Now that the 2016 NFL Draft is over, the Patriots can now focus on building their 90-man roster for training camp. Each position on the roster has their set of players who are locks to make the 53-man roster in September due to some kind of status on the team. Whether that's as a returning starter that played well in 2015, a high draft pick, or a major free agent acquisition. When I say a high draft pick, I mean the players selected through the first four rounds of the draft and for major free agent acquisition, I'm talking about players who got more than $2M per year.
QB (3): Tom Brady, Jimmy Garoppolo, Jacoby Brissett. The Patriots presumptive starter will be Tom Brady, who has been the team's primary starting QB since September 30, 2001. Brady has his own off the field issues to deal with right now, so his status for the first four games of the year is up in the air. With Garoppolo having two years left of team control and possibly a trade candidate next offseason, the Patriots drafted a QB in the Top 100.
RB (3): LeGarrette Blount, Dion Lewis, Brandon Bolden. The Patriots signed Blount right before the draft and the Patriots did not draft a RB this year. Barring a sudden turnaround for Tyler Gaffney, the primary inside runner will be Blount for the second straight year. Dion Lewis is coming off of ACL surgery this year, so his status to start the season is in doubt. His overall play last year was spectacular and the Patriots offense started to plateau then drop off when Lewis went down with an injury in Week 9. The Patriots likely carry 4 RBs in 2016, and two of those spots will come down to James White, Donald Brown, or DJ Foster. Brandon Bolden is a lock for his special teams contribution and his ability to at least be an emergency option at RB if we need to break the glass.
FB/TE (3): Rob Gronkowski, Martellus Bennett, James Develin. With the acquisition of Bennett, the Patriots could and should switch to a 2 TE offense once again. Bennett is equally as athletic as Gronk and could cause nightmares for opponents, especially in the red zone and when they go with the 4 TE personnel package. I consider fullback James Develin as a lock to make the roster, although he's coming off of a broken leg and is a part time player with only 19% of snaps in 2014. However, the Patriots running game is more effective with him lead blocking even though his presence on the field is basically telegraphing a run to the opponent. The Patriots also have Clay Harbor and Michael Williams at the position competing for a spot with UDFAs Steven Scheau and Bryce Williams.
WR (3): Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell. The Patriots added Chris Hogan in free agency and drafted two receivers on the third day of the draft. Danny Amendola's roster spot is determined by whether he restructures, which is higher now due to the Patriots having more leverage since they're prepared to release him should negotiations go nowhere. The Patriots drafted 2 WRs of similar athleticism with Mitchell and 7th round pick Devin Lucien. Lucien isn't as polished a prospect as Mitchell coming out college, since he played in a spread offense at Arizona State instead of a pro style offense run by a former NFL Offensive Coordinator like Mitchell did at Georgia. The Patriots also have Keshawn Martin, who offers depth and special teams ability as a return man. It will be interesting to see how the Patriots WR battle winds up. If Amendola is a cap casualty, then Martin becomes a lock outright.
OT (3): Nate Solder, Sebastian Vollmer, La'Adrian Waddle. The Patriots return all 5 tackles from last year, with Solder and Vollmer as the presumptive starters going into camp. The Patriots clearly tabbed Waddle as the backup when they re-signed him right before free agency started. Marcus Cannon right now looks like a future cap casualty and Cameron Fleming has big question marks about his ability to even play at an NFL level other than be a jumbo TE in a 6 OL power formation against the Colts. Bryan Stork, Michael Williams, and Joe Thuney are possible emergency options at the position, but the Patriots don't plan on using them there if they can help it. In 2016, the Patriots better hope that they stay healthy at the position, because we saw last year what happened when the entire OL suffered injuries. Nate Solder's season-ending injury in Week 5 perhaps had the biggest impact.
IOL (3): Shaq Mason, Joe Thuney, Bryan Stork. Those three are my starting IOL going into camp, where exactly they play is not of importance since they can be counted on to play all 3 spots. Mason showed promise and progressed enough as a pass blocker in 2015 that he can be considered a viable guard almost most teams viewed him as a center in the draft. Stork is a physical blocker in both the run and pass game, although he needs to learn how not to give away the snap count in when the Patriots operate with a silent count. The Patriots invested a 3rd round pick on Joe Thuney, the highest draft pick they've made on the interior offensive line since 2005. The Patriots clearly did not like their guard play in the final half of the season, as they drafted two guards last weekend.
IDL (4) Malcom Brown, Alan Branch, Terrance Knighton, Vincent Valentine. The Patriots defensive line features a lot of big bodied tackles that are tough to move in the run game. All four players that are listed as locks are bigger than 6'2" and 315 pounds. All of them are physical against the run game and are better at taking on blockers and collapsing the pocket than they are at beating blockers and picking up pressures. The Patriots likely leave one or two more players in the competition for the final spot. That competition is between Frank Kearse, Joe Vellano, and Markus Kuhn unless they add a UDFA DT. The Patriots speed rush packages might move a defensive end inside in order to create pressure.
ED (3) Rob Ninkovich, Jabaal Sheard, Chris Long. The Patriots top three edge guys this year are Nink, Sheard, and former 2nd overall pick Chris Long. Long replaces Chandler Jones in the rotation, where the Patriots were able to get solid pass rushing production from all three defensive ends. The Patriots likely have room for two more edge players, with them likely being Geneo Grissom and Trey Flowers. Grissom played special teams for the Patriots in 2015 and Flowers flashed in the 2015 preseason before being felled by injuries that killed his rookie year before it started.
LB (3) Dont'a Hightower, Jamie Collins, Shea McClellin. The Patriots are looking to keep Hightower and Collins around for the long term as cornerstones of the defense. At the linebacker position, they added Shea McClellin, who I thought the Patriots would draft in 2012 before they wound up taking Chandler Jones. McClellin was miscast as a defensive end in Chicago instead of a linebacker, where he will play for the Patriots. McClellin could also offer versatility as a speed rusher in sub packages in a 3-3-5 style nickel in order to keep all 3 LB on the field. The final two spots at the position will likely be Special Teams type players between 6th round picks Kamu Grugier-Hill and Elandon Roberts as well as Ramon Humber, Rufus Johnson, and Jonathan Freeny. Johnson can also double up as a pass rusher, as he's really more of an edge than a linebacker and has been a preseason star the last couple seasons.
CB (3) Logan Ryan, Malcolm Butler, Cyrus Jones. The Patriots will be returning their top 3 starters, but have also added Cyrus Jones in the draft, who can immediately compete for the starting nickel role. Justin Coleman has very good odds of making the roster, but there are questions about his ability to play on the boundary although he was never asked to play there in 2015 since the two primary boundary corners stayed healthy all year. The Patriots have a lot of strong candidates for the final two spots at the position with Coleman, 2015 7th round pick Darryl Roberts, and FA depth signee EJ Biggers, who has experience in the NFL.
S (4) Patrick Chung, Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon, Jordan Richards. If there is one position group where the Patriots are absolutely deep at, it's safety. Chung and McCourty are Pro Bowl caliber players while Harmon and Richards are solid NFL players. All four also play Special Teams. The Patriots used their top 3 safeties a lot in 2015, although I expect Harmon's usage to drop due to more competent players at linebacker this year.
ST (6): Matthew Slater, Nate Ebner, Brandon King, Joe Cardona, Ryan Allen, Stephen Gostkowski. The Patriots pride themselves in having a top ST unit. Of these 6 players, 4 were drafted in the 4th-6th round and the last two aren't too shabby either. Slater and King are always the first two downfield making tackles. The core special teams unit is under team control for the considerable future.
Out of 53, there are 41 locks on the 53-man roster. That leaves 12 spots, 13 if the Brady suspension is upheld. Now it's possible that circumstances that I can't account for winds up changing the roster in camp and some of the 41 players I identified as roster locks don't end up on the roster in 2016.