Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick has some tough decisions to make as the 2014 season rapidly approaches. (USA TODAY Images)
With training camp and preseason complete, the Patriots roster is taking shape. While there is more clarity at some positions, the roster is by no means a finished product.
After the first round of cuts, the team must trim their roster yet again. There’s 53 spots, along with an additionalÂ 10 for the practice squad.Â New England has some tough decisions to make across the board.
While I expect some changes to be made even after Saturday’s 4 p.m. EST deadline, here is my final 53-man projection. —
Brady is the face of the franchise, so the question has been who will be the backup? Garoppolo has impressed and shown growth, but Mallett remains on the team as well.
Running Back: 3
Vereen and White areÂ locks to make the roster. Some have speculated Ridley could be on the outside looking in, but I believe he’s safe. Brandon Bolden and Jonas Gray might not carry enough weight to earn a spot on the team’s roster. Roy Finch could be an intriguing guy to keep around on the practice squad.
Full Back: 1
Last season, Develin carved out a solid role within the offense. He brings toughness in short-yardage situations and performs on special teams. The Pats experimented moving him around, even lining up at tight end. Could we see an expanded role this year?
Wide Receiver: 5
As of now, five wide receivers seem like they have a legitimate shot at making the roster.Â Josh Boyce has underwhelmed and I don’t believe he’s earned a spot to this point unless the team values his special teams ability enough. Brian Tyms, suspended for the first four games of the season, could be around the team in some way when he’s available.
Tight End (3)
The surprise trade for former Tampa Bay Buccaneers player, Tim Wright, added some depth as a pass catching tight end. Essentially, it’s been Gronkowski or bust for the tight end position. It still seems possible he returns week one, but it’s not a guarantee. “Hooman”Â has missed time with an injury, but he seems like a better player than converted tackle, Steve Maneri.
While I see Solder and Vollmer as the set starters, both Cannon and Fleming have the versatility the Pats covet in lineman.
The number of three guards is somewhat misleading because of the versatility on the Patriots roster. This position has little clarity after Logan Mankins was dealt earlier this week. It’s almost impossible to predict who will be starting at left guard, center and right guard week 1 in Miami. Despite playing a tremendous amount of snaps during the preseason, Jordan Devey was somewhat underwhelming.
WendellÂ had a very good season two years ago, but came up small in 2013. Stork missed a good amount of time during training camp, which hurt his ability to compete for the starting role. I see both making the team, but if Wendell isn’t the starter at center he’ll be cut.
Defensive Ends: 4
After Jones and Ninkovich, there’s a noticeable drop off. The depth is very concerning at the defensive end position. Buchanan offers intriguing upside, but the injury sustained in Thursday’s preseason finale will need to be monitored closely. Moore might need some time to develop, but had a good preseason and shown versatility. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see the team look for some veteran help when the dust settles from Saturday’s league-wide cutdown deadline.
Defensive Tackles: 5
The cut of Tommy Kelly was a surprise, but it also speaks to theÂ confidence in the young players on the roster. Wilfork appears ready to go and poised for a big bounce-back year. How quickly Easley, Jones and Siliga can return from their injuries will be key, but all have a spot. Vellano impressed over the past few weeks, edging out Â Jerel Worthy.
Mayo, Hightower and Collins are locks. After that, the depth is a little shaky. Beauharnais looks to make an impact afterÂ a quiet rookie year. The release of veteran James Anderson opens the door forÂ Darius Fleming, who has a similar skill-set. Bill Belichick has spoken highly of James Morris, he could be a nice developmental player if he can stay healthy.
The surprise big name throughout preseason was undrafted rookie, Malcolm Butler. All five listed cornerbacks should find a spot on the team’s 53-man roster, giving New England a deep group. Brandon Browner, suspended for the first four games of the season, should have a role when he returns in week five.
Similar to the interior offensive line, there has been little clarity at the safety position. We know McCourty will be one of the starters. Harmon, Chung, Ebner and Wilson — along with many of the team’s cornerbacks — have spent time rotating at safety over the past few weeks. Chung could have a valued role as an in-the-box safety. Ebner and Wilson make the team for their ability on special teams.
Special Teams: 4
Kicker:Â Stephen Gostkowski
Punter: Ryan Allen
Long Snapper: Danny Aiken
Specialist: Matthew Slater
No surprises here, all four players are locks. Aiken beat out rookie Tyler Ott for the long snapping duties andÂ Slater, a special team standout and team captain, also earns a spot on the roster.
Breakdown —Â Offense: 24 Â Defense: 25 Â Special Teams: 4
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