The New England Patriots are back to work Wednesday and the public will get their first look at the 2016 squad on Thursday.
Here’s my prediction who will make the cut position-by-position before the team hits the field. —
Quarterback (2): Jimmy Garoppolo, Jacoby Brissett
With Tom Brady suspended for the first four games, he does not count against the team for this prediction. Obviously when he’s allowed to rejoin the team on Oct. 3, they’ll have to make a corresponding move.
It will be interesting to see if Bill Belichick brings in a veteran QB to back up Garoppolo, but it’s his job for the first four games.
Running back (5): Dion Lewis, Brandon Bolden, James Develin, LeGarrette Blount, Donald Brown
The tailback group is a complete question mark and one that will be fascinating to watch throughout the pre-season. Dion Lewis, currently one of seven players to start camp on the Physically Unable to Perform list, as well as Brandon Bolden seem like locks.
With Develin returning from injury, we’ll see how he fits back in. Blount was disappointing last year, but can he still make an impact since there’s limited competition as an in-between the tackles runner.
Brown could find a role, but is in no way a guarantee. Underrated free agent D.J. Foster could be a dark horse to make the team, but he’ll have to impress over the next seven weeks.
Wide receiver (5): Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell, Keshawn Martin
These five seem to be entrenched, but injuries could play a factor. Edelman and Amendola are on the PUP list for now. The toughest cut is Nate Washington, as he is firmly on the roster bubble. Aaron Dobson doesn’t make the cut here while Devin Lucien and Chris Harper find themselves on the practice squad.
Tight End (3): Rob Gronkowski, Martellus Bennett, Clay Harbor
This was easy. Gronk and Bennett could be the league’s most impressive tight end duo unleashed in years. With the money New England threw at Harbor in free agency, it’s hard to see him not making the team. The versatility with these three will keep opposing defensive coordinators up before games.
Offensive line (9): Nate Solder, Sebastian Vollmer, LaAdrian Waddle, Marcus Cannon, Bryan Stork, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Josh Kline, Joe Thuney
The offensive line battles will be intense leading up to the team’s first game on Sept. 11. As of now, nine make the roster, but the biggest factor here isn’t even a player. Positional coach Dante Scarnecchia returns in hopes he can settle a group that crumbled towards the end of last season.
Marcus Cannon will be fighting for his roster life, battling Cameron Flemming and others as a backup tackle. Second-year guard Tre Jackson doesn’t make the cut and Jonathan Cooper could be on the outside-looking-in as well. Here’s hoping Scar can get the most from this group heading into the year.
Defensive Line (9): Jabaal Sheard, Rob Ninkovich, Chris Long, Trey Flowers, Rufus Johnson, Malcom Brown, Terrance Knighton, Alan Branch, Vincent Valentine
For this exercise I combined the edge and interior players. While nine are listed, 10 are not out of the realm of possibility. The flexibility Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia will have at their exposure is exciting.
Expect a rotation inside and out. Sheard, Ninkovich and Long should get plenty of run. If Long is able to return to Pro Bowl form, he’ll be a huge addition, but that’s no guarantee. Flowers and Johnson could emerge as well.
Brown will hopefully build on an impressive rookie campaign while veterans Knighton and Branch will add some extra beef up front.
Linebackers (6): Jamie Collins, Dont’a Hightower, Shea McClellin, Jonathan Freeny, Geno Grissom, Kamu Grugier-Hill
Collins and Hightower will get plenty of run. It will be interesting to see how the staff utilizes McClellin after an underwhelming start to his career in Chicago. Based on his contract, he’s safe for at least this season.
Depth was an issue last season at linebacker so it will be under a microscope going into the year. Grissom is a freak athlete that has versatility, but rookie Kamu Grungier-Hill could sneak on as a hybrid linebacker-safety with special teams potential too.
Cornerback (5): Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan, Cyrus Jones, Justin Coleman, Cre’von LeBlanc
Butler, Ryan and Jones are easy locks. Hopefully Jones slides in comfortably while Butler and Ryan continue to progress. Coleman should be safe, as he flashed at times when given the opportunity.
As it stands now, there’s probably only room for one or two players to sneak onto the roster. Could second-year DB Darryl Roberts make an impact? Or perhaps UDFA’s LeBlanc, Jonathan Jones or V’Angelo Bentley could stand out. The cornerback battle will be fun to watch, especially during the one-on-ones. Special teams ability will make a difference.
Safety (5): Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon, Brandon King, Jordan Richards
This position is very solid overall. McCourty and Chung were a terrific combination last season, Harmon is a good third safety and Brandon King emerged as a special teams fiend as a rookie. We’ll see if Jordan Richards can take a year two jump as a pro.
Special Teams Captain – Matthew Slater
Slater is the team’s core special team ace. It’s hard to classify him, but he’s a lock and one of Belichick’s favorites.
Kicker – Stephen Gostkowski
One of the best in the business. Needless to say, he’s safe.
Punter – Ryan Allen
Allen has had some up-and-down moments, but is a true field position weapon. Solid player.
Long Snapper – Joe Cardona
His Navy commitments were thought to prohibit his NFL career, but it looks like he’s good to go. No real competition on the roster as of now.
Offense – 24
Defense – 25
Specialists – 4
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