New England Patriots strong safety Steve Gregory (28) celebrates after intercepting a pass against the New York Jets during the first half on Thanksgiving at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports

New England Patriots Roster Projection Version 2

The New England Patriots have played through two preseason games, and we now have a better idea of who is going to make the roster after a few cuts and a few standout performances.

QB: Tom Brady, Ryan Mallett (2)

At this point, I’m done with the Tim Tebow experiment, and it mostly has to do with a realization that I had. Is it really worth keeping around Tebow as a developmental prospect? Is it really worth using a spot on the 53-man roster that could be used for a fifth running back or an extra DE on Tebow? My answer is no. If you look at how he played in the preseason game, you really have to wonder if Tebow is even worth developing more than a late-round prospect in next year’s draft. I’ll roll with Brady and Mallett and then think about drafting a QB next year and putting him on the practice squad. If that means holding onto Mallett instead of getting a draft pick, then so be it. If the Pats really want a backup QB as insurance after trading Mallett, then signing a veteran would be best off anyway.

RB: Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, Brandon Bolden, LeGarrette Blount, Leon Washington (5)

So everyone but Brandon Bolden and LeGarrette Blount are locks to make the roster, but I’ll keep both running backs here. They are both too talented to cut over a guy like Tebow, and they have both shown up well in preseason games. Bolden is the solid, consistent running back, and his age makes him all the more intriguing. The Patriots took the time to trade for a former 1,000-yard rusher in Blount, and he can be a home-run back for this team. To me, though, Blount is the most expendable of the five, because the Pats already have an explosive back who is more versatile in Vereen.

WR: Danny Amendola, Kenbrell Thompkins, Aaron Dobson, Julian Edelman, Josh Boyce, Matthew Slater (6)

Wide receiver is a position that is locked in right now.

TE: Zach Sudfeld, Michael Hoomanawanui, Jake Ballard, Daniel Fells (4)

At this point, I think Rob Gronkowski hits the PUP list, so we won’t see a cut among any of these four quality tight ends. When Gronk does come back, though, Fells is gone.

OT: Sebastian Vollmer, Nate Solder, Will Svitek (3)

Lock these three up and give Markus Zusevics an outside shot at making it four.

OG: Logan Mankins, Marcus Cannon, Dan Connolly, Nick/Chris McDonald (4)

Yes, yes I understand that Nick McDonald is currently a free agent, but I think the only reason why the Patriots released him was injury. Once he’s healthy, the versatile, quality backup will be back in the fold. If he isn’t, then I think his younger brother steals a roster spot as the fourth guard, because I thought he played well against the Buccaneers on Friday.

C: Ryan Wendell (1)

Dan Connolly can play center effectively, and the Pats would also have another G/C hybrid in Nick McDonald if they choose to bring him back. The Patriots only need to keep one center, and Wendell led all offensive players in snaps last season. Yeah, lock up one of the most talented interior run blockers and the lone “center” on the roster.

DE: Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich, Jake Bequette, Justin Francis, Marcus Benard (5)

I’ve been a believer in Marcus Benard for some time now, but I really hope the Patriots don’t screw up and put him in the Jermaine Cunningham role. There is no way he should be used as an interior sub-package rusher, because his natural scheme fit is a 3-4 OLB anyway. Do you really want him on the inside, especially if the other team surprises you with a run? Heck no. I’m sick of the Patriots using edge rushers as interior rushers, because it just doesn’t work. Cunningham wasn’t effective as a pass rusher in that role last year, and he only held up against the run because he bulked up on PEDs. Speaking of Cunningham, he needs to find another team (preferably one with a hole at 3-4 OLB) to revitalize his career, because he is done in New England. As for Michael Buchanan, he looks really raw and needs a year to develop on the practice squad.

DT: Vince Wilfork, Tommy Kelly, Joe Vellano, Marcus Forston (4)

This is assuming that Armond Armstead starts the season on the PUP, because he still hasn’t practiced. The Patriots don’t have much certain beyond Armstead on the depth chart, but they do have three very intriguing defensive tackles. Joe Vellano was solid in training camp, is coming off of two terrific preseason games, and he really knows how to play run defense. Cory Grissom is another strong run defender who should have been drafted out of USF, and he isn’t short on talent. Marcus Forston is in his second year in the Patriots system, and he is a better run defender than he is given credit for being. Blessed with natural talent, Forston is really good at pushing the pocket, but he does need to turn the flashes in run defense into consistency. I like those three pieces at DT, and I think this team is a bit better at the position than some people think. Then again, I might be getting caught up in preseason games and “potential”.

LB: Jerod Mayo, Brandon Spikes, Dont’a Hightower, Jamie Collins, Dane Fletcher, Steve Beauharnais (6)

These six are all locked in, and I love what Jamie Collins and Steve Beauharnais have done as rookies thus far. Collins looks like he could be a really special player down the road.

CB: Aqib Talib, Alfonzo Dennard, Kyle Arrington, Ras-I Dowling, Logan Ryan (5)

Marquice Cole is a good special teams player and can play the run as a CB, but his coverage skills leave something to be desired. I don’t see any other corners on this team worth rostering, but there are a pair of undrafted free agent CBs in Justin Green and Brandon Jones who have piqued my interest in the preseason as potential practice squad candidates.

S: Devin McCourty, Adrian Wilson, Duron Harmon, Tavon Wilson, Steve Gregory (5)

Yes, I’m a hypocrite. I put Steve Gregory on the roster over fan favorite Nate Ebner, but I have a reason for doing it. I know that Gregory was the Patriots worst starter on either side of the ball last season (not including when Kyle Arrington was stuck on the outside), and I also know that he’s making too much money, especially compared to how much Nate Ebner makes. But here’s the thing, would you really give a great special teams player a roster spot over a good-not-great special teams player who can also play safety better? Matthew Slater is the best special teams player in the NFL, and he’s already on the roster on a special teams-only role. This projection of Gregory over Ebner is fluid, but it’s one that has reasons. I’m not sold on Ebner’s ability to play safety, and Gregory’s leadership and experience is good at a time when Tavon Wilson is floundering. I still have confidence in Wilson, but having an experienced player in Gregory would be nice. He’s a poor starter, but he’s a pretty good third safety who can make plays close to the line of scrimmage; just don’t ask him to cover. And hopefully he misses less than the team-leading 13 missed tackles he had last season. And now I’m starting to wonder if taking Gregory over Ebner is a bad decision.

ST: Stephen Gostkowski, Zoltan Mesko, Danny Aiken (3)

Stephen Gostkowski is fine, okay? There’s no story here, and his job is safe. If you have a PFF subscription, go look at how good he is. Go look at how great his kick-offs are. Alright? You’re worrying for nothing, kickers are allowed to have off games too. Anyway, Zoltan Mesko has pulled away from Ryan Allen in the punter competition, and he was clearly better on Friday against the Bucs. Allen will have to really impress in the next two games, because Mesko may have pulled away for good after Friday’s performance (he also won the battle the week before against the Eagles). That said, Allen is really good and can be a legit punter somewhere, so I would hold onto him on the practice squad (assuming there is space left for a punter, which I think there should be) since Mesko only has one year left. As for Danny Aiken, I’m hoping Bill Belichick can get somebody like Rob Ninkovich to snap and maximize roster flexibility, but I’m cool with keeping Aiken around.



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