(Note: If you want the best updates on undrafted free agents, make your way to the NE Patriots Draft webpage. My friend Mike Loyko has compiled all of the signings thus far for every single team in the league. Give him a follow for all his hard work!)
As we've discussed, the Patriots went into the draft with a short list of needs and managed to find players that met every qualification. They're currently flushing out the rest of the roster with undrafted free agents- but let's look at how the roster stands:
Locks: Tom Brady, Ryan Mallett - The Patriots didn't do anything
to address their clear need at quarterback. Look for them to continue to run with these two quarterbacks on the roster for the full season.
Practice Squad Potential: Mike Kafka - Kafka will likely not stick on the roster, but the Patriots like to have an additional body on the practice squad to throw during the season.
Locks: Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, Leon Washington - Ridley and Vereen should make the roster as the feature one-two punch of the running game, with Ridley carrying the load and Vereen being featured in the no huddle and on obvious passing downs. Washington looks to be an immediate contributor in the kick return game, where the Patriots have finished in the bottom eight of the league in each of the past three seasons.
Battles: Brandon Bolden, LaGarrette Blount - The late draft acquisition of Blount shouldn't be read too much into (the Patriots wanted to get rid of Demps, the Buccaneers wanted to get rid of Blount, Blount has had a 1000 yard season, why not spend a 7th?), but this is definitely a battle for this off-season. Bolden played well when given the chance, but his time dwindled after he was suspended. Can Blount find his rookie season success and take Bolden's spot on the roster? Keep in mind that none of Blount's contract is guaranteed, so there's little commitment to him making the squad.
Practice Squad Potential: Quentin Hines - Hines provides 4.4 speed and n absurd 11'6 broad jump explosion, but he's more of a physical prospect than a polished one. He could be a Malcolm Williams of sorts on offense and spend a year on the practice squad and perhaps add value down the road.
Locks: Michael Hoomanawanui - Hooman is the only lock as he provides additional depth at tight end. He's a solid blocker and has good enough hands to warrant a roster spot. He helps on special teams and provides the versatility needed for such a limited role on the team.
Cuts: James Develin, Tony Fiammetta, Ben Bartholomew - None of these players really have a chance of making the roster, but they should provide solid competition during the off-season. Develin shows the most likely promise of coming back to the practice squad, but it's likely that none of these players have a future in New England.
Locks: Danny Amendola, Aaron Dobson, Julian Edelman, Josh Boyce, Donald Jones, Matthew Slater - I wouldn't be surprised if the Patriots wide receivers are already set in stone. They have too much invested in Amendola
and Jones to have them not make the team. Jones has a unique skill set when compared to all the other receivers. Rookies Dobson and Boyce were drafted with the intention of keeping them, meaning their cuts are highly improbably. Edelman and Slater add too much special teams value, with the former adding WR3 value and the latter being a captain and respected player.
Cuts: Michael Jenkins, Kamar Aiken, Kenbrell Tompkins - Look for Jenkins to add some veteran value during the off-season, but don't expect him to stick around. Aiken and Tompkins will both have a chance to impress, but it's not likely they'll be kept after camp due to the numbers game.
Practice Squad Potential: Jeremy Ebert, T.J. Moe - Moe is an athletic freak who could impress during camp (and it might be likely he'll be taken from waivers if the Patriots try to stash him on the practice squad), while Ebert is a returning player. Both will likely be fighting for the same practice squad spot and it'll be a matter of which player makes it back to the team.
Locks: Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez - No explanation really needed, both of these players are signed for the long term and are the cornerstones of the offense.
Battles: Jake Ballard, Daniel Fells - While many may have Ballard penciled in on the roster, keep in mind that he hasn't played football in over a year. Fells did not impress last season and is definitely cut material, but look for these two to fight for the same roster spot.
Cuts: Brad Herman - Herman was injured during last season's camp and was given another offer to try and make the team. It seems very unlikely.
Practice Squad Potential: Brandon Ford, Zach Sudfeld - Like Ebert and Moe, look for these two UDFAs to fight for the same practice squad position. Both Ford and Sudfeld were breakout tight ends with physical limitations (Ford isn't as big, Sudfeld isn't as strong). Look for Sudfeld to be given the nod if they make the practice squad due to his size, but both Ford and Sudfeld are players to watch this off-season.
Locks: Nate Solder, Logan Mankins, Ryan Wendell, Dan Connolly, Sebastian Vollmer, Marcus Cannon - All of these players should make the roster, allowing the Patriots potentially field the same starting five as last season. Look for Cannon and Connolly to duke it out for the right guard position, but the loser will take over as top offensive back-up.
Battles: Will Svitek, Markus Zusevics, Nick McDonald - Two of these three will make the roster, but it's a matter of who. McDonald has the inside edge, having been the top back-up center last season and should likely make the team. However, Svitek and Zusevics could be fighting for the same spot, with Svitek becoming expendable now that Vollmer has been signed long term. Do the Patriots like Zusevics long term potential more than Svitek's proven ability?
Cuts: Elvis Fisher - Undersized and injured, Fisher has an uphill battle and lacks the same upside needed to stick around.
Practice Squad Potential: Josh Kline, Matt Stankiewitch, Chris McDonald - The Patriots love to groom linemen on the practice squad, so don't be shocked if the Patriots keep two (although I think they'll only keep one). Kline and McDonald have plenty of physical upside that the Patriots love to groom. Kline is a former high school state champion wrestler, while McDonald is a better athlete, a 29 game starter, and shows the same versatility that the Patriots like to have in interior linemen.
Roster Locks: 20 (Brady, Mallett, Ridley, Vereen, Washington, Hoomanawanui, Gronkowski, Hernandez, Amendola, Dobson, Edelman, Boyce, Jones, Slater, Solder, Mankins, Wendell, Connolly, Vollmer, Cannon)
Players from Battles: 4 (Bolden/Blount, Ballard/Fells, Svitek/Zusevics/McDonald)
Practice Squad Potential: Kafka, Hines, Ebert, Moe, Ford, Sudfeld, Kline, Stankiewitch, McDonald
Locks: Vince Wilfork, Kyle Love, Brandon Deaderick - Wilfork won't have any competition and while Love and Deaderick are far from great players, they're solid and have proven enough to be back for another season.
Battles: Tommy Kelly, Armond Armstead, Marcus Forston - Kelly, Armstead, and Forston are fighting for two spots and it will likely come down to need. Kelly and Armstead are more pass rushers, which the Patriots desperately need on the interior, and likely have the inside edge. Forston will have to prove that he deserves a spot, even if his skill set might seem redundant next to Kyle Love's.
Cuts: Tracy Robertson - Roberston is a camp body who will push Forston, but it's likely that he doesn't have much of a chance.
Practice Squad Potential: Cory Grissom - Grissom won't have flashy stats, but he's the interior space eater that the Patriots love to have. If Forston doesn't make it on the team or the practice squad, look for Grissom to put up a fight for that roster spot.
Locks: Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich, Jamie Collins - Jones and Collins are the future of the position and Ninkovich is the present. These three players can be written on the roster in permanent markers.
Battles: Marcus Benard, Justin Francis, Jermaine Cunningham, Jake Bequette, Michael Buchanan, Jason Vega - The role of 4th (and 5th) defensive end will be a slugfest. Benard has proven ability and is this year's "post-injury reclamation project", in the same vein as Mark Anderson and Trevor Scott. Francis and Cunningham add value as they can kick inside to defensive tackle in the NASCAR packages that the Patriots like to use on passing downs. Vega is an athletic freak who played in the CFL for two seasons and should be given a fair chance. Bequette is last year's 3rd round pick who essentially red shirted while being a healthy inactive all of last season. Buchanan is one of this year's seventh round picks and, like Vega, has plenty of athletic upside to consider. Look for two or three of these players to make the roster.
Practice Squad Potential: Buchanan - If he doesn't outright make the team, look for the Patriots to hold onto him as long as possible before trying to stash him on the practice squad.
Locks: Jerod Mayo, Brandon Spikes, Dont'a Hightower - The three starting linebackers should return for another season of, hopefully, improved play and success.
Battles: Dane Fletcher, Steve Beauharnais, Niko Koutouvides - These three will likely fight for the right to be the top back-up, while also being the field generals on special teams. All three add value and will be fighting for the same two roster spots. Fletcher is returning from injury, the 32 year old Koutouvides is back on a one year deal, while Beauharnais is the other seventh round pick from this year's draft.
Cuts: Mike Rivera, Jeff Tarpinian - Rivera was the practice squad player who was called up late in the season and played some special teams, while Tarpinian is the oft-injured outside linebacker. Both are potential candidates for the practice squad, but it's just as likely the team just walks away.
Practice Squad Potential: Beauharnais - Like Buchanan, if Beauharnais doesn't make the roster on his own, look for him to be a top priority on the practice squad.
Locks: Aqib Talib, Alfonzo Dennard, Kyle Arrington, Logan Ryan - The Patriots starting trio of Talib, Dennard, and Arrington should be back for a full season, while draft pick Ryan should be likely groomed as Talib's long term replacement.
Battles: Ras-I Dowling, Marquice Cole - Dowling is on his last straw (think of Terrence Wheatley) and will have to beat out special teams stud and slot corner back-up Cole for the final cornerback spot.
Cuts: Malcolm Williams - Williams has been kicked between the roster as a specials teams player and the practice squad. He likely won't be back due to other talent on the roster.
Practice Squad Potential: Stephon Morris, Brandon Jones - The Patriots are sure to have the inside trade on both Morris (Penn State) and Jones (Rutgers) and both should likely be targets for the practice squad. Morris is on the small side (5'8), but he's extremely athletic and could be a pure special teams player. Jones has more size to be an impact corner and he is tough (played his whole junior year on a fractured tibia). Look for one of these players to end up on the practice squad.
Locks: Devin McCourty, Adrian Wilson, Tavon Wilson, Duron Harmon - McCourty will hold down the free safety position, while the Wilsons will likely rotate at strong safety. Third round pick Harmon provides depth at both roles, plays special teams, and could likely be groomed in either safety spot.
Battles: Steve Gregory, Nate Ebner - Gregory is likely expendable due to the selection of Harmon and the acquisition of Adrian Wilson and will have to fight to earn his spot outright, while Ebner is a pure special teams player who could have lost his only chance of a roster spot once the Patriots drafted Harmon. One safety will likely be kept on as depth- or perhaps both will be cut if the Patriots opt to keep both Dowling and Cole.
Cuts: Kanorris Davis - A former undersized linebacker, the 5'9, 210 lbs Davis is expected to convert to safety. He's likely a project that won't make the roster.
Roster Locks: 17 (Wilfork, Love, Deaderick, Jones, Ninkovich, Collins, Mayo, Spikes, Hightower, Talib, Dennard, Arrington, Ryan, McCourty, Wilson, Wilson, Harmon)
Players from Battles: 9 (Kelly/Armstead/Forston, Benard/Francis/Cunningham/Bequette/Bucanan/Vega, Fletcher/Beauharnais/Koutouvides, Dowling/Cole, Gregory/Ebner)
Practice Squad Potential: Forston, Grissom, Buchanan, Beauharnais, Morris, Jones
Locks: Stephen Gostkowski, Zoltan Mesko, Danny Aiken - The Patriots trio of special teamsters should be back for another season.
Practice Squad Potential: Ryan Allen - Allen was the best punter in the nation for two consecutive years. With Mesko being a free agent next season, the Patriots could look forward and stash Allen on the practice squad if some team offers Mesko a deal outside of their price range.
Final Roster Projection
Quarterback (2): Brady, Mallett
Running Back (4): Ridley, Vereen, Washington, Blount
Fullback (1): Hoomanawanui
Wide Receiver (6): Amendola, Dobson, Edelman, Boyce, Jones, Slater
Tight End (3): Gronkowski, Hernandez, Ballard
Tackle (4): Solder, Vollmer, Cannon, Zusevics
Interior (5):Mankins, Wendell, Connolly, Cannon, McDonald
Defensive Tackle (5): Wilfork, Love, Deaderick, Kelly, Armstead
Defensive End (5): Jones, Ninkovich, Collins, Francis, Cunningham
Linebacker (5): Mayo, Spikes, Hightower, Fletcher, Koutouvides
Cornerback (6): Talib, Dennard, Arrington, Ryan, Dowling, Cole
Safety (4): McCourty, Wilson, Wilson, Harmon
Special Teams (3): Gostkowski, Mesko, Aiken
Last Five In: Dowling, Koutouvides, Zusevics, Blount, Cunningham
Last Five Out: Bequette, Gregory, Beauharnais, Buchanan, Bolden
Practice Squad (8): Kafka, Moe, Sudfeld, McDonald, Forston, Buchanan, Beauharnais, Jones
It's clear that the Patriots are well stocked and that they're going to have to cut some quality impact players in order to make their roster work. While I project 40 players to be locks on the roster, the back-end of the roster is a dog fight with players like Gregory, Bolden, and Bequette just missing out on the squad- players who could have made an impact if given another shot.
There's still plenty of off-season to go, and it's likely that the Patriots will bring on another veteran (John Abraham?) and some other cast-offs from other teams' cuts, but it's difficult to project where the Patriots need more help. Additionally, it's quite possible the Patriots' streak of impact UDFAs will end due to the depth at all positions (although T.J. Moe could fight for a roster spot).
It's difficult to point out the main positions of need, although I wouldn't be surprised to see the Patriots sign a defensive tackle that is cut from another squad. Still- where can they improve? Who do you see stepping up in camp?