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Ten Patriots with the most to prove in training camp and the preseason

Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

The Patriots will start up training camp this week, hoping to capture their 5th Super Bowl victory since 2001. The Patriots had a relatively modest offseason in terms of spending, with their biggest contract being under $10M in total but made a couple interesting trades. The top players on the team nursed injuries and their top QB on the shelf for the first game of the season due to petty jealousy from a good chunk of owners. These 10 players have a lot riding for their NFL future, whether that's establishing themselves on the team or setting themselves up for a future pay day. Most of them are returning from the 2015 season, although some of them are acquisitions that haven't completely worked out in their previous destination and are looking to play themselves into another contract.

  1. QB Jimmy Garoppolo: The Patriots backup QB will get the opportunity of a lifetime, a 4-game trial period where he gets to prove his worth once the season starts. The Patriots drafted a QB in the 3rd round this year in anticipation of Garoppolo getting traded or walking when his contract expires. Those 4 games will determine his future of being either a starter like with Matt Cassel from 2009-2012 in Kansas City or being a career backup like Brian Hoyer, although Hoyer didn't get any starts in New England like Cassel did and Garoppolo will. Depending on the health of the receiving corps, which Pro Football Focus ranks as the best unit, just ahead of the Patriots Week 1 opponent, the Arizona Cardinals, Garoppolo could wind up earning his job elsewhere.
  2. OT Marcus Cannon: Cannon was once a solid backup and decent starter as the team's right tackle in the 2nd half of the 2013 season, but struggled mightily the last two years with Deguglielmo coaching the offensive line. The Patriots have gone back to their OL coach from 2013 in Dante Scarnecchia, so there is hope that Cannon can rebound. Cannon is in a contract year along with Sebastian Vollmer, so the team is going to have to make a decision at the right tackle position the next offseason. The Patriots brought back La'Adrian Waddle on a 2-year deal for backup money, so consider Cannon on notice.
  3. CB Darryl Roberts: The Patriots' top 3 CBs are Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan, and Justin Coleman. In addition, they've also added two talented CBs from the SEC in Cyrus and Jonathan Jones (not related) via the draft and rookie free agency. There is only a finite number of roster spots at the position, which I'm arbitrarily counting as 5 right now. Roberts impressed in camp prior to a season-ending wrist injury in the first preseason game last year. The players listed in the top 3 plus Cyrus Jones are locks to make the 2016 roster, so Roberts is going to have to fight hard for the last roster spot.
  4. TE Martellus Bennett: Bennett is a lock to make the team, but his performance in camp will determine how much the Patriots will use him for the season. Bennett was once considered to be in the tier just below Rob Gronkowski in his hey day in Chicago, but has fallen off a bit in a system that's less TE friendly than what the Patriots run. If Bennett can show he still has it and can adapt to the system in camp, he may turn into the #3/4 target. With Gronkowski's injury history since 2012, the Patriots need to have a 2nd capable TE that can take pressure off of Gronk to perform when healthy and not completely handicap the offense when he isn't.
  5. G Jonathan Cooper: Cooper was a Top 10 pick that just never worked out in Arizona due to a long list of injuries. The Cardinals shipped him off to the Patriots as part of the Chandler Jones trade and a draft pick that turned into Joe Thuney and Malcolm Mitchell. The Patriots will likely give him a chance to prove himself on the field before turning to other players. I have Cooper projected as the team's starting left guard, but that's not set in stone.
  6. RB Tyler Gaffney: The Patriots liked Gaffney to the point of claiming him on waivers when the Panthers waived him two seasons ago. However, he has spent both seasons in New England on the Injured Reserve list. The Patriots are in a clear need to determine who could be their early-down back with LeGarrette Blount being the default option. His main competition is Gaffney, who needs to prove he can stay healthy this camp. One more injury may result in the end of his NFL career.
  7. G Tre Jackson: The Patriots drafted Jackson as a plug and play guy, but mightily struggled with injuries and ineffectiveness to the point where the Patriots spent a 3rd round pick on an interior lineman in Joe Thuney. At times Jackson looked timid and slow, which was the opposite of his tape at Florida State. Fortunately, having Scarnecchia back might be able to help him teach the proper technique blocking in the offense. At a tightly competitive IOL shuffle, he's going to have to stand out to make the team over the veterans.
  8. C David Andrews: Andrews got the start at center when Bryan Stork missed the first half of the season due to a concussion, but was pulled in favor of Stork in the 2nd half. Andrews is a superior pass blocker to Stork, but gets pushed around easier in the run game. The Patriots play against some of the toughest DTs in the league just in their division alone and the play strength issue affects Andrews. Another area he can improve on is the ability to back up at guard in addition to playing center. Stork has the inside track at the starting center job and is a safer roster bet due to his ability to play guard and pinch in at tackle. Andrews has to outright win the center job to justify his roster spot.
  9. ED Trey Flowers: The Patriots spent a 4th round pick on Trey Flowers, who I considered a steal at the time because his game was more developed than most defensive ends. Flowers is a power end that collapses the pocket from the outside-in and uses his violent hands to rock back OL and walk them back into the QB. Flowers flashed in the 2015 preseason, using his combination of length and explosiveness to harass QBs while also shutting down the run game from the edge. With Chandler Jones now in Arizona, Flowers has an opportunity to be a large part of the team's pass rush in 2016 as he'll compete with Chris Long for the #3 DE spot behind Jabaal Sheard and Rob Ninkovich.
  10. CB Justin Coleman: Coleman played primarily the nickel role for the Patriots when they opted to go with 3 CBs as opposed to 3 safeties and put Patrick Chung in at nickel. Coleman was a workout warrior CB with untapped skill coming into the 2015 season, but had his moments altogether. Coleman is the Patriots 2nd most athletic CB behind Darryl Roberts in terms of timed measurables, but may have as big a ceiling as Malcolm Butler, who is a low-end #1/top-end #2 CB. Coleman isn't going to get the opportunity to play on the boundary in 2016 barring an injury, but you want to see if he improves going into Year 2 because the team controls him through 2017 before he becomes a restricted free agent in 2018.