NEPD Editor: Mike Loyko
Now that the draft, free agency and the player acquisition period has come to an end, the 2012 New England Patriots Roster is coming into focus. As of right now the Patriots 90 man roster is loaded with talented players from top to bottom.
Training camp this year will be ultra-competitive as 75 or so players who have a legitimate shot at making the roster will fight for 53 spots.
What will the most competitive position battles be and who will win out? I take a look at all the position battles to watch as training camp is quickly approaching.
Starting Running Back
Candidates: Shane Vereen, Stevan Ridley, Joseph Addai, Danny Woodhead
All four of the running backs mentioned are likely to make the team in some capacity, but playing time will be tough to come by. The starting running back job will be one of the most interesting battles to watch and will feature young up and coming backs vs. the old veteran.
I think it’s unlikely that Danny Woodhead would become the starter for a couple of reasons. First, his value lies in his ability to play in the two minute offense and secondly, he’s just not built like an every down back. Woodhead’s roster spot is set and he showed in the Super Bowl how valuable he can be to the passing offense.
Based on last year’s production, Stevan Ridley should enter camp as the favorite to get starter reps. He showcased his ability to run with power, but also showed he was quicker and more elusive than thought. Ridley ran into ball security issues late in the year, culminating with a fumble against the Broncos in the Divisional playoff round. Even if Ridley isn’t the starter he is likely to get a lot of touches.
The player I am most excited to watch entering training camp this year is Shane Vereen. He is the wild card in the running back mix and can be viewed as almost another rookie after not seeing the field much last year. Vereen really fell behind in camp when he injured his hamstring and just couldn’t catch up to the Ridley in the battle of rookies.
Vereen finished the year with 15 carries for 57 yards and a touchdown. All those carries came in two games as he was inactive most of the season. Vereen might be the most talented running back in the mix and is definitely the most explosive. He has good lateral agility, can catch the ball out of the backfield and could be used as a kick returner as well. If Vereen is able to remain healthy he could win the job outright in camp.
Joseph Addai was signed two weeks ago to provide a veteran presence and competition during training camp.
Addai is coming off two poor, injury plagued seasons. While his best years are behind him Addai still has a skill set which can be useful to the Patriots offensive attack. Of the group of four Addai is the best pass protector and has shown he can pick up the blitz. Addai is also a good pass catching back, so he could see time as a 3rd down type back.
It will be a slight disappointment if Addai ends up being the starting RB, because it would mean that Ridley or Vereen couldn’t beat him out. If Addai proves in camp that he can’t stay healthy or that his burst is gone, he will be cut and the Patriots could use Brandon Bolden as the 4th running back.
How it plays out: Ridley is the favorite and in my opinion will win the starting running back job, but don’t sleep on Vereen – if anyone is going to take the job from Ridley it will be Vereen.
Candidates: Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd, Jabar Gaffney, Deion Branch, Donte’ Stallworth, Julian Edleman, Chad Ochocinco, Matthew Slater*, Anthony Gonzalez, Jeremy Ebert
As the roster is currently constituted the wide receiver position battle is going to be the most interesting to watch. The position is as deep as any Patriots team in memory. The key to making the roster is going to be how many wide outs Coach Belichick decides to keep and how many special teams only players can be kept as well.
As of right now I see three players who are locks, Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd and Jabar Gaffney. I consider those players to be the top three receivers on game day and will provide the offense with more consistent players who can get open on their own and stretch the field. Matthew Slater is also a lock to make the roster, but I want to put him in his own category because he probably isn’t going to be catching passes this year.
At most I think the Patriots could keep seven wide receivers if you include the special teams only players. That leaves 2-3 roster spots among 4-5 players who could legitimately make the team. The next tier of wideouts include Deion Branch, Donte Stallworth, Chad Ochocinco, Julian Edelman, Anthony Gonzalez and Jeremy Ebert.
Deion Branch is probably the most likely to make the team, due to his chemistry with Tom Brady and his knowledge of the offense. Branch makes sense as a #4 WR, because he’s definitely not athletic enough to be a #2 anymore.
I believe there is one roster spot to be had between Stallworth, Ochocinco and Gonzalez. It will be interesting to watch how it plays out. Stallworth has intimate knowledge of the offense, while Ochocinco is bigger and probably more talented. I think you have to lean towards Stallworth because if Chad doesn’t know the offense by now (as was reported during OTAs), he will never know it.
Gonzalez is a long shot, but if he shows he is healthy he could be someone to watch because he can provide some youth, speed and a backup slot WR for Wes Welker.
That brings us to Julian Edelman, who I believe is supremely on the roster bubble. There are alot of people in the media who consider Edelman a lock to be on the roster because of his punt return ability, but I’m not one of them. Can the Patriots afford to spend a roster spot on a player who is just a punt returner? Edelman has been a complete non-factor on offense the past two seasons, despite openings and a need at the position, Edelman has totaled 11 receptions over that time.
Jeremy Ebert could steal a roster spot, but I think it’s likely he begins on the practice squad as he learns the system.
How it plays out: Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd, Jabar Gaffney, Deion Branch, Donte Stallworth, Matthew Slater (ST), Julian Edelman (PR only)
Read about more position battles on page two.