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Projecting New England Patriots Depth Chart After Peak of Free Agency

Mike DussaultSenior Analyst IMarch 31, 2014

Projecting New England Patriots Depth Chart After Peak of Free Agency

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    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    The New England Patriots are well on their way in terms of forming their 2014 squad, making some splashy free-agent signings while also retaining some of their key contributors from last season.

    Though there is still work to be done and holes to be filled, the Pats are shaping up quite nicely and will have plenty of talent taking the field in training camp this summer.

    With another month-plus of free agency and the draft still to come, here's the latest look at the Patriots depth chart almost three weeks into free agency.

Quarterback

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    Jim Rogash/Getty Images

    1. Tom Brady

    2. Ryan Mallett

     

    Nothing has changed here in the last two seasons, and despite some rumblings that Mallett could be trade bait, the Pats still have their top two quarterbacks.

    Of course, Tom Brady is the face of the franchise and remains one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. With another year to develop his young wide receivers, along with the return of Julian Edelman, Brady is poised for another big year.

    Mallett enters the final year of his rookie contract and will have something to prove in the preseason, as he might not see the field much during the regular season and will be a free agent in 2015. Of course, that's assuming the Pats don't move him before the draft, which is still a possibility.

    Regardless, the Pats should add at least one more quarterback for training camp, whether it's a veteran or a rookie. It wouldn't be a bad idea to start grooming Mallett's potential replacement this year, as that same player could also end up being Brady's replacement once the legend retires. 

Running Back

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    Elsa/Getty Images

    1. Stevan Ridley

    2. Shane Vereen

    3. Brandon Bolden

    4. James Develin

    (FB) 5. Jonas Grey

     

    The Patriots kicked the tires on Knowshon Moreno prior to him signing in Miami, and they lost LeGarrette Blount to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Blount had an outstanding end to 2013, prior to the AFC Championship Game of course, and provided great insurance for Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen, who have had their respective issues which have kept them off the field in their first three seasons.

    The Pats will need to move on to their next option in free agency to round out their backfield.

    Ridley and Vereen enter the final year of their rookie deals this season, and both have a lot to prove. For Ridley, it's about proving he can be trusted not to fumble the football. For Vereen, it's about demonstrating that he can turn in a full season without getting hurt.

    Brandon Bolden can fill in for Ridley, but he doesn't break many tackles nor get many yards after contact. Develin emerged as a useful option at fullback and brings good power and size. Grey was a practice-squad player who will be fighting for a roster spot.

    The Pats will likely add at least a couple more running backs in free agency and/or the draft. They must have contingency plans for Ridley and Vereen, both this year and next, and their lack of a versatile threat who can serve as a third-down back behind Vereen must be fixed.

Tight End

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    Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

    1. Rob Gronkowski

    2. Michael Hoomanawanui

    3. D.J. Williams

     

    It might be a little optimistic to put Rob Gronkowski atop the depth chart here, but the team is hoping that he can return early in the 2014 season, if not the opener.

    After him, the dropoff is precipitous. Michael Hoomanwanui filled in well for Gronkowski in 2013, but he is not a threat that defenses must worry about. Williams enters his fifth year in the NFL, with his third team, and has just nine career catches.

    There is little question that the Pats still have a lot of work to do at the tight end position, both in free agency and the draft. Gronkowski faces a pivotal year, and the Pats could choose not to pick up his contract option and let him walk next offseason.

    They need immediate and future insurance for Gronk, both with an in-line blocking Y-tight end and a move F-tight end. They never had a chance to replace Aaron Hernandez last offseason and still have yet to do so this offseason.

    If Gronk comes back and is 100 percent healthy, it would solve a lot of problems, but not all of them.

Offensive Line

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    Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

    LT: 1. Nate Solder; 2. R.J. Mattes

    LG: 1. Logan Mankins; 2. Josh Kline

    C: 1. Ryan Wendell; 2. Chris Barker; 3. Braxton Cave

    RG: 1. Dan Connolly

    RT: 1. Sebastian Vollmer; 2. Marcus Cannon; 3. Jordan Devey

     

    With Friday's re-signing of Ryan Wendell, the Patriots will return their entire starting offensive line for the past two seasons heading into training camp.

    Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer, the latter recovering from a broken leg that ended his 2013 season, are two of the biggest and best bookend tackles in the NFL. Marcus Cannon is a solid swing backup who can also play guard if needed.

    Logan Mankins is the veteran of the crew and one of the most admired guards in the NFL.

    But after those three players, there are some question marks. Dan Connolly and Wendell had their struggles in 2013. The Pats could target a center or guard (or both) in the draft, even within the first two rounds, and allow whomever is selected to compete with Wendell and Connolly for a starting spot.

    The depth is razor-thin, and with legendary offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia retiring, the Pats can no longer count on him to turn any player into a serviceable blocker.

    The offensive line will be a place to watch in the draft. Protecting Tom Brady in the twilight of his career, especially up the middle, must be a priority.

Wide Receiver

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    Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

    1. Julian Edelman

    2. Danny Amendola

    3. Aaron Dobson

    4. Brandon LaFell

    5. Kenbrell Thompkins

    6. Josh Boyce

    7. Greg Orton

    8. Matthew Slater

    9. Reggie Dunn

    10. Mark Harrison

     

    The Patriots brought back Edelman, their leading receiver from 2013, on a four-year deal this offseason, and he should cement his place as Tom Brady's favorite target in 2014.

    After Edelman, it's all about development for the group of receivers now in their second year in New England. Danny Amendola would love to have a healthy season and could really blossom, while Dobson, Thompkins and Boyce all showed potential in their rookie seasons. Now, each of them has to build upon that and find some consistency in 2014.

    Brandon LaFell was brought in from Carolina, and he should push Dobson to start at the X-receiver spot. He's versatile and should bring a physicality that the receiving corps lacked in 2013.

    Mark Harrison spent all of his rookie season on the PUP list and has intriguing measurables and size. He could be a major X-factor if he's fully healthy.

    Even with 10 bodies at receiver, the Pats won't rule out taking another receiver or two in the draft. Nothing is assured, and as we saw last year, Brady needs all the weapons he can get.

Defensive Tackle

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    Charles Krupa

    1. Vince Wilfork

    2. Tommy Kelly

    3. Chris Jones

    4. Sealver Siliga

    5. Joe Vellano

    6. Armond Armstead

    7. Marcus Forston

     

    With the Patriots signing Vince Wilfork to a new cap-friendly extensionessentially, a one-year prove-it dealthey look pretty solid on paper, assuming Wilfork and Tommy Kelly return to full health. Of course, there's no guarantee, but we're trying to be positive at this point in the offseason.

    If those two do return to form, the Pats will have the best depth at defensive tackle that they've had in years. Chris Jones could really blossom as part of a rotation, especially as a pass-rusher, while Sealver Siliga looks like the perfect guy to reduce Wilfork's load as a space-eater inside.

    Joe Vellano is a tireless worker and could take positive strides forward with a full offseason in the Patriots strength and conditioning program.

    Armond Armstead was intriguing last offseason but could never make it onto the field, battling an infection that landed him on the PUP list for the entire season. He could be the X-factor of the group in 2014.

    The quality of this group depends entirely on their health, but there are some promising pieces in place, regardless. There still could be more additions, especially via the draft, but the core is there. It will just be a matter of them getting healthy and staying on the field.

Defensive End

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    Steven Senne

    1. Rob Ninkovich

    2. Chandler Jones

    3. Michael Buchanan

    4. Jake Bequette

     

    This might be the most concerning position on the Patriots roster, with paper-thin depth behind the two starters that almost never came off the field in 2013. If Ninkovich or Jones were to go down, things would get ugly for the Patriots at defensive end.

    Of course, Michael Buchanan did show some promise early in 2013, but Jake Bequette has been invisible throughout his first two seasons. Buchanan could make some gains in his second season, but expecting him to be a significant rotational defensive end might be a little much.

    The Pats need another defensive end, and it seems assured that they'll pick multiple ones up in the next few months. They simply cannot run Ninkovich and Jones into the ground, and they need an impact third pass-rusher who can play in their sub packages and take some of the heat off of their starters.

Linebacker

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    Michael Dwyer

    1. Jerod Mayo

    2. Dont'a Hightower

    3. Jamie Collins

    4. Steve Beauharnais

    5. Chris White

    6. Ja'Gared Davis

     

    Jerod Mayo, who is returning from a torn pectoral injury that ended his 2013 season, headlines the linebacker group, which lost Brandon Spikes to the Buffalo Bills in free agency this offseason.

    Spikes' departure should be offset by Dont'a Hightower sliding to middle linebacker and Jamie Collins taking over full time at strong-side linebacker. Hightower and Collins really came on at the end of 2013 in Mayo's absence, with Collins looking primed to be an every-down linebacker alongside Mayo.

    Dane Fletcher also departed to Tampa Bay, leaving the Pats' depth at linebacker a little thin. They had free agent Wesley Woodyard in for a visit, but he signed with the Titans.

    The Pats need to fill out the position behind the three starters, though Beauharnais could get a look in training camp to play Fletcher's backup role.

    This is still a position that could be addressed in free agency and also the draft, but the starters are likely set.

Cornerback

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    Tom Gannam

    1. Darrelle Revis

    2. Brandon Browner

    3. Alfonzo Dennard

    4. Kyle Arrington

    5. Logan Ryan

    6. Justin Green

     

    No position will look more different from last season than cornerback. Of course, Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner headline the new-look secondary and should make an instant impact (after Browner serves his four-game suspension, of course).

    Both corners join Dennard, Arrington and Ryan to form a versatile group, featuring guys who can all play man coverage. The Patriots cornerbacks haven't looked this promising and deep since the days of Ty Law and Tyrone Poole. 

    How will it all come together? Injuries will unfortunately play a part in that, but with Revis and Browner on the outside, the Pats can mix and match the rest depending on the matchup. 

    The result should be exciting to watch unfold.

Safety

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    Grant Halverson/Getty Images

    1. Devin McCourty

    2. Duron Harmon

    3. Nate Ebner

    4. Adrian Wilson

    5. Tavon Wilson

    6. Kanorris Davis

     

    Devin McCourty returns as the anchor of the back end at free safety, but with Steve Gregory's release, it's now Duron Harmon who is the assumed starter at strong safety.

    Harmon showed good range and solid tackling in spot duty during his rookie year, but is he ready to be a starter? Training camp will help to answer that question, but it's not unreasonable to think the Pats will bring in more competition for him.

    The depth behind those two has a lot of questions. Ebner is primarily a special teams player, and Adrian Wilson appeared headed to the street before getting injured in last year's final preseason game. He seems intent on making an impact for the Pats this year, but there's always the chance that he could be released in the coming weeks.

    Tavon Wilson had a major dropoff after a somewhat promising rookie season, and he will be in a battle for a roster spot with Kanorris Davis.

    With the quality and depth of the cornerbacks, the Pats have some flexibility with their safeties, but it's likely that there will be more additions to the group, perhaps via an early-round draft selection.

Special Teams

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    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    K: Stephen Gostkowski

    P: Ryan Allen

    LS: 1. Danny Aiken; 2. Charlie Hughlett

     

    The Pats return their primary specialists from 2013, headlined by Gostkowski, who had one of the best years of his career in 2013 and Allen, who had a promising rookie year.

    Aiken and Hughlett will compete at long snapper. Aiken was inconsistent in 2013, and Hughlett should push him.

     

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