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, 1:00 p.m. ET) defensive personnel.
Alan Branch (97), Malcom Brown (90), Woodrow Hamilton (--), Anthony Johnson (--), Frank Kearse (72), Terrance Knighton (96), Markus Kuhn (94), Vincent Valentine (99), Joe Vellano (70)
The defensive tackle depth was a point of emphasis for the Patriots this offseason. The team brought free agents Terrance Knighton, Frank Kearse, Markus Kuhn and Anthony Johnson on board, while picking up the contract option of Alan Branch. The team also released former first-rounder Dominique Easley, and drafted Nebraska's Vincent Valentine in the fourth round.
As things currently stand, Branch, Kinghton and Valentine join second-year player Malcom Brown as the favorites to make the team's roster. New England's coaching staff could opt to keep a fifth player around but with edge defenders like Jabaal Sheard having experience as inside rushers, it seems likely that the team rather uses its resources elsewhere.
Trey Flowers (98), Geneo Grissom (92), Rufus Johnson (59), Chris Long (95), Rob Ninkovich (50), Jabaal Sheard (93)
Despite trading Chandler Jones to the Arizona Cardinals in March, the Patriots have depth and talent on the defensive edge – and a nice blend of youth and experience. Without Jones, Jabaal Sheard and Rob Ninkovich are projected to become the new starting duo, while free agency signing Chris Long should offer quality depth, allowing the team to rotate players on a regular basis.
The competition for the spot(s?) behind Sheard, Ninkovich and Long should be one of the most interesting ones this summer. After all, the Patriots invested a third and a fourth round pick in Geneo Grissom and Trey Flowers last year, while Rufus Johnson has looked very promising last summer.
Jamie Collins (91), Jonathan Freeny (55), Dont'a Hightower (54), Ramon Humber (53), C.J. Johnson (--), Shea McClellin (58), Elandon Roberts (51), Kevin Snyder (45), Tony Steward (44)
The Patriots have a very talented linebacker corps – but one that is top-heavy: Dont'a Hightower and Jamie Collins are two of the best players in the NFL at the position. However, the depth behind them is unproven, especially after Jerod Mayo announced his retirement in February.
Jonathan Freeny was the team's third option at linebacker last season but he was inconsistent when asked to play extended snaps in place of an injured starter. While his chances of making the initial roster are still solid, the team added multiple players to the competition; among them former Chicago Bears first round pick Shea McClellin, whose contract is reflective of the Patriots viewing him as the new number three moving forward.
New England also added Elandon Roberts and hybrid linebacker/safety Kamu Grugier-Hill in the sixth round of the draft. The team also signed undrafted rookie C.J. Johnson, as well as Ramon Humber and Tony Steward as unrestricted free agents. They – together with Kevin Snyder – will fight with Freeny for one or two roster spots behind Hightower, Collins and McClellin.
V'Angelo Bentley (--), E.J. Biggers (39, FS), Malcolm Butler (21), Justin Coleman (22), Cyrus Jones (24), Jonathan Jones (--), Cre'von LeBlanc (--), Darryl Roberts (27), Logan Ryan (26)
As is the case at linebacker, the Patriots' cornerback depth chart looks set at the top: Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan are the starters on the perimeter, with second round rookie Cyrus Jones being a top candidate to earn snaps as a sub cornerback. The three are the only players at the position who can be considered locks to make the roster.
Behind them, Justin Coleman and Darryl Roberts have the best chances given the potential they have shown last season. However, they still need to earn their spots on the roster as the Patriots won't hesitate to give them to other players more worthy of said spots.
Patrick Chung (23, SS), Nate Ebner (43, SS), Kamu Grugier-Hill (--, SS/LB), Duron Harmon (30, FS), Brandon King (36, SS), Devin McCourty (32, FS), Jordan Richards (37, SS), Cedric Thompson (41, FS), Brock Vereen (35, FS)
As it stands right now, the safety position seems well-stocked heading into the summer. Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung and Duron Harmon are the top three players at the position, with Jordan Richards the next in line. All four are safe bets to make the roster.
Special teams standouts Nate Ebner and Brandon King are as well, despite not being asked to contribute much on defense. Everyone else is a long-shot to make the team, although the aforementioned Grugier-Hill could benefit from his positional versatility and earn a spot at the expense of a backup linebacker.
As has been said in the offensive roster reset, the Patriots have one of the deepest rosters in the NFL top to bottom. The defense is no different: the unit has talent at all three levels and should be able to have another successful season despite moving on from two of its most disruptive players in Chandler Jones and Dominique Easley.