The New England Patriots will have to cut down their roster from 75 players to 53 players by 4PM EST, Saturday, September 5th. In my opinion, the roster is nearly complete. Here's a breakdown of the current roster and a projection for making the final team.
Locks: Tom Brady, Jimmy Garoppolo. No surprises here.
Cut: Ryan Lindley. Lindley is sticking around until Judge Berman makes his DeflateGate verdict (today?!) and then will be shown the door.
Running Back (4*)
Locks: LeGarrette Blount*, Jonas Gray, Brandon Bolden, James White, Dion Lewis. Lewis and White have done enough to earn spots, while Gray is Blount's replacement. Bolden is a key special teams player under a new contract. Blount does not count against the initial 53-man roster because he is suspended for the opening week of the season. When he returns, the Patriots will have an interesting roster decision to make.
Cut: Travaris Cadet, Tony Creecy. Cadet hasn't had the chance to make an impact behind White and Lewis and he would have to have a monster performance against the Giants in order to snag a roster spot.
Wide Receivers (6)
Locks: Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Brandon LaFell, Reggie Wayne, Aaron Dobson, Matthew Slater. The first four aren't surprises, and Dobson shouldn't be either. The team will give him one last year to prove his value and they let him rest extra during the preseason because they like what they've seen during camp. Slater is a lock.
Battle: Chris Harper. Harper has a far-outside chance of making the roster and is more-than-likely a practice squad candidate. He's promising, but there are still too many holes in his game.
Cut: Zach D'Orazio. No surprise here.
Tight End (4)
Locks: Rob Gronkowski, Scott Chandler, Michael Hoomanawanui. If there were any questions about Hooman's roster chances, they disappeared once James Develin was injured. Hooman is now a likely favorite to play fullback.
Battle: Michael Williams, Asante Cleveland. I expect these two players to fight for one final roster spot. They will likely be cut upon the return of Blount from his suspension. They're extremely different players, with Cleveland acting as a Gronk/Chandler avatar during the preseason. Williams is more likely to make the roster with Marcus Cannon dinged up.
Locks: Nate Solder, Sebastian Vollmer, Marcus Cannon, Cameron Fleming. No surprises here.
Cut: Chris Martin, Caylin Hauptmann. Martin has played well this preseason, but there isn't enough space on the roster for three back-up tackle-type players.
Interior Lineman (5)
Locks: Bryan Stork, Tre Jackson, Shaq Mason, Ryan Wendell. Wendell might be a surprise, but he was recently activated and he served as a ballast for last season's offensive line. If either Mason or Jackson falter in their rookie year, Wendell will be crucial to take up the slack.
Battle: Josh Kline, David Andrews. Both can play all three interior positions and will be asked to provide roster depth. Kline is better than Andrews at this point purely based on functional strength and experience. Andrews would benefit from a year on the practice squad, while Kline would offer quality depth.
Cut: Ryan Groy. Groy hasn't played poorly, but he is clearly further down the depth chart than Kline and Andrews, who have received first team reps.
Offensive Summary (25*)
Blount doesn't count against this counter. With Harper and Andrews projected to head to the practice squad, and Cleveland another practice squad option, the Patriots round out their roster locks with the unique TE Williams and IL Kline.
Defensive Tackle (5^)
Locks: Dominique Easley, Malcom Brown, Sealver Siliga, Alan Branch. Branch has jumped to a roster lock with the departure of Antonio Johnson. He's a quality size player on the inside. The other three aren't surprises.
Battle^: Zach Moore, Casey Walker. There's a chance neither player makes the roster, but Moore serves as a depth player to Easley's skill set, while Walker offers more size on the inside. If Moore doesn't make the team, he's a practice squad candidate.
Cut: A.J. Pataiali'i. Pataiali'i is another practice squad candidate.
Edge Defender (5^)
Locks: Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich, Jabaal Sheard, Trey Flowers, Geneo Grissom. No surprises here.
Battle^: Rufus Johnson. I believe Johnson is too good of a player to sneak through waivers and he will be competing with Moore and Walker for the final roster spot.
Cut: Xzavier Dickson. While he's had a quality preseason, the Patriots just have too much depth ahead. Dickson is another practice squad candidate.
Locks: Dont'a Hightower, Jamie Collins, Jerod Mayo, James Morris, Jonathan Freeny. The Patriots have played Morris and Freeny on defense for most of the preseason and both also offer special teams value.
Cut: Darius Fleming, Eric Martin. While Fleming offers special teams value, Morris and Freeny offer more defensive upside. Martin hasn't seen the field in the preseason.
Locks: Malcolm Butler, Tarell Brown, Bradley Fletcher, Logan Ryan, Robert McClain. No surprises in this group, especially with rookie Darryl Roberts going to the injured reserve.
Cut: Daxton Swanson. While he had a great game against the Panthers, Swanson is likely to head to the practice squad.
Locks: Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon, Jordan Richards. No surprises here.
Battle: Tavon Wilson, Nate Ebner. Wilson and Ebner are both competing for a dimeback and core four special teams player role. While Ebner has carved out a special teams role, Wilson actually played more special teams snaps in 2014 and offers more defensive upside.
Cut: Brandon King. King hasn't played on defense.
Defensive Summary (25)
Branch, Morris, and Freeny have been bumped up to roster locks, from my perspective, after their preseason performances and uses. Wilson and Ebner are fighting for the same spot, with Wilson's defensive upside offering him a greater roster chance. Johnson, Moore, and Walker are fighting for the final defensive line position, with all three offering vastly different skill sets. Johnson is an edge player, Moore is a hybrid, and Walker is an interior player.
Special Teams (3)
Locks: Stephen Gostkowski, Ryan Allen, Joe Cardona. No surprises.
The biggest battle, in my opinion, will be between Johnson, Moore, and Walker. There seems to be a player that makes sense as the leader in the tight end battle (Williams over Cleveland due to unique skill set), in the offensive interior battle (Kline over Andrews due to experience and strength), and in the safety battle (Wilson over Ebner due to defensive upside).
On the defensive front? That's up to the coaching and their needs. Walker could be the leader due to his massive size, but the Patriots would have three larger players in Brown, Siliga, and Branch. Moore could be the leader due to his team experience and his versatility, but the hybrid role is covered by Easley and all of the edge defenders. Johnson could be the leader because he's probably the best of all of these players, but there's a log jam of edge defenders.
I'll be watching these positional fights against the Giants. What are your thoughts on this roster analysis?