The days of the NFL Draft and its immediate aftermath are some of the busiest in the pro football calendar. Dozens of players move around – signed either as draft picks or undrafted free agents; released to hit free agency – as teams get close to the 90-men roster limit.
The New England Patriots are no different. Ever since their season ended in January, the team has been working on constructing its 2016 version. The latest chapter of this story was written over the course of the last few days, and it has been a big one.
With the draft now a few days behind us and the first wave of undrafted free agency winding down, it is now a good moment to look at the 90 players the Patriots have on their roster. Let's start with the team's current (05/10, 8:00 a.m. ET) offensive personnel.
Tom Brady (12), Jacoby Brissett (7), Jimmy Garoppolo (10)
Despite Tom Brady possibly facing a four-game suspension, the Patriots' quarterback depth chart is set – and looking very solid. When healthy (and not suspended), Brady is the undisputed starter and arguably the best quarterback in the NFL.
Third-year man Garoppolo is the primary backup and scheduled to become the starter in case Brady misses the first four games of the season, while Brissett will learn behind the scenes and is likely only an emergency option in 2016.
LeGarrette Blount (29), Brandon Bolden (38), Donald Brown (34), James Develin (46, FB), D.J. Foster (--), Tyler Gaffney (36), Dion Lewis (33), James White (28)
The unit struggled in 2015, but the Patriots did not add a running back via the draft. Dion Lewis, returning from an ACL injury, and re-signed free agent LeGarrette Blount are the one-two-punch at the position, with core special teamer Brandon Bolden the likely number three to make the roster.
The major question to be answered over the upcoming weeks is who will join the three on the team. Fullback James Develin has the best chances, with Brown, White and undrafted rookie Foster fighting for the spot behind Lewis. Tyler Gaffney is currently the player best suited to back up Blount but he is far from a roster lock and has to beat out his competitors to earn a roster spot.
Danny Amendola (80), DeAndre Carter (16), Aaron Dobson (17), Julian Edelman (11), Chris Harper (14), Chris Hogan (15), Devin Lucien (--), Keshawn Martin (82), Malcolm Mitchell (19), Matthew Slater (18), Nate Washington (84)
Due to Danny Amendola's recent contract restructure, he will join Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan and special teams ace Matthew Slater on New England's 2016 roster. The wide receiver depth chart will likely be completed by fourth round rookie Malcolm Mitchell and Keshawn Martin, who has signed a two-year extension in January.
Are there enough spots on the roster for a sixth pure wideout? Probably not, although seventh rounder Devin Lucien is an intriguing prospect and former second round draft pick Aaron Dobson has flashed potential in his limited time on the field. Potential, however, is not enough to guarantee a spot on a deep roster.
Martellus Bennett (83), A.J. Derby (86), Rob Gronkowski (87), Clay Harbor (88), Steven Scheu (--), Bryce Williams (81), Michael Williams (85)
New England re-shaped its depth behind All Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski this offseason by adding Martellus Bennett and Clay Harbor to compete with Michael Williams, second-year player A.J. Derby and undrafted rookies Steven Scheu and Bryce Williams.
Gronkowski and Bennett are locks, with Harbor being close to a lock due to his $400,000 signing bonus. If the Patriots carry only three tight ends on their roster, they are the favorites to be the chosen ones. If a fourth is added, Michael Williams is the front-runner to join the trio on the roster.
Marcus Cannon (61), Cameron Fleming (71), Keavon Milton (74), Nate Solder (77), Sebastian Vollmer (76), LaAdrian Waddle (68)
Looking forward to 2016, it will be interesting to see if the offensive tackles can bounce back after a disastrous and injury-riddled 2015 campaign. Nate Solder's return from injury and Vollmer's subsequent return to the right tackle position should definitely help but one major question remains: who will offer depth behind the two roster locks?
LaAdrian Waddle, who has signed a two-year deal with the Patriots in March is the favorite. Marcus Cannon, despite a dismal 2015 season and a $4.75 million cap hit is also still in the race – especially now that one of his biggest supporters, offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia, is back with the team. However, if the team views one of its versatile interior linemen as a potential option at tackle, Cannon's time in New England might come to an end.
Interior Offensive Linemen
David Andrews (60, OC), Chris Barker (64, OG), Jonathan Cooper (65, OG), Tre' Jackson (63, OG), Ted Karras (--, OG), Josh Kline (67, OG), Shaq Mason (69, OG), Bryan Stork (66, OC), Joe Thuney (62, OG/OC)
One of the least experienced position groups on the roster is also one of the most intriguing ones. After all, the Patriots have invested a lot of draft capital along the interior offensive line the last few years – this, in turn, should lead to an interesting competition over the course of the summer.
Probably the only player to be a sure-fire roster lock at this point is guard/center-hybrid Joe Thuney, who was a third round draft pick two weeks ago. The players with the best chances of joining him are probably Shaq Mason, Jonathan Cooper and Bryan Stork – even though all three could become expendable if another player is able to leapfrog them.
Given the versatility of the personnel and the return of line coach Dante Scarnecchia, it is impossible to predict what the Patriots plan to do along the interior of their offensive line. The only thing we know is that the best five or six players will make the roster – no matter their draft pedigree.
Top to bottom, the Patriots have one of the deepest rosters in the NFL. The offense is no different given the talent and depth the unit has across the board. The only questions are whether the running game and the offensive line are able to return to form after a disappointing 2015 season. If they can do just that (and stay healthy along the way), New England's offense should once again be one of the league's best in 2016.