NEPD Editor: Mike Loyko
The 2014 Patriots season gets underway this week and it’s about this time everyone begins releasing roster projections for the final 53. I like to look at the roster from a broader perspective to figure out where each player on the 90 man roster stands and evaluate their chances of actually making the team.
Many of the 90 players that take the field on Thursday do so with no chance of making the team regardless of how good they perform. A handful of the players will be fighting for a 3-4 coveted spots, and a couple guys will make the roster no matter how bad they play. Here is where I believe all 90 players on the team rank in relation to one another and their chances of making the final roster.
* Age is in parenthesis
Long Shots to Make Roster or Practice Squad
90. Seali’i Epenesa(22), DT – Earned a try-out after the draft and the Patriots invited him to minicamp. Ultra-long shot that probably won’t be around when the veteran defensive tackles regain health. (UPDATE: Espenesa was released on 7/21 with failed physical designation)
89. Chris Martin (24), OT - UDFA from Central Florida. Wasn’t highly regarding during the draft process and with great Tackle depth, Martin will find himself getting let go for a player at a position of need.
88. LT Tuipulotu (23), DT – Signed as an UDFA out of Utah. Depth defensive tackle that doesn’t bring much pass rush or explosiveness.
87. Tyler McDonald, WR – The undrafted rookie WR adds size to the receiver corps. He’s already been released and re-signed once, so he’s likely to be one of the first cuts when guys like Aaron Dobson get healthy.
86. Taylor McCuller (24), LB - Plays a position where depth is lacking, but coming from a lower level of football, he must prove he can compete at the highest level quickly.
85. Tyler Ott (22), LS - No team in the NFL carries two long snappers. His path is quite defined, beat out Danny Aiken or he’s gone.
84. Derrick Johnson (23), WR – Quick and speedy Maine product. Generated some buzz with his pro day work outs, but faces long odds at a position with loads of young draft picks ahead of him.
83. Deonte Skinner (23), LB – Productive career in the SEC where he started for three seasons and became a leader on a pretty good MSU unit. Only way he sticks is if he beats out other defenders and more experienced Special Teams linebackers.
82. Shamiel Gary (24), SAF – Already 24 after transferring from Wyoming to Oklahoma State. The Patriots secondary is loaded, even with Special Teams only types, so Gary will have to provide more valuable than Nate Ebner or even Kanorris Davis to hang around.
81. Wilson Van Hooser (23), WR – Played two seasons at Tulane before transferring to Troy. Van Hooser has pretty good speed and quickness for his size. Unlike the other Wide Receivers in this category he hasn’t been released yet, but he shouldn’t get too comfortable.
1st-2nd Year Longshots with Chance at Practice Squad
80. Jordan Devey (26), OT – Spent time on the Practice Squad last season, but with the added depth via the draft and the recovery of Sebastian Vollmer the Patriots have tremendous depth at the important position.
79. Malcolm Butler (24), CB – Undrafted out of West Alabama the Division II All-American has good ball skills and special teams experience. The Patriots usually keep 1-2 CB on the practice squad and he has an outside shot at one of those spots.
**Eathyn Manumaleuna (25), DT – I considered Manumaleuna to be a draftable talent in May’s draft. His DE-DT versatility and motor will give him a chance to stick on the practice squad.
78. Jonas Gray (24), RB – Spent last season on the Ravens practice sqaud. Gray is a bigger back that gets the opportunity to fill the void vacated by LeGarrette Blount.
77. Braxston Cave (23), OC – Managed to hang around the entire 2013 season after he was claimed off waivers from Cleveland. The addition of Bryan Stork likely blocks him from playing meaningful snaps. Cave is still practice squad eligible and is good insurance in case of injury.
76. Nate Bynum (26), TE - Signed to provide camp depth while Rob Gronkowski recovers from his ACL injury. He’s not much of a pass catcher and is coming off a knee injury of his own.
75. Travis Hawkins (23), CB – Signed as an UDFA out of Delaware, Hawkins has an intriguing skillset and I’ve heard some good things about his performance thus far. He could be this year’s “Justin Green”.
74. Stephen Houston (22), RB – Great opportunity to replace the “big back role” that LeGarrette Blount vacated when he left for Pittsburgh. Houston will be given plenty of carries and chances to impress coaches. Strong chance he sticks on the practice squad unless he is terrible this summer.
73. Chris Barker (23), OG – Somehow managed to stick around on the 53 man roster the entire 2013 season. He’ll have a steeper climb to stick this year with all the draft resources the Patriots invested on the offensive line.
72. Ja’Gared Davis (23), LB – Undersized Special Teams linebacker. Doesn’t offer much in terms of base defense or upside, but is still practice squad eligible.
71. Justin Jones (22), TE – Massive Tight End with under-developed skillset. Could be this year’s Zach Sudfeld (a player that gets vastly overrated in training camp and isn’t ready for prime time). Ending up on the practice squad is probably the best thing for both parties. He needs more development after missing last season.
70. Kanorris Davis (24), SAF – Special Teams only Safety must beat out Bill Belichick favorite Nate Ebner or 6th Round Draft pick Jemea Thomas to make the team.
69. Asa Watson (23), TE – Profiles as a “move” TE and has a little clearer path to a roster spot. If he outperforms DJ Williams he could become a legitimate roster candidate.
68. Roy Finch (22), RB – Electric scatback and return specialist was never utilized properly at Oklahoma. Finch is an exciting player to watch each time he touches the ball and will make his share of flashy plays in camp. Not sure why he’s starting camp on the Non-Football Injury list, he needs all the reps he can get.
67. Marcus Forston (24), DT – Showed signs of promise a few seasons ago, but after two years of bouncing between the practice squad and the street it’s unlikely he’s in future plans.
66. Josh Hull (27), LB – Brings plenty of Special Teams experience and is capable of playing reserve snaps in the base defense. Hull will likely battle with Steve Beauharnais and Chris White for one roster spot.
65. Jake Bequette (25), DE – Selected in the 3rd round two years ago and since then he’s done very little to prove he’s an NFL player. Coach Belichick gives players two years to show their worth and if they don’t live up to expectations they are gone. Regardless of his status of a 3rd round pick, it’s make or break time.
64. Darius Fleming (25), LB – A sleeper candidate to follow as camp starts this week. Missed the last two seasons after tearing and re-tearing his ACL. Patriots thought highly of this Notre Dame product during his draft year and could earn a reserve LB job if he can finally stay on the field.
63. Chris White (25), LB – One of the most anonymous Patriots players to ever play all 16 games in a season. White is strictly a Special Teams player that could get squeezed off the roster if the Patriots look to fill the Special Teams LB role with a player diverse skillset.
62. Tavon Wilson (24), SAF – He was a massive reach two years ago and through two years he’s done absolutely nothing to prove he’s worthy of a 2nd Round selection. Whether it’s at the end of camp or later in the season his days with the Patriots are numbered.
61. Cameron Gordon (23), LB – Received the highest guaranteed bonus of any Patriots undrafted free agent, which speaks to their desire to get him in the system. Gordon has the potential to become a long term core special teams linebacker. If he doesn’t make the 53 man roster, there is a great chance he’s on the practice squad.
60. DJ Williams (25), TE – Entering his 4th season in the league Williams has only managed 9 receptions to this point. If Gronkowski begins camp on PUP list, he’ll be given some huge reps to show he belongs. If Williams can’t make this opportunity work he won’t make it anywhere.
59. Steve Beauharnais (24), LB – Played one total defensive snap in 2013 which essentially amounted to a redshirt year for the Rutgers LB. Beauharnais has strong intangibles and is a natural leader. He can provide depth at ILB and play on Special Teams.
58. Dax Swanson (23), CB – One of the stars of Mini-Camp. Patriots were smart to scoop up the former Sam Houston State CB after the 49ers let him go in the spring. Earned a draftable grade in 2013 and drew lots of interest in the later rounds of the draft. He will battle with Justin Green for the #5 CB job.
57. Justin Green (23), CB – Ranks slightly ahead of Swanson because he was in the program all last season and flashed in limited showings. It will be interesting to see if Green can take the step from practice squad player to legitimate contributor in his second training camp.
56. Jeremy Gallon (24), WR – Starting training camp on the Non Football Injury list with an undisclosed injury (hip?). Productive and competitive slot WR faces an uphill battle to make the roster. He needs to get on the field and hope for injuries to other players to make the 53. How the Patriots manage his rights will be interesting to follow as it could be tough to sneak him onto the practice squad after the summer.
55. Michael Buchanan (23), DE – Started off last season in the defensive end rotation, but was quickly benched when he struggled to set the edge and contain the run. Buchanan must show better awareness and the ability to rush the passer without leaving large run lanes during this pre-season. The addition of Zach Moore and Will Smith make him far from a lock to make the roster.
54. Brandon Bolden (24), RB – Entering his 3rd year in the organization and to this point has done little to prove to me he’s worth a roster spot. If the Patriots decide to carry four running backs he’ll have the inside track. Must stay healthy and improve pass protection and decisiveness among other things.
53. Joe Vellano (25), DT – Signed to an UDFA contract with zero bonus money and ended up putting together a respectable season. High character, max-effort type player that can be better in a reserve roll. He’s not a starting DT and isn’t capable of holding up vs. run heavy offenses. The combination of Vellano and Jones was greatly exposed vs. the run last season. Vellano and Jones are likely battling for one roster spot.
52. Patrick Chung (26), SAF – Still only 26 years old Chung is back in New England after a disasterous season in Philadelphia. Chung isn’t a cover-2 safety and his starting days are likely over. He brings a strong special teams skillset and in all honesty is a more valuable roster piece than someone like Kanorris Davis who can’t play in the base defense. Chung will be firmly on the roster bubble until cut down day.
51. Sealver Siliga (24), DT – Bounced around the Broncos and Seahawks practice squads last year before the Patriots signed him. Played very well down the stretch, providing strong run defense, and adding two sacks. Unlike Vellano and Jones, Siliga is stout against the run and brings more versatility. He’ll be on the roster bubble, but if he plays like he did at the end of the season he’ll make the team.
50. Zach Moore (23), DE – 6th Round draft pick out of Concordia (MN) will undoubtedly take time to adjust to the NFL Game. Given the difficulty of getting him to the practice squad, he’s likely to make the roster. If he provides rotational pass rush at some point during the season it’d be a bonus. A long term piece.
49. Danny Aiken (25), LS – Only ranked this high because there is a 100% chance a long snapper is on the final roster. Aiken has legitimate competition in Tyler Ott, but his experience should win out in the end.
48. Jemea Thomas (24), S/CB – Thomas brings tremendous versatility to the secondary, as well as the ability to be a special teams star. It’s very likely he’s on the final roster and pushes someone like Tavon Wilson, Kanorris Davis, or Justin Green to the street.
47. Josh Kline (24), OG – An under the radar UDFA last season that worked his way into the starting lineup the final month of the season. Kline has drawn rave reviews from coaches and personnel members this off-season. Kline will provide insurance behind Logan Mankins, but will have fight off Jon Halapio for playing time.
46. James Develin (25), FB – Arguably the most improved player on the entire roster last season. Develin went from afterthought to bubble player to key contributor over the course of the season. The fact that the Patriots didn’t add reinforcements at Tight End make me think he’s likely to fill the roster spot of the 3rd TE/H-Back/FB role.
45. Jon Halapio (23), OG - A steal to draft him in the 6th round. Halapio dropped because of a pectoral injury which hurt his play in 2013. Halapio has starter upside and it’s not outside the realm of possibilities that he beats out Dan Connolly to win the Right Guard job in camp. He’ll bring much needed size, strength, and toughness to an interior OL that was lacking those qualities last season.