Predicting the Last 5 In, 1st 5 Out for Patriots' 53-Man Roster
Only 46 players may suit up each Sunday, but teams that effectively utilize their entire 53-man roster through the season have a distinct advantage.
Players can be mixed and matched based on gameplan—the New England Patriots famously have a distinctly different plan each week—or substituted for nicked up players over the long season. Some are kept on the roster for future seasons, rather than letting other teams have a crack at them by placing them on the practice squad.
Here are the last five players who could make the final roster and five players who might not make the cut.
In: Kenbrell Thompkins (WR)
Kenbrell Thompkins showed in 2013 that he has the skill set to be an NFL receiver. Unfortunately, that same skill set might put him No. 6 or No. 7 on the depth chart for the New England Patriots.
Danny Amendola (slot), Julian Edelman (Z) and Aaron Dobson (X) are almost certainly the starters. Josh Boyce, Brandon LaFell and Jeremy Gallon will be competing for the final two or three spots.
I see Thompkins earning the final receiver spot due to his versatility—he can play both "X" and "Z"—as well as his penchant for making big plays.
In: Steve Beauharnais (LB)
The lack of depth behind Dont'a Hightower, Jamie Collins and Jerod Mayo is palpable. James Anderson is a likely candidate for the nickel linebacker position, but Steve Beauharnais could be nipping on his heels.
While Beauharnais doesn't have much experience on the field—he logged only one defensive snap—his leadership and special teams prowess give him a good chance to make the roster. He'll likely have to beat out seasoned veterans like Josh Hull, Chris White and fellow second-year player Ja'Gared Davis.
In: Zach Moore (DE) and Michael Buchanan (DE)
With the exception of Chandler Jones, the New England Patriots' failure to develop young pass-rushers has held their defense back for too long. They've had to rely on veteran rentals like Andre Carter, Mark Anderson and now Will Smith.
Jake Bequette isn't the answer, but Zach Moore and Michael Buchanan still have a chance.
While Moore is mostly an unknown at this point against top-level competition, Buchanan flashed at times in 2013. Unfortunately, his penchant for losing contain cost him his job when New England re-signed Carter.
Behind Jones and Rob Ninkovich, nobody has a spot on this roster spot sewn up. Moore and Buchanan have the most upside, however, and should be given another year to develop. Bequette certainly won't take that lying down, but it remains to be seen whether he can make an impact play in the NFL.
In: Tavon Wilson (SS) / Out: Nate Ebner
With the emergence of Duron Harmon and the addition of Pat Chung, alarm bells should be ringing for former second-round selection Tavon Wilson.
However, I think he'll have at least one more year to live up to his draft selection in New England. One reason is where he was drafted. According to OverTheCap.com, Wilson would account for almost $800k in dead money if released, but former sixth-round pick Nate Ebner would only cost $48k.
Both Wilson and Ebner have been standouts on special teams. Wilson, however, has a much higher ceiling on defense. Whenever he gets a chance to see the field, he has a knack for finding the ball, grabbing five interceptions in limited opportunities.
Ebner is still learning the game. It is possible that they both stick, but they are likely fighting for one spot.
Out: Jake Bequette (DE)
Two seasons, 43 snaps, two total pressures and $269k in dead money is what the New England Patriots would be left with if they parted ways with Jake Bequette.
His second year didn't see the progression that you'd like to see from a pass-rusher, constantly getting passed over for street free agents and seventh-round picks. You could even say he has regressed, based on his performances at training camp sessions open to the media.
If he doesn't wow his coaches early on in training camp, they'll move on to the next crop of developmental pass-rushers.
Out: Jeremy Gallon (WR)
Numbers haven't been kind to Jeremy Gallon. His 4.49 speed and 5'7" height at the NFL combine caused him to fall to the seventh round, while the cacophony of capable receivers on the New England Patriots will make his ascension to the 53-man roster a challenging one.
If Danny Amendola, Julian Edelman and Josh Boyce are all fully healthy when final roster cuts come due, Gallon will likely be turning in his playbook. However, if one or more of that trio have pulled up lame, Gallon could receive much more than a mere practice squad nod.
Contributing in the return game will be key to Gallon staving off his elimination. Amendola, Edelman and Boyce are all talented there as well, but the former two might be too expensive to risk on special teams at this part of their career.
Out: Stephen Houston (RB)
Stephen Houston would have made an NFL team in the 1970's or 1980's. He is a decisive one-cut runner that has enough speed and athleticism to gain yards in chunks and contribute on special teams.
Unfortunately, at this point of his career—and the current NFL metagame— his inability to pass protect will limit his abililty to make an NFL team. If you can't pick up a blitz for Tom Brady, the coaches can't put you in the game.
Houston is a guy that the New England Patriots would probably like to keep around. Shane Vereen, Stevan Ridley and Brandon Bolden are all set to be free agents—Bolden will be restricted—in 2015. If Bill Belichick thinks he can stash Houston on the practice squad for a season, it would be a shrewd move
Out: Justin Jones (TE)
At 6'8", Justin Jones is a huge target that would fit in well in the red zone. Unfortunately, the New England Patriots don't have the luxury of keeping a one-trick Joseph Fauria. They need tight ends that can do all that is asked of them: block, protect, catch passes and run the correct route.
Jones struggles with his balance when blocking and his lack of top-end speed really shows up on tape. He has the strength to get off the press, but the consistency and technique just isn't always there.
If Patriots coach Brian Daboll—who has been working with the tight ends—proves himself to be a miracle worker, Jones could blossom into a monster. If not, he will be Rob Gronkowski's insurance policy as a red zone threat.
At this point, if Gronkowski is in, Jones is out.