NEPD Editor: Mike Loyko
Now that the 2014 NFL Draft is in the books we get a pretty clear picture of what the Patriots 2014 Roster will look like heading into training camp this summer. Undrafted Free Agent signings are still trickling in and there will be a few more small signings before the summer, but for the most part the roster is in place. Here’s a breakdown of how the Patriots roster shapes up as of today, a few thoughts on where they stand and where they go from here.
Quarterback – Tom Brady, Ryan Mallett, Jimmy Garappolo
As of today it’s likely the Patriots retain three Quarterbacks when the season starts. The best thing that can happen between now and the start of the season is for another starting QB to go down with injury to drive up the market for Ryan Mallett. Even then I’m not sure Bill Belichick will be comfortable carrying only two Quarterbacks knowing that Jimmy Garappolo will take time to develop.
Running Backs – Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, James White, Brandon Bolden, Jonas Gray, Stephen Houston, Roy Finch
Ridley, Vereen, White are all locks to make the final roster. I’ve been told Bill Belichick really enjoyed the four-headed RB rotation he deployed last season. This means that Brandon Bolden/Stephen Houston/Jonas Gray can battle it out for a roster spot or the Patriots can add another veteran to the ranks berfore training camp. Roy Finch is a dynamic, explosive change of pace back that will have to make the team through special teams. Don’t sleep on Houston, many NFL teams were interested in him during the drafts final round.
Fullbacks/H-Back – James Develin, Tyler Beck
Develin improved as much as any player on the roster last season. With the Patriots likely to carry three Quarterbacks this is one position that could get pushed off the roster. Tyler Beck signed as an undrafted free agent, but he’s the longest of long shots to make the team. Develin can potentially be classified with the TE/H-Backs and with the Patriots yet to address that position, gives him a better chance to make the team.
Tight End – Rob Gronkowski, Michael Hoomanawanui, D.J. Williams, Asa Watson, Justin Jones
The Patriots failed to upgrade this position in free agency or the draft, which raises questions about where they go from here. After missing out on the top four Tight Ends in the draft the Patriots were probably wise to pass on the position all together. They did sign two intriguing undrafted free agents in Asa Watson and Justin Jones. Both very different players, Watson is a 6’3″ move Tight End and Justin Jones is a 6’8″ hybrid monster. I refuse to get excited about any UDFA TE in training camp no matter how good they look. Based on the depth at this position and their previous contact with the player, I believe the chances the Patriots eventually sign Dustin Keller are pretty good.
Outside Wide Receiver – Aaron Dobson, Julian Edelman, Brandon LaFell, Kenbrell Thompkins, Matthew Slater, Mark Harrison, Greg Orton, Ja-Mes Logan
Slot Wide Receiver – Danny Amendola, Josh Boyce, Jeremy Gallon, Reggie Dunn
Despite the panic from Patriots fans their Wide Receiver depth chart is deep, much deeper than is was at this point last season. Edelman, Amendola, Dobson, LaFell, Slater are all locks to make the roster. I believe Josh Boyce will be on the team as well and that means A) The Patriots will have to keep 7 Wide Receivers B) Kenbrell Thompkins, Jeremy Gallon, Mark Harrison will be fighting for the final roster spot come camp. In order for the Patriots to cut Josh Boyce, he’d need to be terrible in training camp. When healthy he played well and definitely deserves a full season to show what he can add to the offense. The overall success of this position will be judged by the year two leaps Aaron Dobson, Josh Boyce, and Kenbrell Thompkins make. Throw Danny Amendola into that category as well. Overall, there are questions at the position, but depth isn’t one of them.
Offensive Tackle – Nate Solder, Sebastian Vollmer, Cameron Fleming, Marcus Cannon, RJ Mattes, Jordan Devey
The Patriots have short and long term stability at the all-important tackle position. Nate Solder continues to improve and Sebastian Vollmer, when healthy, forms a tremendous bookend tandem. Cameron Fleming is a lock to make the 53 man roster as the 3rd or 4th OT. The player to watch here is Marcus Cannon. He is entering the final year of his rookie deal, but with a new offensive line coach in place, maybe he finally moves inside to Guard. Dan Connolly’s spot on the roster is as tenuous as ever and Cannon could be an upgrade if the team kicks him inside.
Offensive Guard – Logan Mankins, Dan Connolly, Jon Halapio, Josh Kline, Chris Barker
This will be the position to watch during training camp. The struggles of the Patriots interior Offensive Line last season are well documented and the Patriots made a concerted effort in the draft to fix that. Connolly is on the books for over four million dollars next year, a large sum for any interior lineman. Despite being selected in the 6th Round I can envision Halapio beating Connolly out with a good summer. This is a player that could have been selected 2-3 rounds earlier if not for a pectoral injury that hurt his play in 2013. The team is also very high on Josh Kline, an UDFA signing out of Kent State last season. He’s drawn praise from personnel members each time they have a press conference. Even if Connolly makes the roster I expect both Halapio and Kline to see the field at some point in 2014.
Center – Ryan Wendell, Bryan Stork, Braxston Cave
Stork is the only player in this group that can be classified as a lock. The Patriots resigned Ryan Wendell to a two-year contract during free agency, but structured it so if they release him the cap effects are minimal. Out of all the rookies the Patriots selected Bryan Stork could end up starting the most games. He adds size, length, and strength to a position that was simply over-powered too often last season. Cave stuck around on the practice squad last year, but could have trouble finding a spot in 2014.
Defensive End – Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich, Will Smith, Zach Moore, Jake Bequette, Michael Buchanan
Will Smith and Zach Moore have been added to the position over the last two weeks. Smith is coming off ACL surgery and Moore is coming into the league from Division II Concordia. Whether either player can be an upgrade over Jake Bequette remains to be seen, but it shouldn’t be difficult. If he’s on the team Smith is expected to provide some sub-package pass rush and take some snaps from either Jones/Ninkovich. I’d be surprised if Jake Bequette makes the roster and Michael Buchanan needs to show he can be a more consistent pass rusher this summer. This is still a position that could use reinforcements before the summer.
Defensive Tackle – Vince Wilfork, Dominique Easley, Tommy Kelly, Armond Armstead, Chris Jones, Joe Vellano, Sealver Siliga, Marcus Forston
There isn’t room for everyone to make the roster. Using a first round pick on Dominique Easley means the team expects him to make an instant impact during 2014 and that will push someone off the roster. We always talk about Armond Armstead and I’ll say it again, the team has high expectations for him. If he’s healthy he’ll push another player off the roster. I can’t see a scenario where the Patriots keep more than five defensive tackles. That means Chris Jones, Joe Vellano, Sealver Siliga, and possible Armstead will be battling for two roster spots. Tommy Kelly looked good last season before he got injured, but he’s not a lock to make the team at this point.
Outside Linebacker – Jerod Mayo, Jamie Collins, Ja’Gared Davis, Josh Hull, Cameron Gordon
Mayo and Collins better stay healthy because behind them there is little NFL talent. Josh Hull and Ja’Gared Davis are Special Teams players with little base defense experience. The team just gave Cameron Gordon $20,000+ to sign as an UDFA, so it appears he was a targeted player for them. I’d feel much better about this position if at least one NFL veteran with starting experience is signed before training camp starts. Jamie Collins is expected to make a big jump in year two and will provide the Patriots with more speed than they’ve had at he position in a long time.
Inside Linebacker – Dont’a Hightower, Steven Beauharnais, Chris White, James Morris
Now that Brandon Spikes is in Buffalo, Hightower slides inside to become the Defensive signal caller. Like Outside Linebacker there is little starting caliber NFL talent behind the starters. Steve Beauharnais barely played as a rookie and Chris White is a Special Teams only player. Keep an eye on James Morris, he was a draftable player that slid through the draft. He played a lot of football at Iowa and was ultra-productive. A few years ago Jeff Tarpinian made the team as an UDFA LB out of Iowa and I think James Morris is a much better player.
Cornerback – Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner, Alfonzo Dennard, Kyle Arrington, Logan Ryan (FS), Jemea Thomas (FS), Justin Green, Travis Hawkins
When is the last time that Cornerback has been the most talented position on the roster? There isn’t much in the way of competition at this position. Revis will lock down one side, Browner will lock down the other, Alfonzo Dennard will be the 3rd CB, and Arrington will play in the slot. I firmly believe Logan Ryan will be the starting Free Safety in Miami or at the very least will be the starting safety once Brandon Browner returns. Bill Belichick didn’t even attempt to hide his intent to move Ryan to Safety after the draft. Jemea Thomas and Justin Green will battle it out for the final Cornerback slot, with Thomas adding CB-Safety versatility.
Safety – Devin McCourty, Logan Ryan (CB), Duron Harmon, Patrick Chung, Jemea Thomas (CB), Nate Ebner, Kanorris Davis, Tavon Wilson, Jeremy Deering
One way or another it appears the Patriots will have an all-Rutgers Safety tandem. Brandon Browner will miss the first four games, so I can see Duron Harmon taking the majority of reps early in the season. As I said earlier, once Browner returns the Patriots want to get their best players on the field together and the only way they do that is by moving Logan Ryan to safety. Pay no attention to the Free-Strong tag labeled on the players. The Patriots play primarily a cover-2 shell, so both safeties are over the top in the deep third. I’ve heard this off-season that Bill Belichick drafted Logan Ryan with the goal of moving him to Safety. That didn’t work out in 2013 for various seasons, but nothing is going to stop it from happening now. Patrick Chung is back and if he’s a Special Teams contributor fine, but he’s not a starting Safety. Tavon Wilson will be joining 2012 draft pick Jake Bequette on their bus ride out of town.
Specialists: Stephen Gostkowski, Ryan Allen, Danny Aiken, Tyler Ott, Charley Hughlett
Solid group. They won’t waste 3 roster spots on Long Snappers, expect Hughlett to get released any day now.