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 (05/11, 7:00 a.m. ET) special teams personnel.
Ryan Allen (6, P), Joe Cardona (49, LS), Stephen Gostkowski (3, K), Christian Yount (42, LS)
At first glance, the Patriots' specialists look set in stone as Stephen Gostkowski, Ryan Allen and Joe Cardona all return for another year in Foxboro. However, Cardona's unclear situation regarding his commitment to the Navy might force New England to alter its plans.
If Cardona is unable to play in the NFL for an extended period of time in 2016, Christian Yount, who was signed as an unrestricted free agent in April, is the favorite to replace him – after all, he is the only other pure long snapper on the Patriots' current roster.
Danny Amendola (80, WR), Julian Edelman (11, WR), Cyrus Jones (24, CB), Keshawn Martin (82, WR)
The Patriots' returners have had a difficult 2015 season, as they struggled to hold on to the football at times during the regular season – no fumble more costly than Chris Harper's during the Patriots' trip Denver in November.
Given the struggles and the fact that the primary returners are two of New England's most important offensive players – wide receivers Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola – the team's selection of cornerback Cyrus Jones in the draft makes even more sense. After all, Jones has been one of college football's best and most electrifying returnmen last season and could help the Patriots as both a punt and a kick returner.
Core special teamers
Brandon Bolden (38, RB), Patrick Chung (23, SS), Nate Ebner (43, SS), Jonathan Freeny (55, LB), Brandon King (36, SS), Jordan Richards (37, SS) Matthew Slater (11, WR)
The seven players listed above are the only ones to have played more than 40% of the Patriots' special teams snaps in 2015. Accordingly, they once again project to form the core of New England's special teams in 2016. It remains to be seen if free agency signings like Ramon Humber or draft picks like Kamu Grugier-Hill are able to establish themselves as key members of the unit.
The Patriots' special teams have had an inconsistent 2015 season, the first one under coach Joe Judge and his assistant Ross Ventrone. While the kicking game has been successful, except for one costly missed extra point attempt in the AFC Championship Game, the return and coverage games struggled. If New England wants to improve its special teams play moving forward, the coaches need to find ways to improve those two aspects, either by personnel or by scheme.