Projected Patriots Final 53-Man Roster, Pre-Training Camp Edition
As the 2014 offseason concludes, Bill Belichick and the rest of the New England Patriots coaching staff will have a tough time deciding if and how their new crop of draft picks and other acquisitions fit on the final 53-man roster.
As rookie contracts—and their miniscule impact on the salary cap—become more and more conducive to success in the NFL, higher-priced veterans who would have been safe 10 years ago might have to sweat it out. Where rookies had to prove their worth in the past, the burden of proof now lies on the veteran.
Here is my final pre-training camp projection of what the final 53-man roster will look like as the Patriots get ready for the Miami Dolphins in Week 1 of the 2014 NFL season. Rookies are listed in italics.
Quarterback: Tom Brady, Ryan Mallett, Jimmy Garoppolo
The New England Patriots have a sure-fire Hall of Fame quarterback in Brady and two promising youngsters in Mallett and Garoppolo.
While there is a chance that Mallett could be moved prior to or during the season if a team develops a need for a quarterback, this trio will likely be taking all the snaps in training camp.
If Mallett isn't moved, the competition to be Brady's primary backup should be fierce. Mallett has years of experience on his side, but the charismatic Garoppolo has enough speed and youthful exuberance to make it lively.
Expect the rookie to make it close—especially come game time—but I'd expect him to be the third quarterback come Week 1 of the season.
Running Back: Stevan Ridley, James White
Third-Down Running Back: Shane Vereen, Brandon Bolden
If Ridley can hang on to the football he can be not only the starter for the New England Patriots but one of the most efficient backs in the NFL.
Eight fumbles over the last two seasons have shaken his confidence, but talented players such as Adrian Peterson have had similar problems. Expect him to get every chance to prove his worth during his contract year.
Should Ridley not be up to the task, Vereen and White will be ready to pick up the slack. Neither has the raw power of Ridley, but their agility and prowess in the receiving game make them just as important.
Brandon Bolden's ability to serve as a pass-blocker should stave off any competition by the likes of Stephen Houston, but Roy Finch—who looks like a smaller version of Danny Woodhead—could give him a run for his spot on the roster.
"X" Receiver: Aaron Dobson, Brandon LaFell, Kenbrell Thompkins
"Z" Receiver: Julian Edelman, Josh Boyce, Matthew Slater
Slot Receiver: Danny Amendola
Dobson, Edelman, Amendola and Slater—the latter due to his special teams abilities—are the only four receivers who can be locked in at this moment.
After those four, the fight for the last three spots should be spirited. Boyce has the speed, Thompkins has the knack for the big play and LaFell has the versatility. Jeremy Gallon, however, is only able to copy what Amendola and Edelman already bring to the table.
If Edelman or Amendola should go down to even a short-term injury—far from unlikely—Gallon's presence might be required over a player like Thompkins or LaFell.
"Y" Tight End: Rob Gronkowski, Michael Hoomanawanui
"Move" Tight End: James Develin
Tight end, long a bastion of depth for New England, is perhaps the thinnest position on the entire team. Gronkowski, Hoomanawanui and Develin—whose primary role is that of a fullback—are the only three proven veterans on the roster.
After them, the underwhelming D.J. Williams and two undrafted free agents—Justin Jones and Asa Watson—are all that is left in the cupboard. If the 6'7" Jones and the versatile Watson are unable to impress early on during training camp, expect the Patriots to extend an invitation and contract to Dustin Keller or Jermichael Finley.
Left Tackle: Nate Solder
Left Guard: Logan Mankins, Josh Kline
Center: Bryan Stork
Right Guard: Dan Connolly, Jon Halapio
Right Tackle: Sebastian Vollmer, Marcus Cannon, Cameron Fleming
A healthy Sebastian Vollmer, who broke his leg in 2013, completes what could be one of the deeper offensive lines of Tom Brady's tenure in New England.
While the depth at tackle and guard is nice, a lot of the success in 2014 will depend on the play of the center, whether that is the rookie Stork or the underperforming Wendell. If Stork is able to win the job, Wendell could hit the streets due to Connolly's ability to play both center and guard.
If Wendell is named starter, Connolly—and his $4 million cap number—could be on the outside looking in.
Defensive Tackle: Vince Wilfork, Tommy Kelly, Dominique Easley, Sealver Siliga, Chris Jones
Defensive End: Rob Ninkovich, Chandler Jones, Michael Buchanan, Will Smith, Zach Moore
Armond Armstead's health may be the biggest question mark with this position group. When healthy, he offers the flexibility to play end or tackle in both odd and even fronts, thus opening up another roster spot for another tight end or defensive back.
That health, however, has proven to be elusive. Without Armstead, the New England Patriots are forced to carry single-use players like Chris Jones, Siliga and Buchanan. None of the three are true three-down players.
Moore will likely stick on the roster over the likes of Jake Bequette, but he likely won't be active on game day, making Smith a probable candidate for sticking around to provide some pass rush in relief of Chandler Jones and Ninkovich.
"Will" linebacker: Jerod Mayo, Steve Beauharnais, Cameron Gordon
"Mike" linebacker: Dont'a Hightower, James Anderson
"Sam" linebacker: Jamie Collins
Like tight end with Rob Gronkowski, the linebacker group is long on superstars but short on depth. After Hightower, Mayo and Collins, it remains to be seen who can contribute in the New England defense.
Anderson is a promising candidate who registered 102 tackles for the Chicago Bears last season. He will likely replace Hightower in nickel situations due to his prowess in coverage.
After Anderson, Beauharnais and Gordon have the special teams skills to stick as a fifth and sixth linebacker. They'll have competition from Josh Hull, Chris White and Ja'Gared Davis.
Don't count out James Morris—an undrafted free agent from Iowa cut earlier this season—from receiving another shot if healthy.
Cornerback: Darrelle Revis, Logan Ryan
Nickel Cornerback: Alfonzo Dennard, Kyle Arrington
Strong Safety: Duron Harmon, Pat Chung
Free Safety: Devin McCourty, Jemea Thomas
No Patriots position has more talent than the defensive backfield. Dennard could be a starter on many teams but may be the fourth cornerback—behind Brandon Browner, Revis and Ryan—in New England.
While Browner will certainly make the 53-man roster eventually, his four-game suspension will prevent him from suiting up in Week 1 against the Miami Dolphins. His return will only make this loaded group even more competitive.
The position across from McCourty is the most wide-open at this point. It looks like Duron Harmon's job to lose, but Chung, Thomas, Nate Ebner and Tavon Wilson all will have a chance to prove their worth to the defense. While the latter two have been key special teams contributors, neither have been able to earn the trust of Bill Belichick in the starting 11.
Kicker: Stephen Gostkowski
Punter/Holder: Ryan Allen
Long Snapper: Danny Aiken
Gostkowski and Allen aren't going anywhere. Both were clutch performers last season—Gostkowski was an obscene 38-of-41 on field-goal tries—and look only to improve in 2014.
Aiken, however, hasn't sewn up a spot on the final 53 just yet. Undrafted rookie Tyler Ott could save the Patriots a few dollars with his cheap rookie contract and even has some limited tight-end skills to boot.
If the snapping competition is close at all, Aiken has 250,000 reasons to sweat—the difference in dollars between his contract and Ott's.