On Saturday, August 31st, the New England Patriots will have to cut down their roster to 53 players. Head coach Bill Belichick recently said that about 80 percent of the roster has been determined, so players on the bubble got a chance to prove they deserve a spot last night in game four of the preseason. Here is my final attempt at projecting the 53-man roster:
Quarterback (3): Tom Brady, Ryan Mallett, Tim Tebow
Despite the story the local media is writing saying this is "Tim Tebow's last hurrah," I believe that he makes this roster. Even though the Patriots face only a few teams that could use the read-option as a part of their offense, Tebow brings a lot of value on the practice field as a part of the scout team. And if it means anything, from all accounts, it appears that he has also been an exemplary teammate in the locker room. Belichick likes him, Kraft likes him, his teammates like him, and I can't believe I'm saying this; I like him too.
Running Back (4): Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, LeGarrette Blount, Brandon Bolden
I originally had Leon Washington and James Develin on the roster, but both of them haven't proven enough to make it. The fact Blount didn't play against the New York Giants is a sign that he has a spot locked up, so Brandon Bolden is the only questionable player. However, he's a younger player and can do a lot of the same things Leon does on offense. There isn't another player that can return kicks like Washington, but I'm sure the Patriots understand the diminished value in kick off returns.
Tight End (4): Rob Gronkowski, Zach Sudfeld, Jake Ballard, Michael Hoomanawanui
Between Jake Ballard and Daniel Fells, I think the former has higher potential. He's still recovering from his ACL injury and appears to be moving a bit better than he was early in camp. I also think he is a better blocker than Fells and can play better at Y-tight end (like Gronkowski) to start the season. "HooMan" makes this roster over Develin because of his ability to play the F-tight end position (like Aaron Hernandez did). Hoomanawanui can also line up at fullback, making Develin expendable. I think Sudfeld and Ballard are your starting tight ends, with HooMan coming in for 3TE sets. That is, until Gronkowski returns.
Wide Receiver (6): Danny Amendola, Kenbrell Thompkins, Julian Edelman, Josh Boyce, Aaron Dobson, Matthew Slater
These are set in stone. Amendola and Thompkins are your starting wide receivers, both Edelman and Boyce will substitute in for passing downs, and Dobson will still get his reps. Slater is obviously one of the greatest special teamers in all of football.
Offensive Linemen (7): Nate Solder, Logan Mankins, Ryan Wendell, Dan Connolly, Sebastian Vollmer, Will Svitek, Marcus Cannon
The versatility of Dan Connolly, Will Svitek, and Marcus Cannon allow the Patriots to carry only seven offensive linemen. Even though Connolly and Cannon have been banged up throughout camp, they appeared to play well against the Giants, proving they are ready to start the year.
Defensive End (5): Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich, Marcus Benard, Justin Francis, Michael Buchanan
Jake Bequette doesn't make the cut, while he made a few good plays last night; the consistency hasn't been there throughout camp. With the cut of Ras-I Dowling, the Patriots proved they aren't afraid to give up on high draft picks anyway. Buchanan's 2.5 sacks against the Giants helped win him one of the final spots on the roster. Jones, Ninkovich, Benard, and Francis are all locks.
Defensive Tackle (4): Vince Wilfork, Tommy Kelly, Marcus Forston, Jermaine Cunningham
Wilfork and Kelly are sure-bets to be studs up the middle this season, with Marcus Forston being the primary backup. Even though Cunningham is currently hurt, he could prove to be a valuable contributor once he gets back on the field. Joe Vellano is a hard cut but is an option for the practice squad.
Linebacker (6): Jerod Mayo, Dont'a Hightower, Brandon Spikes, Jamie Collins, Dane Fletcher, Steve Beauharnais
I believe that Mayo, Hightower, Spikes, Collins, and Fletcher are all locks. Beauharnais proved enough to me throughout camp and the preseason that he has a chance to be a quality backup linebacker in the NFL. Like Fletcher, he is also an extremely smart player.
Cornerback (5): Aqib Talib, Alfonzo Dennard, Kyle Arrington, Logan Ryan, Marquice Cole
These are all locks and I don't think Stephon Morris or Justin Green have done nearly enough to warrant a roster spot. Keep an eye on the waiver wire because the Patriots could add a sixth corner that way. This could be one of the Patriots best set of cornerbacks in years. Talib and Dennard are great outside, and Arrington, Ryan, and Cole can all play the slot very well. Ryan has also developed to the point where I feel comfortable with him outside in the event Talib or Dennard get hurt.
Safety (6): Devin McCourty, Steve Gregory, Adrian Wilson, Tavon Wilson, Duron Harmon, Kanorris Davis
Despite all the talk about Adrian Wilson getting cut, I think he has done a solid job playing in the "money" role in sub-package situations. Sure, he has struggled at safety, looking pretty slow at times, but can the Patriots really trust Tavon Wilson or Duron Harmon to play the position incase McCourty or Gregory get hurt? I don't think so. Wilson makes the team. Kanorris Davis is my surprise pick to make the 53-man roster. He has been pretty great on special teams and we all know how much Belichick and his staff value those players.
Special Teams (3): Stephen Gostkowski, Danny Aiken, Zoltan Mesko
As much as I'd love to see Ryan Allen make the roster, he just didn't do enough to make the team. Zoltan is a great punter, as is Allen, but has proven himself more over time. Allen will get a spot on another team and probably pan out to be a great punter in the NFL.
PUP/Injury List: Mark Harrison (PUP), Armond Armstead (NFI)
I look forward to Armstead getting back on the field, since I think he will be a big time contributor towards the end of the season. It wouldn't surprise me to see Mark Harrison get a "red shirt year" and get placed on the injured reserve at some point. But in the event of an injury, he could have potential value. I don't think Rob Gronkowski gets placed on the PUP since that would prohibit him from practicing with the team while he gets back into playing shape.
Final Cuts: RB: Leon Washington, TE: Daniel Fells, DL: Jake Bequette, Joe Vellano, S: Nate Ebner, P: Ryan Allen
There are some very hard cuts here but there are only 53 spots on the roster. Bequette and Vellano have a chance to slide onto the practice squad, and Washington will certainly get a chance with another team. Nate Ebner has potential as a special teamer but could also return to rugby.
Practice Squad Candidates: RB: George Winn; WR: Quentin Sims; OL: Chris McDonald; DL: Jake Bequette, Joe Vellano, CB: Justin Green; P: Ryan Allen
I expect Winn, McDonald, Sims, and Vellano to make it onto the Patriots practice squad, but all of the other names could have a hard time clearing waivers. Also consider the fact that there are a lot of other players that the Patriots may be looking at from various other teams.