Quarterbacks (3): Tom Brady, Ryan Mallett, Tim Tebow
Tebow is the only guy on this list that will actually have to prove himself in camp to make the team. Obviously Brady isn’t going anywhere, and Mallett has shown that he is a capable backup to Brady. I think that Tebow would be a solid asset to have on the squad, to serve as a third string quarterback, as well as a guy that can help in short yardage situation.
Running Backs (4): Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, Leon Washington, Brandon Bolden
The Patriots running game is going to be key in this 2013 season, because of all the injuries, and changes that their passing attack has had to go through. This group looks like a solid one, and I think LeGarrette Blount will be on the outside looking on when it comes time for the final cuts. I think that the combination of Bolden and Washington, brings much more to the table than Blount does at this point in their careers.
Wide Recievers (7): Danny Amendola, Aaron Dobson, Josh Boyce, Michael Jenkins, Matthew Slater, Julian Edelman, Kenbrell Thompkins
To start training camp Edelman will be on the PUP list, but I think that he will be healthy to start the regular season. Obviously this is not based on some “insider information”, right now it is merely a hunch. Michael Jenkins would bring a veteran face to the receiving core, and Kenbrell Thompkins is an undrafted rookie that has made quite a splash this spring. I am particularly excited about Thompkins because I think the combination of him, Dobson, and Boyce could bring major rewards towards this Patriots offense. Aside from Jenkins, this receivers group is a young, albeit very talented unit, and Brady should have an interesting camp working with all the new, fresh faces.
Tight Ends (4): Rob Gronkowski, Jake Ballard, Michael Hoomanawanui, Zach Sudfeld
With everything that has happened to the Patriots tight end position, I think it would be a very good idea for them to carry four tight ends into the regular season. If Gronk is healthy (which I am hoping he is), then he will probably not get the kind of workload in 2013 that he received throughout last year to start 2013. The Pats won’t want to risk re-injuring his back, or his forearm by over-working him to start the year. This is where Hooman, Ballard and Sudfeld come into play. Hooman is a very good blocking tight end, Ballard has proven himself with the Giants, and while Sudfeld is a rookie, he has flashed some talent this offseason. All of these guys are going to have to pick up the slack that Hernandez left, and quite possibly Gronk for a little while.
Offensive Line (8): Logan Mankins, Dan Connolly, Marcus Cannon, Ryan Wendell, Nate Solder, Sebastian Vollmer, Nick McDonald, Will Svitek
The Patriots return one of the best offensive lines in the NFL, and I expect another great year from them. They lost reserve Donald Thomas to the Colts this offseason via free agency, but if these six guys can remain healthy throughout the year they won’t be affected by Thomas’ loss at all.
Defensive Tackle (4): Vince Wilfork, Tommy Kelly, Armond Armstead, Marcus Forston
Wilfork anchors this defensive unit, and his roster spot and his production are never questioned. But his partners in crime have been a bit “up and down” over the last few years. However, I think the Pats may have found him the perfect partner along the defensive line. Tommy Kelly is a guy that is able to rush the passer from the inside, and that will take a lot of pressure off of Wilfork. Former CFL star Armond Armstead also has a knack to get to the quarterback, and he may help out along the inside as well.
Defensive End (5): Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich, Justin Francis, Jermaine Cunningham, Jake Bequette
Jones and Ninkovich both had terrific seasons in 2012, and if they both can stay healthy I think they will improve even further next year. As for Francis and Cunningham, I think that they both have a lot of potential and if Cunningham can manage to stay out of BB’s doghouse, he will get a lot of solid playing time in 2013. Bequette was a tough choice for me because I don’t think he will be getting much playing time with this kind of competition next year. However I think he does have some potential, and that will force Belichick to keep him around for another season.
Linebackers (5): Jerod Mayo, Brandon Spikes, Dont’a Hightower, Jamie Collins, Dane Fletcher
Honestly there is not much too discuss with this group. Collins is a physically gifted freak that can be developed into several different roles, and being under the tutelage of the likes of Mayo, Spikes, and Hightower will benefit him greatly. Dane Fletcher tore his ACL in a preseason game last year and it caused him to miss the entire season. Fletcher is a good special teams contributor, and he has shown the ability to be an effective inside linebacker as well.
Cornerbacks (5): Aqib Talib, Kyle Arrington, Ras-I Dowling, Marquice Cole, Logan Ryan, Alfonzo Dennard
Alfonzo Dennard’s legal situation is a bit murky right now, but I am hopeful that everything will come out okay between him and the law. There is also the chance that he will be suspended by the league, but as of right now I am keeping him on this early 53 man roster projection.
Safeties (4): Devin McCourty, Adrian Wilson, Tavon Wilson, Duron Harmon, Nate Ebner
The Patriots will have a very talented safety position for 2013. They added Adrian Wilson via free agency, and I think this was easily the best move of the offseason for the Pats. But I think he does bump Steve Gregory out of job for now. Gregory had a very disappointing 2012 season and I believe he will pay for it with his job in New England.
Special Teams (3): Zoltan Mesko, Stephen Gostowski, Danny Aiken
Nothing new in this department, as the Pats have had one of the most solid special teams units in the league for the last few season.