The New England Patriots have traditionally held six linebackers on the roster at any given time, with three starting players accompanied by three depth players that become core members of the special teams units. This roster mix helps determine why certain players make the Patriots roster over others: if you aren't starting, you have to be able to contribute on special teams.
Jerod Mayo, Dont'a Hightower, Jamie Collins
The Patriots have three starting linebackers that are capable of putting up All Pro performances. Hightower is one of the best young linebackers in the league and Collins has more potential than any other player. Mayo might not be fully recovered from his season-ending injury, but he restructured his contract to ensure he's a Patriot for one more season.
Hightower will be recovering from his injury, so he's a dark horse to start his season on the Physically Unable to Perform list and sit out the first six games of the year. But there's no question these three players are making the final roster.
Brandon Spikes, Dane Fletcher, Chris White, Darius Fleming, Jonathan Freeny, Dekoda Watson, Matthew Wells, James Morris
The depth behind the starting three linebackers is entirely up in the air. Spikes offers little value on special teams, so his best chance of making the roster would be for Hightower to start his season on the PUP list, or for Mayo to not be at full strength. Fletcher is in direct competition with White as a core special teams player, but Fletcher offers more upside as a depth player on defense.
Fleming has value as he spent last season on the roster, but he joins White, Freeny, and Watson as players who have spent their careers on special teams. It's very possible these players are all fighting for the same couple of roster spots.
The rookie Wells is a unique player, with a skill set that's not matched by anyone else on the roster. Still, he has to be able to perform on the field and he'll likely assume a Jonathan Casillas-esque function on the roster (if he makes it). Morris was a favorite of the coaches and he spent last season on the injured reserve. He has potential as a defensive linebacker, but he'll have to cut his teeth on special teams.
Did you know that Martin has a Super Bowl ring? The Patriots signed him to their practice squad on December 29th, which means that he spent zero regular season games with New England. He was with the team for only the playoffs. The chance of Martin making the team is fairly slim, especially with the Patriots bringing in five linebackers this off-season.