New England Patriots: Immediate 53-Man Roster Cut Predictions Post-Giants Game
Now that the preseason is in the books, the New England Patriots have two days to pare down their roster to the final 53. The Pats are among the most active teams in turning over the bottom of their roster, so the initial picture will hardly represent the roster by season's end.
But months of offseason roster construction have provided a significant sample size from which to evaluate players. And while we must wait until the real games to properly evaluate each player's long-term potential, we now have enough data to determine whether or not they deserve a longer look in the first place.
New England is always good for a surprise or two during final cuts, so it's a fool's errand to what the creative-minded front office has decided upon. The only certainty is the four special-teamers (Stephen Gostkowski, Ryan Allen, Danny Aiken and Matthew Slater), so they are excluded from this exercise.
Examining the rest of the positions, though, here's one view of the likeliest outcome after the August 30 final cut.
On Roster (two): Tom Brady, Jimmy Garoppolo
Cut/Traded: Ryan Mallett
For weeks, it appeared as though the Patriots would pad the quarterback position with two layers of security behind Brady. Even as Garoppolo impressed against third-stringers early in the preseason, it seemed unlikely that the raw second-rounder would handle the transition from FCS-level competition so smoothly.
However, with Garoppolo receiving all of the snaps Thursday night after previously cutting into Mallett's reps with the second team, it seems unlikely the Patriots are simply experimenting. Garoppolo has continued to thrive as the Pats have increased his workload; while no one is certain how he would fare if needed in the regular season, Mallett represents an equally unknown commodity.
Before the Giants contest, CSNNE's Tom Curran (via Pro Football Talk) suggested that the Pats were sitting Mallett to ensure his health for a potential trade. New England seems highly unlikely to recoup the third-rounder they initially invested in the former Arkansas product. But with Mallett nearly certain to leave in free agency after 2014, a conditional mid-round pick would be enough to sway the Pats.
That would mark a stark departure from the early camp party line, which indicated that Mallett provided more value to the Patriots as Brady insurance than as trade bait for a mid- or late-round pick. But if the Pats truly believe in Garoppolo's readiness, a pick plus an additional roster spot could trump Mallett's diminishing value.
On Roster (four): Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, Brandon Bolden, James White
Cut: Jonas Gray, Roy Finch
This position appeared relatively cut-and-dried for the majority of the offseason, but recent reports have suggested a potential shake-up from last season's returning trio. ESPNBoston.com's Mike Reiss had Ridley off the roster in his latest projection; the fourth-year back has seen his stock dip after receiving just 11 snaps in the regular-season dress rehearsal last week on the heels of fumbling against the Eagles.
But Ridley is still the Patriots' best power back, and even in limited snaps, he received more first-team reps than either Bolden or Gray, his two most logical potential replacements. Indeed, with the Pats leaning on spread-heavy shotgun personnel for most of the contest, Vereen was going to see the majority of the snaps anyways. Ridley did not play against the Giants, seemingly indicating his roster security.
Contracts are not an issue with this group, as every player is on a favorable rookie deal. The fourth-rounder White has likely leaped ahead of Bolden on the depth chart, as New England has been experimenting with White-Vereen backfields as part of 20/Pony personnel shotgun sets. But Bolden is a core special-teamer who provides insurance in the event of an injury to either Ridley or Vereen, so his roster spot appears secure as well.
Finch and Gray have both shown promise against backups, though that has yet to translate to first-team offensive reps. The latter may have a legitimate shot at the 53-man roster given his value as a kickoff returner, but at the very least, expect the Patriots to make a hard push to keep Finch on the practice squad.
On Roster (six): Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Kenbrell Thompkins, Aaron Dobson, Brandon LaFell, Josh Boyce, Brian Tyms (suspended)
Cuts: Jeremy Gallon
The majority of this unit is set in stone. The Pats figure to lean on plenty of 11/Posse personnel this season, with Edelman (flanker), Amendola (slot) and Thompkins (split end) the early favorites to receive the majority of the snaps. Dobson figures to work his way back into the mix at some point this season, but a truncated offseason will leave him on the bench until he reestablishes rhythm with Brady.
Boyce and Tyms are the two most questionable inclusions on this list. There's not much downside to keeping Tyms, whose four-game suspension allows the Patriots to stash him for the first month. If needed, Tyms could become a de facto midseason acquisition.
Based on merit alone, Boyce does not deserve to make the final roster. The 2013 fourth-rounder likely has little remaining margin for error, even with his contributions as the primary kickoff returner. Still, the Patriots have given slightly longer leashes to significant draft investments (Jake Bequette, Terrence Wheatley, Ron Brace, etc.), so it would be surprising to see Boyce cut after just a single injury-marred campaign.
Gallon's prolific collegiate career suggests a promising slot option, though he has missed extensive time this offseason with an undisclosed injury. That likely extinguishes his hope of making the final 53, but he deserves a practice squad slot to give the Pats more time to evaluate their seventh-round investment.
On Roster (four): Rob Gronkowski, Michael Hoomanawanui, James Develin, Tim Wright
Cut: Steve Maneri
Until the recent Logan Mankins trade, this was the most top-heavy position on the Patriots' roster. Still, Gronkowski's health remains the singular uncertainty that will have the biggest sway on New England's season, as the Pats will be limited in how they can attack defenses through unpredictable formations if he misses time.
Hoomanawanui and Develin have at least separated themselves as capable blockers who can enhance the Patriots' run-blocking in Ace/12 personnel. The latter in particular has improved admirably over the past two seasons, transforming from a reserve fullback afterthought into a versatile H-back.
"Hooman" and Develin will make a tiny sliver of the impact that Gronkowski is capable of, but they do make a difference at the margins. New England had issues against the Carolina Panthers this preseason when they tried to run from spread formations, illustrating the weakness in their interior offensive line.
Having two capable blockers allows the Pats to run gap-blocking schemes effectively while also forcing defenses into base personnel, creating the mismatch of Gronkowski on a linebacker in the passing game. But because of how Gronkowski serves as the fulcrum of those "12" personnel sets, Hoomanawanui and Develin are only assets if the All-Pro star is healthy.
Therefore, the recently acquired Wright could allow the Patriots to more successfully create the mismatches everyone seeks out of 12 personnel these days. It's far too early to make definitive proclamations about how Wright will fit in, though his versatility against the Giants was reminiscent of the old Aaron Hernandez "Joker" position. After a promising rookie campaign that saw him post 54 catches for 571 yards and five touchdowns, the Buccaneers castoff could become a valuable movable chess piece and red-zone target.
On Roster (nine): Nate Solder, Sebastian Vollmer, Ryan Wendell, Dan Connolly, Josh Kline, Marcus Cannon, Jordan Devey, Bryan Stork, Cameron Fleming
Cuts: Jon Halapio, Braxston Cave, Chris Barker
After the Mankins trade, it seems like folly to even speculate about how the Patriots will handle the interior line. It's wholly unclear who the interior starters will be, but it seems safe to bet that New England may keep Wendell and Connolly around for the sake of retaining some measure of continuity. The pair struggled in pass protection last season, but with both receiving first-team reps against Carolina, the coaching staff appears to have defaulted to the 2013 status quo.
Cannon, Kline and Devey are also legitimate challengers for one (or even both) starting guard slots. Many fans would like to see Cannon's powerful drive-blocking utilized in the interior, though he hasn't received many preseason reps inside. He did sit against the Giants while Kline received the majority of the left guard reps, so the Mankins replacement derby is likely down to those two.
Solder and Vollmer at least provide insurance on the outside. The former has rebounded after early preseason struggles against Washington, and with Cannon serving as the third swing tackle, the Patriots are as well ensured as any team at the bookends.
Halapio is the toughest cut, as the Patriots were high on the sixth-rounder during the draft process. But Halapio played just two snaps against the Panthers (both fourth-quarter kneeldowns), indicating his status at the bottom of the depth chart. The practice squad is a more likely route for the ex-Florida Gator.
On Roster (nine): Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich, Vince Wilfork, Dominique Easley, Chris Jones, Sealver Siliga, Michael Buchanan, Joe Vellano, Zach Moore
This might seem heavy for a team that has ostensibly shifted back to a 3-4 base, but try not to pigeonhole these players as three-point stance linemen. Chandler Jones and Ninkovich in particular figure to line up as outside linebackers on plenty of snaps, though their assignment responsibilities figure to remain constant. Either way, the Pats have compiled many versatile pieces for their hybrid amoeba defense.
The top six appears to provide plenty of depth, especially given that the injuries to Chris Jones and Siliga are not considered serious. Buchanan figures to make it onto the roster as the third defensive end, but an ankle injury suffered against the Giants sheds some doubt over his status. Some Pats reporters speculated about an Achilles injury at the time, so a long-term absence could open the door for someone like Jerel Worthy or Jake Bequette.
Worthy and Bequette have both shown signs of life through quick get-offs as pass-rushers, though both are too raw to play significant regular-season snaps. The two imminent draft busts are both practice squad-eligible, however, and the Pats seem likely to keep at least one.
This is a young group with unproven commodities littered across the bottom of the depth chart, so injuries to the top three of Chandler Jones, Ninkovich or Wilfork could turn this position into a liability. Nonetheless, there is promising youth here, and if the veterans hold up, the Pats will have assembled the ideal fusion of present stability and future upside.
On Roster (six): Jerod Mayo, Dont'a Hightower, Jamie Collins, Darius Fleming, Ja'Gared Davis, Chris White
This position possesses the most stratification of any on the roster, as the Patriots have a stellar top three juxtaposed against a frighteningly thin reserve corps. The Mayo-Hightower-Collins troika represent a group with complementary skill sets that should fulfill all three downs, so there are no worries if the starters stay healthy.
But it's wholly unclear how the Patriots plan to layer the depth behind the top three. Fleming has likely earned a spot, as his versatility and strength at the point of attack has made him a nice run-stuffing option in the preseason. Davis has demonstrated similar qualities, and both figure to contribute as core special-teamers as well.
White is also a core contributor in the third phase, but his roster spot appears more tenuous after the fourth-year veteran played deep into the Giants game. White's roster chances were likely aided by James Morris' knee injury, which appeared grim at first glance.
Steve Beauharnais and Taylor McCuller are also legitimate roster hopefuls as well. The latter has struggled in coverage but holds a cerebral understanding of the game (such as how he jumped the route on his interception against the Eagles), while McCuller has evoked memories of Dan Klecko with his two-way contributions as a linebacker and fullback.
The Patriots seem likely to keep a couple of their young linebackers on the practice squad, and do not be surprised if they poach someone off the waiver wire during final cuts. After losing Dane Fletcher in free agency, New England is still in search of a fourth linebacker capable of helpful snaps in coverage and on special teams.
On Roster (nine): Darrelle Revis, Alfonzo Dennard, Logan Ryan, Kyle Arrington, Malcolm Butler, Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon, Patrick Chung, Nate Ebner, Brandon Browner (suspended)
Cuts: Tavon Wilson, Kanorris Davis, Dax Swanson, Shamiel Gary
The Patriots have excellent depth throughout the third level of the defense, even with Browner suspended for the first quarter of the season. It's unclear who (if anyone) will assume the cornerback position opposite Revis in Browner's absence, but with Dennard, Ryan and Arrington playing multiple positions this offseason, the Pats have infused their secondary with plenty of positional versatility.
The main roster battle is likely between Wilson and Chung. Both are larger in-the-box safeties who are strong against the run and contribute on special teams, yet both possess severe coverage limitations that limit them to early-down duty. With so much redundancy, it seems likely that the two are competing for a single roster spot.
There's essentially no salary difference between the two—Wilson's cap charge is $1.15 million, while Chung's is $1.04 million, per Spotrac.com—and both have been in the league long enough that their former second-round pick statuses no longer hold much cachet. The nod here goes to Chung, who surprisingly sat against the Giants, likely indicating some measure of security. But there should be no qualms if Wilson makes the roster over Chung instead.
The rest of the cuts are at safety, where the Patriots have acquired plenty of special teams contributors. Davis was on the practice squad for much of last season, so perhaps he spends another season there in 2014.