With the NFL Draft nearly two weeks in the background, it's time to make our first 53 man roster prediction for the Patriots. Of course, this is way too early and will certainly change between now and the start of training camp, but lets give it a shot:
Quarterback (3): Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer, Ryan Mallett
Analysis: The position remains stable for the second straight year.
Running Back (3): Stevan Ridley, Danny Woodhead, Shane Vereen
Analysis: After a strong preseason showing from Shane Vereen, it becomes apparent that the veteran Joseph Addai isn't needed in the backfield, making him a surprise final cut. Addai will obviously remain on speed dial in case of an injury.
Fullback (2): Tony Fiammetta, Spencer Larsen
Analysis: I'm admittedly biased here, having been a big fan of Fiammetta at Syracuse. I think he becomes the Patriots "every down" fullback, with an ability to contribute on special teams as well. The Patriots obviously value Spencer Larsen, and I see him making the team with a special teams role in mind (and therefore supplanting Tracy White).
Wide Receiver (7): Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd, Jabar Gaffney, Deion Branch, Chad Ochocinco, Matt Slater, Julian Edelman
Analysis: The Patriots view Matthew Slater as a special teams player, and not a receiver. Ditto Julian Edelman, who will receive very few snaps, if any, at receiver in 2012. That being said, I think the Patriots will opt to keep five "true" receivers, considering the problems they've run into with depth at position the last couple of years. In that scenario, I see it coming down to a battle between Chad Ochocinco and Donte Stallworth for that final spot. Ochocinco is undeniably talented, and I think he's really going to give it his all this offseason to make the team.
Tight End (3): Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Daniel Fells
Analysis: The only question mark at this position is whether or not the team will opt to keep the third tight end, Daniel Fells. Considering the contract they gave him, I think they do intend to keep him. If that's the case, not much will change at this position in training camp.
Offensive Tackle (3): Nate Solder, Sebastian Vollmer, Marcus Cannon
Analysis: Marcus Cannon played left tackle in 2010 for ECU, but I have my doubts about his ability to play the position in the pros. The Patriots could very well be looking to add a swing tackle, with Matt Light recently announcing his retirement. If the Patriots don't add a swing tackle, I see them going with Solder, Vollmer, and Cannon at the position. Although, I wouldn't rule out Iowa UDFA Markus Zusevics from making the final roster.
Interior Line (5): Logan Mankins, Dan Koppen, Brian Waters, Dan Connolly, Ryan Wendell
Analysis: The big cut here is obviously Robert Gallery. I think Brian Waters will play for one more year, and he and Gallery are both one year options at the position. Gallery could play some RT, but the Patriots have Marcus Cannon to back up that spot. Ryan Wendell and Dan Connolly provide much more versatility at the position. Nick McDonald is another tough cut - he could make the squad over Gallery or Wendell.
Predictions for the Defense after the jump!
Defensive tackle / end (5): Vince Wilfork, Kyle Love, Jonathan Fanene, Brandon Deaderick, Gerard Warren
Analysis: The big cuts in this spot are obviously Myron Pryor and Ron Brace. Brace has a lot to prove heading into his fourth year, and looks like a long shot to make the team in 2012 (unless the Patriots are really committed to him as a left end in the 3-4). Myron Pryor, Gerard Warren, and UDFA Marcus Forston all appear to be competing for one final spot. I think Warren's ability to stay healthy, and his contributions down the stretch in 2011 earn him a spot over the injury prone Pryor.
Defensive end / outside linebacker (4): Rob Ninkovich, Andre Carter (starts year on PUP), Chandler Jones, Jake Bequette, Trevor Scott
Analysis: The name that first catches the eye from this list is Andre Carter, who current is an unrestricted free agent nursing a quadriceps injury that prematurely ended his 2011 campaign. I think the team will eventually re-sign him, assuming he continues to make positive steps in his rehab (for now, I have him starting the season on the PUP list). After that, Ninkovich, Jones, and Bequette look like locks. Trevor Scott has a lot of upside, and will be competing with second year player Markell Carter and Jermaine Cunningham for that final spot. If the Patriots look to play more 3-4, perhaps Cunningham will get the edge, since he played so well at the position as a rookie.
Linebacker (5): Jerod Mayo, Brandon Spikes, Dont'a Hightower, Dane Fletcher, Jeff Tarpinian
Analysis: The two notable cuts on this list are Tracy White and recent addition Bobby Carpenter. I have the Patriots going in a younger direction with Tarpinian, and Spencer Larsen's presence on the 53 also makes one of White/Carpenter expendable.
Cornerback (6): Devin McCourty, Kyle Arrington, Ras-I Dowling, Will Allen, Sterling Moore, Alfonzo Dennard
Analysis: This is a complicated position to project, because players such as Devin McCourty, Will Allen, Sterling Moore, and possibly even Ras-I Dowling could move over to free safety. Because of that, I have the team keeping a sixth cornerback, while only keeping four safeties. Marquice Cole is a difficult cut here due to his special teams value.
Safety (4): Patrick Chung, Steve Gregory, Tavon Wilson, Sergio Brown
Analysis: As I've said earlier, I have the Patriots keeping only four safeties because a few of their cornerbacks have the versatility to drop into the free safety spot. Heading into opening day, Patrick Chung and Steve Gregory look like clear-cut starters. Meanwhile, Tavon Wilson steps up into a key role as the third safety as a rookie. I decided to keep Sergio Brown over Josh Barrett, Nate Ebner, and Ross Ventrone. While Brown's deficiencies as a safety have been well documented, fans and media alike seem to gloss over one little fact: Sergio Brown is a STUD special teams player. In fact, because of his presence on coverage units, I'd even consider him an underrated player at this point.
Specialists (3): Stephen Gostkowski (K), Zoltan Mesko (P), Danny Aiken (LS)
Analysis: No surprises here.
Practice Squad (8): Nate Ebner, S/ST; Markell Carter, DE/LB; Marcus Forston, DT; Brandon Bolden, RB; Jeremiah Warren, OL; Jeremy Ebert, WR; Britt Davis, WR; Matt Kopa, OT