DT/DE: Vince Wilfork, Kyle Love, Jonathan Fanene, Brandon Deaderick, Myron Pryor
Pryor has to get healthy to beat out a good player in Gerard Warren, but Pryor’s upside gives him the nudge in my prediction.
I wasn’t overly impressed with Ron Brace, as I never have been, and at this point he seems like an obvious cut with so many other good players. It was great to see Wilfork play so many snaps last season, but with the above crop, Wilfork should be getting some much needed rest more often this season.
DE/OLB/Elephant: Rob Ninkovich, Trevor Scott, Chandler Jones, Jermaine Cunningham, Jake Bequette
With Wilfork and Love potentially coming out more often on obvious passing downs this season, that will give players like Deaderick and Fanene a chance to play DT and free up the DE positions to smaller faster players like Scott, Jones and Cunningham.
I went in with very low expectations for Cunningham after his Houdini act last season, but he looked impressive from what I saw, and it also looks like he’ll be given every opportunity to make the team and contribute this year.
Jones looked better in a Patriots uniform than he did last season with the Orangemen. He looked like he might have bulked up a little and looked surprisingly comfortable on his feet.
LB: Jerod Mayo, Brandon Spikes, Dont’a Hightower, Bobby Carpenter, Dane Fletcher, Jeff Tarpinian
What was a shallow and weaker unit in the Patriots defense last year looks much improved already in 2012. Hightower will bring an entirely new energy to this team that is sometimes missing in the dependable but at times unspectacular Mayo.
It will be fun to see Hightower and Spikes on the field at the same time this season as they’re both thumpers who can work their way through a line of scrimmage. I’ll likely be referring to them as the bash brothers all season.
Carpenter already looks comfortable in Belichick’s defense and could be a great pickup for depth. He sure already looked better than Gary Guyton and could really specialize in pass coverage.
CB:Devin McCourty, Kyle Arrington, Ras-I Dowling, Sterling Moore, Will Allen, Alfonzo Dennard
The Patriots were practicing almost exclusively in sub packages, which utilizes McCourty, Arrington and Dowling all as starting cornerbacks. All three’s heels will be nipped all preseason by impressive second year player Sterling Moore who looks poised to be able to contribute in the slot or split out wide.
McCourty obviously struggled big time last season, if those struggles continue, we could see a breakout year from Moore. Dennard was out with a hamstring injury and will have to get healthy if he hopes to make the 53 man roster as a 7th round pick.
S: Patrick Chung, Steve Gregory, Tavon Wilson
James Ihedigbo might have been my toughest cut in this roster prediction, it’s not that I think he’s one of the 53 best players on this team, but the Patriots still lack depth at safety. Luckily, McCourty, Allen or Moore could all contribute at safety if given the opportunity.
I wasn’t overly impressed with Steve Gregory, not that I expected to be. He got burned deep on one particular play where he took a shark sized bite on a play action fake. Hopefully Wilson can step up this preseason and take that starting role from Gregory.
ST: Stephen Gostowski, Zoltan Mesko, Danny Aiken
Though Chris Koepplin didn’t look half bad, I don’t expect Gostkowski to lose his spot on the roster.
Overall, the depth on the roster is striking to me, especially at WR, DT, elephant and LB. It’s tough to tell who the worst player on this team would be if this were the opening week roster. The Patriots did a great job filling glaring needs this offseason.