Vollmer improve his consistency.
Mankins, now a full year removed from ACL surgery, should also return to form and only get better next to fellow mauler Ryan Wendell. Wendell was one of the biggest surprises of 2012, playing more snaps than anyone else in the NFL.
Marcus Cannon is likely to switch to guard, where he'll push Dan Connolly at the right guard spot. Nick McDonald is a capable interior backup and could play a significant role should injuries strike. The Pats never officially replaced Donald Thomas, who departed for the Colts, so it points to confidence in McDonald and possibly Cannon, if he moves inside.
Newcomer Svitek will be one to watch in the preseason. Early reports are that he should be a capable backup at both tackle spots.
DE (4): Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich, Michael Buchanan, Jermaine Cunningham
DT (4): Vince Wilfork, Tommy Kelly, Kyle Love, Armond Armstead
The Patriots defensive line is a versatile group that should see multiple players both inside and outside the defensive line.
Chandler Jones will be looking to build on what was a promising start to his rookie year. Rob Ninkovich enters a contract year, but should be a lock to start the season at the left defensive end spot.
Rookie Michael Buchanan and Jermaine Cunningham get the nod over Jason Vega, Jake Bequette and Justin Francis. Cunningham enters camp on the bubble, but has good versatility in his favor. Bequette was disappointing in his rookie year and will need to make a big jump to make the team.
Francis was promising toward the end of the 2012 season, but is now likely expendable with the additions of Armond Armstead and Buchanan.
Vince Wilfork will once again be the key defensive chess piece for Bill Belichick, but the addition of Tommy Kelly should ease the load on him, while also providing more pass rush ability than last year's base defense starter Kyle Love.
Love is a solid run-stopper and will be part of the rotation, with Armstead being advertised as another versatile player who can play multiple spots on the defensive line.
ILB(3): Brandon Spikes, Dane Fletcher, Steve Beauharnais
OLB(4): Jerod Mayo, Donta Hightower, Jamie Collins, Niko Koutouvides
Perhaps the most interesting player to watch in training camp this summer will be Jamie Collins and how Bill Belichick uses him. Collins has played just about every position on defense except cornerback and has freakish athletic ability.
Speculation is that Collins was specifically brought in to help the Pats coverage against the tight ends, running backs and occasional slot receivers. But how does that role mesh with the base and sub defenses?
Will he replace Brandon Spikes in middle linebacker in the 4-3 base? Or will he be restricted to nickel coverage duties next to Jerod Mayo? Collins could theoretically play any linebacker spot, and that kind of versatility is always a huge plus for Belichick.
Jerod Mayo remains the leader of the linebackers and should continue to play nearly every snap.
Hightower will look to make a jump in year two, he really started to come on at the end of 2012. Spikes will need to demonstrate an improved coverage ability if he wants to remain a three-down linebacker in a contract year.
Fletcher and Beauharnais will also be coverage linebacker options, but they'll have to win their role on special teams.
CB (5): Aqib Talib, Alfonzo Dennard, Kyle Arrington, Ras-I Dowling, Logan Ryan
Aqib Talib returns on a one-year prove-it deal and if he "proves it," the Patriots secondary should be remarkably better than it's been in recent seasons. Alfonzo Dennard is a free man and was the Pats' most consistent corner in the latter half of 2012.
Kyle Arrington re-signed on a four-year deal and should be the primary slot corner. He can shift outside if needed, and his experience in the system is valuable.
Dowling enters his final chance to prove the Pats didn't make a mistake taking him 33rd overall in 2011. He has the size and length to be a good man-to-man corner, but he just hasn't been able to stay on the field.
Logan Ryan should have the versatility to contribute in a number of different spots and could be starting anywhere by the end of the 2013 season.
SS (3): Tavon Wilson, Adrian Wilson, Duron Harmon
FS (3): Devin McCourty, Steve Gregory, Nate Ebner
There's some redundancy in the safety personnel, and no one knows exactly how it might all play out. Early speculation is that Tavon Wilson will be given every opportunity to win the starting job, but Adrian Wilson should push him.
Another strong safety in rookie Duron Harmon will likely have to start on special teams while also competing for the dime linebacker role, aka the "Money" position.
Devin McCourty is the only sure thing at safety, while Steve Gregory remains one the greatest unknowns. His high salary makes him a potential cut, but he did flash some solid play before an atrocious showing the AFC Championship.
As always, injuries could play a big part in how this position plays out, but the Pats are covered with good depth and a nice blend of veterans and young guys.
ST (3): Stephen Gostkowski, Danny Aiken, Zoltan Mesko
The Patriots return all their specialists from 2012. Gostkowski and Mesko remain in the primes of their careers, and both are among the best in the NFL at their respective positions.
Despite having a cap hit of $3.4 million this season, Gostkowski is still worth every penny. He could sign an extension with a good start to 2013, one that would even out his cap hit, scheduled to go to $3.8 million in 2014.
Aiken has quietly held the Pats' long snapper job for two seasons and looks like he's the replacement for long-term long snapper Lonnie Paxton.