Roughly three weeks of training camp are in the books, and believe it or not, some of the Patriots positional battles are beginning to clear up. Projecting a 53 man roster is never easy, but it’s always fun to give it a shot.
Tom Brady, Ryan Mallett, Jimmy Garoppolo
Yes, Garoppolo has outplayed Mallett through two preseason games, but there is no way he will be cut before the season begins. In fact, I still believe Mallett is Tom Brady’s backup. His experience alone will give him a step-up for a little longer.
Running Backs: (5)
Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, James White, Brandon Bolden, James Develin
I really want to give Roy Finch or Jonas Gray a spot, but Bolden’s ability to contribute on special teams gives him the slight edge over the two young guys. With that said, I genuinely believe Finch and Gray deserve to be on an NFL roster. But they will get caught in a numbers game here in Foxboro, getting edged out by Bolden and company.
Wide Receivers: (5)
Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Brandon LaFell, Aaron Dobson, Kenbrell Thompkins
This is a crowded area, as there are seven or eight guys fighting to get a slot on the final roster, which forces me to make a few tough calls. Ultimately, I’m giving Thompkins the edge over Josh Boyce and Brian Tyms, because it appears he is more comfortable with Brady, and has been impressive throughout this offseason. Maybe not to the spectacular extent of Tyms, but impressive nonetheless.
Tight End: (3)
Rob Gronkowski, Michael Hoomanawanui, D.J. Williams
Gronk and Hooman are locks to make the roster, but after that it gets a bit muddy. The Pats have been bringing in a lot of different tight ends over the last few weeks, in an attempt to find someone that may stick. Steve Maneri and Justin Jones are the two guys currently in the fold, but I don’t think either of them will make the cut. Maneri is too much of a pure blocker, and Jones needs a lot of work to become a quality NFL tight end.
Offensive Line: (9)
Nate Solder, Logan Mankins, Dan Connolly, Bryan Stork, Josh Kline, Sebastian Vollmer, Cameron Fleming, Marcus Cannon, Jon Halapio
Perhaps the biggest positional battle to watch this training camp has been the starting center position. Ryan Wendell was last year’s starter, but it was obvious that he would have to fight his way towards regaining that title for the 2014 season. I don’t think that Connolly has played much better than Wendell this preseason, but his versatility is why I am giving him the nod. He can play both the guard and center positions, which Wendell can’t do. However once Bryan Stork returns from his lower body injury, I am hopeful that he can continue where he left off, and possibly start ahead of Connolly.
Defensive Line: (10)
Vince Wilfork, Tommy Kelly, Dominique Easley, Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich, Michael Buchanan, Chris Jones, Sealver Siliga, Joe Vellano, Zach Moore
The interior of the defensive line is thin right now, but after Chris Jones and Sealver Siliga heal up, they will be just fine. After last season’s debacle, Bill Belichick’s front is stacked this year, as he not only gets his top two starting starting tackles back in Wilfork and Kelly, but he gets two guys with starting caliber talent in Jones and Siliga, to back the top guys up. I am leaving Will Smith out because he just hasn’t done enough this preseason to leapfrog over rookie Zach Moore, who has been pretty impressive thus far.
Jerod Mayo, Jamie Collins, Dont’a Hightower, James Anderson, Darius Fleming
Steve Beauharnais had a perfect opportunity to win a top backup job this preseason, but after two games of mediocre play I just don’t see how he can make the final cut. Anderson is a proven cover linebacker, and Fleming has made a number of positive plays over the course of the last two weeks. The Pats depth still won’t be great behind their terrific starting group, but it’s better than nothing.
Darrelle Revis, Logan Ryan, Alfonzo Dennard, Kyle Arrington, Malcolm Butler
Brandon Browner will be suspended for the first four games of the season, so he is not counted against the 53 man roster. Until then, Malcolm Butler is the fifth cornerback on this team. He has played phenomenal this preseason, to the point where he got the start opposite Revis versus Philly. When Browner comes back, there is no doubt he will be on the roster, which will leave New England with a big decision regarding Butler.
Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon, Tavon Wilson, Nate Ebner
Patrick Chung has made a valiant effort, but I am still giving Tavon Wilson the edge because of his special-teams value. The Patriots will probably use a rotation at the strong safety spot until they can figure out who will be the clear starter.
Special Teams: (4)
Ryan Allen, Stephen Gostkowski, Danny Aiken, Matthew Slater
Not much to say here. Aiken beat out Tyler Ott as the lone long-snapper, while Allen and Gostkowski have faced no competition at all this summer.