Projected Patriots' Final 53-Man Roster, Training Camp Edition
The New England Patriots enter training camp with a number of open positional battles, unlike recent years when the majority of the roster was set, especially at premiere positions like wide receiver and tight end.
Bill Belichick also prides himself on allowing everyone a chance to compete for a job, and, as a result, the Patriots' final roster in early September always seems to have a shocker or two.
The most intriguing places to watch are at wide receiver on offense, and safety and defensive end on defense. In both cases a number of talented rookies and unproven veterans make for a depth chart logjam that can only be remedied by competition and injuries.
How will it all play out? Here's our training camp edition of the final projected 53-man roster.
QB (2): Tom Brady, Ryan Mallett
Analysis: The Pats roll with just two quarterbacks for the third time in four seasons. Tom Brady remains in his prime and will face one of the toughest tests of his career with an almost entirely new receiving corps. It's a chance to cement his place as the greatest of all time if the offense doesn't miss a beat.
Ryan Mallett has a lot to prove this summer if he wants to get a shot as a starter in New England or somewhere else. He has a cannon for an arm, but needs to work on his touch and consistency. Expect Brady to eat into his preseason snaps as he breaks in his new receivers. Mallett will have to impress with the new crew of receivers just as much as Brady will.
RB (4): Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, Brandon Bolden, Leon Washington
Analysis: Stevan Ridley returns for his second season as the primary back, while Shane Vereen takes over as the passing down specialist. Ridley won't have a proven passing offense to open things up for him and could face a bigger challenge than either of his first two years. Vereen is thrust into the spotlight and will need to avoid injuries and improve his pass blocking.
Brandon Bolden will be looking to recapture his early-season form from 2012, and if he does, he will be an excellent counterpunch to Ridley.
Leon Washington didn't see any time on offense in Seattle, but he should get his chances in New England, especially if Vereen is ineffective in pass protection or gets hurt.
WR (6): Aaron Dobson, Danny Amendola, Josh Boyce, Julian Edelman, Mark Harrison, Matthew Slater
Analysis: We're going with three rookies in this projection, with Michael Jenkins and Donald Jones falling by the wayside due to the upside of the youngsters. Danny Amendola must be reliable, and Julian Edelman and Josh Boyce will complement him in the slot.
Aaron Dobson and Mark Harrison have the frames and athleticism to play outside, and they'll be tasked with mastering the X-receiver role. Michael Jenkins could be a safer, albeit less dynamic option if the rookies don't assimilate quick enough.
Slater remains a receiver on roster lists only. He's a special teams ace, and if the Pats are still using him in attempt to stretch the field with his speed, they're in trouble.
TE (3): Jake Ballard, Daniel Fells, Zach Sudfeld, Rob Gronkowski (PUP)
Analysis: With Gronk starting the year on PUP list, Jake Ballard becomes the Pats' primary Y tight end. He lacks Gronk's ability in the passing game, but will be an improvement over Michael Hoomanawanui in his blocking.
Fells is thrust into the spotlight with Aaron Hernandez no longer on the team, becoming their "move" tight end. The size of his role in the offense will be determined in camp, but its unlikely the Pats will remain with the two-tight end offense as heavily as they planned to in 2012. If Fells performs poorly, the Pats could just stick with Ballard and run a more traditional 11 personnel as their primary package.
If Sudfeld stays healthy, he could have long-term potential. Fells' performance could have a major impact on Sudfeld's roster chances, but with Gronk's future uncertain, it's the safe play to develop another promising tight end.
T (3): Nate Solder, Sebastian Vollmer, Will Svitek
Analysis: Solder and Vollmer are one of the best tackle combinations in the NFL. Solder should only continue to improve after his first full year starting in 2012.
Vollmer should be back to full health and return to his spot as one of the best right tackles in the game. Solder and Vollmer are two monstrous bookends, who will keep Tom Brady protected through the end of his Patriots career.
Svitek is a capable backup and could fill in at either spot in a pinch. Marcus Cannon is now listed as a guard, but his ability to play tackle is another level of security.
G (3): Logan Mankins, Dan Connolly, Marcus Cannon
Analysis: Mankins should be back to his All-Pro form now that he's over a full year removed from ACL surgery. Dan Connolly can play any of the interior positions, including center; he's a lock, even if Marcus Cannon were to beat him out for the starting right guard spot.
Cannon's switch to guard has been a long time coming, and his unique size and movement skills make him an intriguing prospect inside. His versatility makes him a valuable commodity as well.
C (2): Ryan Wendell, Nick MacDonald
Analysis: Wendell returns to build on his first full year starting at center and will be looking to bring his pass protection up to the same level his run blocking was at.
Nick MacDonald can play guard as well, and with so much versatility on the inside of the line, he'll really need to show himself capable of pushing for a starting job to stick.
Still, with this roster of eight offensive linemen, the Pats would have three players who could play center, four who could play guard and four who could play tackle. That's solid depth and protection against injuries.
DE (6): Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich, Jermaine Cunningham, Justin Francis, Michael Buchanan, Jake Bequette
Analysis: The youth movement is in full effect at defensive end. Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich are the presumptive starters; both are three-down players who will only need to be spelled.
With so much inexperience on the depth chart, Jermaine Cunningham makes it as a utility option, providing insurance at outside linebacker, defensive end and interior rusher.
Francis showed real promise at the end of 2012, despite being a little undersized. He can also serve as an interior pass-rusher. He'll face increased competition this year and will need to show improvement.
Bequette was showing up in OTAs, and it seems like a year in the system has benefited him. He could make a big jump this year into being a primary pass-rushing specialist, along with a rotational end.
Michael Buchanan is the dark horse of the defensive end battle and could even surpass Bequette and Francis with a stellar camp. He wins not only a roster spot but also a chance to be a real contributor.
DT (4): Vince Wilfork, Tommy Kelly, Armond Armstead, Marcus Forston
Analysis: Wilfork and Kelly should make an outstanding tandem in the middle of the defense, with Kelly allowing Wilfork a little more freedom. Both have remained remarkably healthy in recent years, and that must continue. If not, the Pats could really be in trouble.
Armstead becomes the top interior pass-rusher and should be able to spell Wilfork and Kelly. He could be one of the most impactful newcomers this season.
Forston benefits from the departures of Kyle Love and Brandon Deaderick. With a full year in the system, he could become a solid rotational player, both on run and pass downs.
OLB(4): Jerod Mayo, Donta Hightower, Jamie Collins, Niko Koutouvides
Analysis: Mayo, Hightower and Collins make an intriguing combination, and it wouldn't be crazy to see all three on the field at the same time. Mayo will be in his weak outside spot in the 4-3, while shifting inside in the 3-4.
That would open the door for Collins, who might be ideal as a weak outside linebacker in the 3-4 like Rosevelt Colvin in the dynasty defense. Collins' athleticism will shine playing in space, with chances to rush the quarterback.
Hightower will look to build off a stellar end to his rookie year, where he was one of a few bright spots in the AFC Championship. The only question is how far his pass coverage progresses.
Koutouvides remains a core special team veteran, with the ability to fill in at multiple linebacker spots if necessary.
ILB (3): Brandon Spikes, Dane Fletcher, Steve Beauharnais
Analysis: Brandon Spikes, once again, locks up the middle linebacker spot, but will he prove to be a two- or three-down linebacker? In this contract year, he'll have a lot to prove.
Dane Fletcher returns from ACL surgery and should become the top coverage linebacker next to Mayo. Will he push Spikes for a starting job? It's possible, depending on how both look against the pass.
Beauharnais takes over a special teams role and is unlikely to see any time on defense barring major injury problems. All those above him are versatile enough to keep him on the sidelines.
CB (5): Aqib Talib, Alfonzo Dennard, Kyle Arrington, Ras-I Dowling, Logan Ryan
Analysis: This is one of the most solid groups, top to bottom, in years. All starters from last season return, with the X-factor being Ras-I Dowling. We're giving Dennard the benefit of the doubt at this point, though it seems certain he's facing a suspension and possible in-season jail time.
Dowling and Dennard will go head-to-head in competition for a starting outside corner spot. Whether or not either are able to take the base defense spot from Arrington remains unknown. The Pats seem OK starting Arrington on the outside, then shifting him inside in sub-packages, although Dennard did put Arrington on the sideline in the second half of the 2012 season.
If Dennard is unavailable or released, the spotlight on Dowling gets even bigger and likely opens up a roster spot for Marquice Cole.
Ryan will await his chance, but there's sure to be an injury opportunity for him at some point. He's one of those football-savvy guys who won't stand out until he gets a chance in a game.
Talib is on a one-year "prove-it" deal. If he stays healthy and proves it, the entire Pats defense should be much improved over the past two seasons.
SS (3): Tavon Wilson, Adrian Wilson, Duron Harmon
FS (2): Devin McCourty, Nate Ebner
Analysis: McCourty and Adrian Wilson should lock up the starting jobs, with Wilson proving he's able to stay on the field on passing downs. They could be the best starting safety combo the Pats have had since 2007.
Tavon Wilson will have another learning year under Adrian while playing the dime linebacker "Money" position. He really started to come on toward the end of 2012, and if Adrian Wilson falters in pass coverage, Tavon could get a shot starting with McCourty.
Duron Harmon will play special teams, while backing up Tavon at the Money spot. Ebner will remain entirely on special teams where he excels.
ST (3): Stephen Gostkowski, Danny Aiken, Zoltan Mesko
Analysis: The Pats vets hold off all competition from the undrafted rookies and maintain continuity for the third year in a row.
Mesko enters a contract year and should have something to prove, while Gostkowski was slightly below his average last year and will want to to rebound.
Danny Aiken could prove the Pats have finally found the long-term heir apparent to Lonnie Paxton.
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Mark Harrison: Dripping with potential, Harrison has the highest ceiling of any receiver on the roster outside of Amendola and Dobson. He gets on by flashing it in the preseason over Michael Jenkins.
Brandon Bolden: LeGarrette Blount will push Bolden, but, ultimately, Bolden is the better short-yardage fit and runs with better authority.
Marcus Forston: Can he hold up against the run and be a viable option to spell Wilfork and Kelly? That's what Forston will prove in August.
Steve Beauharnais: Seventh-round picks are never a lock to make the roster, but Beauharnais' quickness and agility give him a different skill set than any of the other linebackers.
Nick MacDonald: Though Connolly can play center and Cannon can play guard, there's still a depth need on the interior. MacDonald gives the Pats an added layer of protection.
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Tim Tebow: If Tebow can't pick up things as a quarterback, the Pats aren't going to keep him around just to see what else he can do. A transition to tight end or H-back is not as easy as many make it sound. Though he's tough with the ball in his hand, it will take more than that for Tebow to carve out a role.
Michael Hoomanawanui: With Ballard and Sudfeld, the competition at the Y tight end spot will be tight. Hoomanawanui lacks the power and size of Ballard and the potential of Sudfeld.
Michael Jenkins: Jenkins' chances will come early in camp, and if he doesn't perform it will open the door to rookies like Aaron Dobson and Mark Harrison. The Patriots might just want to take their lumps with the young guys and give them a long leash to grow. Jenkins will need to show a special chemistry with Brady if he's to stick.
Marcus Benard: Benard flashed potential with 7.5 sacks in 2010, but has battled injuries since. The Pats need pass-rushers, but there's enough young depth behind Benard to edge him out.
Steve Gregory: Gregory is a victim of his own salary as well as the development of Tavon Wilson and acquisition of Adrian Wilson. But ultimately, it's Devin McCourty's move to safety full time that makes Gregory expendable.