With two weeks of training camp officially in the books, I thought it would be a good time to once again project the Patriots 53 man roster. Things are looking quite different from my original projection, as it becomes more and more clear what players could have a role on the team in 2012.
Thoughts: No changes here, as this appears to be one of the most solidified positions on the Patriots roster. In my opinion, it appears that Mallett could use an additional year as the number three quarterback, so I don't expect Hoyer to go anywhere via trade at the end of the preseason.
Thoughts: In my initial prediction, I only had three true tailbacks making the roster in Ridley, Vereen, and Woodhead, with Addai being the big cut. This time around, I have the Patriots keeping a fourth running back: Brandon Bolden. Bolden has had a really strong camp, and despite being an undrafted rookie, looks like he is already part of the running back competition. Barring a change in his performance, I think he's going to make the Patriots final roster.
Thoughts: While the Patriots could elect to keep either Spencer Larsen or Eric Kettani on the roster as a lead blocker, I think they'll opt to use one of their three tight ends as the "fullback," while once again doing away with the tradition fullback position on the final roster.
Thoughts: Matthew Slater is unlikely to see much time with the receivers during the regular season, so I really see this as the team keeping five at the position. Welker and Lloyd are the locks at the position, while Slater is a lock as a special teamer. Gaffney and Edelman are near locks. That leaves Donte Stallworth and Deion Branch competing for possibly only one spot. If that's the case, Stallworth has been the hotter player at training camp as of late, so I give him the nod. This could easily change, however.
This is actually a tough position to project. Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez are both the obvious locks. But after that, the position becomes unclear. Daniels Fells would have the inside track to the number three tight end spot, but he's on the Active/PUP list with an offseason leg injury, and there have been no indications of his impending return. Shiancoe, on the other hand, was signed before the start of camp, but has been held out recently with an unknown ailment. Assuming he can get healthy soon, I think he'll be able to hold down the #3 tight end spot until Fells returns.
The offensive tackle position is a bit up in the air right now for the Patriots. Sebastian Vollmer continues to be held out due to a back injury, and the Patriots have very little depth at the position aside from him. Marcus Cannon has looked solid enough at right tackle to think he could hold down the fort until Vollmer is back, but the Patriots would still have a depth issue. Matt Kopa and Kyle Hix are two names to watch at the position - perhaps one of them could earn their way onto the 53 man roster.
The Patriots' interior line could end up being either one of the team's strongest positions in 2012, or one of its weakest. Right now, the team has a lot of questions that need answering. Pro Bowl guard Brian Waters continues to sit on the Reserve/Did not report list, and it's unknown if and when he may return. Logan Mankins, meanwhile, remains on the Active/PUP as he recovers from offseason ACL surgery. While the Patriots expect to have him back at some point this year, it's hard to say whether or not he'll be ready for the start of the regular season. The Patriots top three active options on the interior line are Dan Connolly, Dan Koppen, and Ryan Wendell. Connolly and Koppen are known commodities, while Wendell is an up-and-comer, who although undersized, is versatile, and plays with good technique and toughness. After that, Nick McDonald and Donald Thomas appear to be in line for roster spots. McDonald, in his return to practice, flexed out to left tackle, adding to his already impressive versatility. That should help his case to make the roster.
Offensive Total: 24
Defensive predictions after the jump!
Thoughts: Kyle Love and Vince Wilfork are the two locks here. Jonathan Fanene, whom the team paid a moderately large three year contract, will probably hang around despite not seeing much of the field due to injury at training camp. After that, it's a question mark. The Patriots could opt to keep only two of Deaderick, Brace, and Warren. However, all three have had really strong camps, so I have them keeping them for now. The main reason? Deaderick and Fanene have the ability to kick out to end, meaning the Patriots can afford to keep one less defensive end in favor of a defensive tackle.
Thoughts: Jones, Ninkovich, and Bequette are the locks. Jermaine Cunningham has had a strong camp, working his way back up the depth chart after a disappointing 2011 campaign. He's done a variety of things for the Patriots defense, including picking up coverage responsibilities, lining up with the first team defense at left end, and even sliding over to defensive tackle in sub-packages on occasion. From my perspective, he will be competing with Justin Francis and Trevor Scott for two roster spots.
Thoughts: Now that they've apparently moved to the 4-3 full-time, the Patriots have lessened the need to keep seven, eight, or more linebackers on the final roster. That being said, I have the Patriots only keeping five linebackers in this projection, with defensive end Rob Ninkovich also having the ability to drop into the SLB position. The top three at the position are Mayo (WLB), Spikes (MLB), and Hightower (SLB). Free agent pick-up Bobby Carpenter has impressed in camp and has seen first team reps, and looks like a roster lock at this point. Meanwhile, Dane Fletcher is a versatile back-up who can play all three linebacker spots, and even line up at defensive end if needed. The Patriots could opt to keep a special teams ace such as Tracy White or Niko Koutouvides, but I don't think that's necessary with specialists such as Matthew Slater, Josh Barrett, James Ihedigbo, and Dane Fletcher already on the roster.
Thoughts: The locks here are McCourty, Dowling, and Arrington, who all three should hold down the top rotation of Patriots' corners. Sterling Moore is also quite close to being a roster lock. After that, however, it's anyone's guess. The Patriots could choose to keep a versatile veteran such as Will Allen. They could choose to keep a special teams ace such as Marquice Cole. They could also choose to keep a high-ceiling prospect such as Alfonzo Dennard. I have them going with Dennard here. Although he's been injured, I still don't see any way he slips through waivers and onto the practice squad. And unless he lands on IR, I think the Patriots will want to keep him.
Thoughts: Patrick Chung, Steve Gregory, and Tavon Wilson are the locks to make the final roster for this position. Wilson, as a rookie, has moved up the depth quickly, and has positioned himself to be the team's number three option at the position in 2012. After that, the position becomes unclear. Ihedigbo is a solid run-support safety who can be a solid special teams player. Barrett, with his incredible H/W/S for the position, also should factor in on special teams. The tough cut here is Nate Ebner, but I do think he can pass through waivers and land on the practice squad.
Defense / Special Teams Total (29)
1. Nate Ebner, S
2. Britt Davis, WR
3. Jeremy Ebert, WR
4. Eric Kettani, FB
5. Jeff Tarpinian, LB
6. Alex Silvestro, DE/TE
7. Matt Kopa, OT
8. Darrion Weems, OL