It is early and the Patriots haven’t even played a preseason game yet, but I’m still going to take a stab at projecting the roster. There are good positional battles being waged at running back, wide receiver, defensive end and safety and there have been standouts over the first two weeks of practice. Let’s take a walkthrough…
Quarterback: 3- Tom Brady, Ryan Mallett, Tim Tebow
It is a good thing that the only question at quarterback is whether to cut third stringer Tim Tebow. I see Tebow making this roster but hopefully he won’t see the field.
Running Back: 5- Stevan Ridley, Brandon Bolden, Shane Vereen, Leon Washington, LeGarrette Blount
The Patriots are running back-rich, and every single one of them should contribute in some way. Leon Washington’ special teams skills make him flexible and help him make the team.
Wide Receiver: 6- Danny Amendola, Aaron Dobson, Josh Boyce, Julian Edelman, Matthew Slater, Kenbrell Thompkins
The rebuilt receiving core is a bit inexperienced, but they are a diversified group. Matthew Slater is so good on special teams that it is almost impossible to cut him. Although I do believe Edelman will lose his punt return job to Leon Washington, he will still make the team. Thompkins might end up being the surprise of the season.
Tight End: 4- Michael Hoomanawanui, Daniel Fells, Jake Ballard, Zach Sudfeld *Rob Gronkowski on PUP List
With Gronkowski on the PUP List, someone is going to need to step up. Sudfeld appears to have the most upside, but we haven’t seen him in a game yet, so that is by no means a given. Hoomanawanui and Fells have performed well in camp. Ballard looks a bit gimpy on his surgically repaired knee. That is something to keep an eye on.
Offensive Line: 8- Ryan Wendell, Nate Solder, Logan Mankins, Sebastian Vollmer, Dan Connolly, Marcus Cannon, Will Svitek, Tyronne Green
Dante Scarnecchia’ crew keeps on rolling. Assuming New England only has eight offensive linemen on the 53-man roster, they will have at least two more on the practice squad. Svitek and Cannon provide crucial backup depth because they play can play multiple positions on the line.
Defensive Tackle: 4- Vince Wilfork, Tommy Kelly, Marcus Forston, Armond Armstead
Old stalwart Vince Wilfork has been looking for a partner in crime for about four seasons, and Tommy Kelly looks like the guy the Patriots and Wilfork have hoped for. Marcus Forston has worked his way from roster long shot in 2012 to rotational player in 2013. Armond Armstead has missed the beginning of camp, but there is still time for him to get back to practice and make an impact. This is another position that will be represented on the practice squad.
Defensive End: 5- Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich, Jermaine Cunningham, Justin Francis, Jake Bequette
The starters are good, but this group has something to prove in 2013. Cunningham hasn’t lived up to his second round pedigree, and Jake Bequette, who was a third round pick in 2012, barely saw the field last season. Justin Francis showed flashes of being a solid contributor last season and needs to continue improving.
Linebacker: 6- Brandon Spikes, Dont’a Hightower, Jerod Mayo, Dane Fletcher, Jamie Collins, Jeff Tarpinian
This may be to strongest area on the Patriots defense; Jamie Collins has a ton of ability but it will take time for him to become regular rotational player. Dane Fletcher’ return is one of the most underrated stories in training camp. There is considerably more depth than last year.
Cornerbacks: 6- Aqib Talib, Alfonzo Dennard, Kyle Arrington, Logan Ryan, Ras-I Dowling, Marquise Cole
The best group of cornerbacks the Patriots have had in almost a decade. The key to this group is health; Ras-I Dowling, if he stays healthy, could end up being a huge surprise. Logan Ryan has had ups and downs in camp to date, but he’ll be ok. Marquise Cole is a solid backup and is also good on special teams. One issue to keep in mind- Dennard is most likely facing a suspension.
Safeties: 4- Adrian Wilson, Devin McCourty, Tavon Wilson, Duron Harmon
Another area that has had major question marks since Rodney Harrison retired looks better on paper, but will that translate to games? It should, and the signing of Adrian Wilson will not only help the young secondary players, it also provides the young New England defense an example of what it takes to stay in the league for over a decade. Devin McCourty is primed for a big season.
Kicker: 1- Stephen Gostkowski
Gostkowski didn’t have any competition, so this was easy to project. Gostkowski had a rough 2012 and needs to have a good season if he wants to remain a Patriot.
Punter: 1- Zoltan Mesko
Mesko survives, but barely. Ryan Allen gives him a run for his money, but the Michigan alum holds on to his job for at least one more year. Allen will end up somewhere in the league.
DE- Michael Buchanan
DT- Scott Vallone
WR- Quentin Sims
RT- Marcus Zusevics
TE- Brandon Ford
C- Matt Stankiewitch
WR- Mark Harrison
WR- Michael Jenkins
S- Nate Ebner
S- Steve Gregory
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