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The Unheralded Battle at Defensive Tackle

The Patriots have a fight on their hands at defensive tackle. How will it play out?

Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

The Patriots have a log jam at defensive tackle and no one is really talking about it. 2011 saw the Patriots move towards the 4-3 front, with the addition of Mark Anderson and Andre Carter, but 2012 solidified the move with the drafting of Chandler Jones.

In 2012 and 2013, the Patriots held four defensive tackles on their final rosters.

Brandon Deaderick, Marcus Forston, Kyle Love, and Vince Wilfork.

Chris Jones, Sealver Siliga, Isaac Sopoaga, and Joe Vellano.

Maybe the Patriots stretch their roster this season to house five defensive tackles; the position will still have a dogfight this off-season and some of last year's starters will not be coming back.

Let's look at the locks. First round pick Dominique Easley is an easy selection. Nose tackle Vince Wilfork renegotiated his deal, so he's fairly certain as a lock, too (although his status for 2015 and 2016 hinges entirely upon his 2014 success).

Both are players I would list as over 90% certain as making the day 1 roster, with only their injury recovery leading some chance of placing them on the Physically Unable to Perform list to open the season.

Behind those two players, the returning bodies are coin flips.

There is fellow recovering player, Tommy Kelly, who will have to fight for a roster spot, or be placed in an Andre Carter-esque situation as a mid-season contingency plan in case of injury. Kelly, like Wilfork, restructured his contract and received a $1 million signing bonus (h/t to DunDerD of /r/Patriots for catching this error. I was looking at 2013 numbers. Kelly only received $100k in guaranteed money which makes him a major cut candidate), so you have to believe the team will give him all the chances to make the squad- but if he's cleanly beaten in competition, they won't hesitate to let him go.

Nose tackle Sealver Siliga played extremely well in his time down the stretch. He's a cost-effective player who earned starting time through merit and is a perfect player to spell Wilfork to keep the elder statesman fresh for the season. Part of me wants to consider him a lock. I want to say there's over a 75% chance that he's making the team. But my gut says that he's still fighting to make the team; he'll have to flash that same level of production that he showed down the stretch if he's going to make the team as there are other players who are just as likely to make the team.

Oft-injured defensive tackle Armond Armstead is a high-potential option, whom Bill Belichick considered a top 3 option at defensive tackle last off-season (behind Wilfork and Kelly). If he flashes that same level of production, there's no reason he couldn't supplant Kelly on the team, or at least make Belichick's choice all-the-more difficult. Of couse Armstead has never played a snap so there's a lot that he has to prove if he's going to make the team- and he still has to take the field. But the potential is there and you know that Belichick likes his skill set.

Chris Jones is in a different situation than Armstead, yet he's received similar effusive praise from Belichick. Belichick has lauded his ability to generate pressure and should put Jones directly in competition with Armstead. While Jones left a lot to be desired against the run (although he's gotten larger this off-season), there's plenty of room for him as a sub-rusher, akin to Mike Wright. The fact that he's played in the system should give him a leg up on Armstead, even though his upside isn't as great.

Finally there's oft-forgotten Joe Vellano, who seems like perfect heir to Kyle Love as the physically unimpressive, but technically sound tackle that Belichick will keep around as reliable depth. Vellano is more of a nose tackle and should be graded against Siliga when looking at roster building, but he brings interior versatility that Belichick appreciates.

These are the players I have on the inside track of making the roster. Outsiders like Marcus Forston and L.T. Tuipulotu will have the chance to make some noise this off-season, but the front-runners are clear.

If we had to create an early depth chart, I would rank them as follows:

NT: Vince Wilfork, Sealver Siliga, Joe Vellano

DT: Dominique Easley, Tommy Kelly, Armond Armstead, Chris Jones

Four will make the team. Five if they earn it. Who do you think makes it? Who goes home?