Veterans Not Guaranteed to Make Final Roster
44. Chris Jones (24), DT – He gets knocked for his struggles against the run, but for a twice released 6th round selection he had a pretty good rookie year. Much like Joe Vellano, Jones can be more effective in a reserve roll. He’s a good interior pass rusher and plays a game predicated on upfield movement, not sustaining the line of scrimmage and run gaps. Based on his production last season he has the inside edge over Joe Vellano.
43. Nate Ebner (25), SAF – Offers nothing to the base defense, like Matthew Slater he’s become a key “core 4″ Special Teams player. Missed almost all of training camp last year and still made the roster, showing how highly Bill Belichick thinks of him (Slater did the same thing early in his career). Unless he’s injured or really falls off he’ll make the roster.
42. Dan Connolly (31), OG – Connolly is the veteran in the most trouble entering camp. Somehow managed to make it through the off-season despite a 4 million dollar cap hit. The Patriots invested heavily on the offensive line during the draft and he could have his job taken by any number of players such as Halapio, Cannon, Kline, even Bryan Stork. He better play well or he’s gone.
41. Ryan Wendell (28), OC – Re-signed to a good-sized contract in the off-season, but when you look closer the Patriots can cut Wendell at anytime without financial repercussions. The fact the Patriots targeted and drafted top college Center Bryan Stork in the 4th Round means Ryan Wendell isn’t long for the starting center job.
40. James Anderson (30), LB – Not an every down player and will struggle if put in situations where he has to take on blocks or fill run lanes. Anderson could be a valuable sub-package piece and Nickel/Dime Linebacker because of his ability to drop into coverage. The Patriots LB depth leaves a lot to be desired, but don’t assume Anderson will be on the 53 man roster just yet.
39. Will Smith (33), DE – Coming off an ACL injury. If healthy he provides a much needed veteran in sub-package rush situations. The Patriots got nothing out of the young tandem of Buchanan-Bequette last season and were forced to sign the near finished Andre Carter. If Smith is healthy he’ll be an upgrade over all parties in a limited snap rotation.
38. Tommy Kelly (33), DT – Another veteran DL coming off a season ending injury from last season. Kelly played very well before getting injured vs. the Bengals week 5. He restructured his contract in the off-season to lower his cap number and will start the season on PUP. Expect the Patriots to take it slow with Kelly and maybe hide him until eligible to come off PUP in week 7.
Safe Bets to Make the 53
37. Ryan Mallett (26), QB – Always a chance an injury could strike another franchise during camp and Mallett is traded for a draft pick. If that doesn’t happen he’ll be on this roster. Mallett is more valuable to the Patriots than other teams because of his experience and knowledge of the system. He’s likely to get a chance at a starters job in the off-season at which time the Patriots will let him walk and take the compensatory draft pick.
36. Cameron Fleming (21), OT – Entered the draft as an underclassmen and slid to the end of the 4th Round where the Patriots grabbed him. He’s a Right Tackle only and could push Marcus Cannon inside to Guard full time. Fleming is ultra-smart and one of the youngest players in the NFL this season. He’ll provide depth and insurance for the oft-injured Sebastian Vollmer. Cannon is a free agent to be and Fleming may have been picked with that in mind.
35. Ryan Allen (24), P – Coming off a strong rookie season Allen is firmly entrenched as the Punter of the future. No competition was brought in during the off-season, so Allen just has to focus on improving on his rookie season. Limiting touchbacks is one of the areas where Allen can get much better.
34. Michael Hoomanawanui (26), TE – Was the first Patriots transaction of the off-season resigning to a 2-year contract extension. At this point in his career he’ll never develop into the receiving threat many had hoped, but he’s a solid blocker and the coaching staff really likes him.
33. James White (22), RB – Could have the biggest impact of any rookie on the roster. Lacks one elite toool, but does everything pretty well. His pass catching and pass protection stood out at the Senior Bowl. As we saw over the last 4 seasons he can operate out of a RB rotation and still be productive. He’ll add another much needed pass catcher and will get plenty of carries with only two RB ahead of him on the depth chart.
32. Kenbrell Thompkins (25), WR – After a tremendous start to his rookie campaign Thompkins quickly plateau’d and was ineffective down the stretch. Early in the off-season I was skeptical of his chances to stick around past this summer. After hearing the glowing reports from OTAs and mini-camp it now seems likely he’ll be around for another season. Whether it’s him, Dobson, or Boyce one of the 2nd year WR need to make the leap to impact player.
31. Josh Boyce (23), WR – Injuries are the only thing standing in his way of being a productive receiver. He flashed when given the chance last year and had some strong mini-camp practices. He has a massive opportunity with Aaron Dobson beginning the season on PUP. Boyce will garner major reps in camp and with his speed could go a long way in allieviating some of the concerns with the Patriots receiving corps.
30. Bryan Stork (23), OC – I’ll be surprised and a little disappointed if he’s doesn’t win the starting Center job in training camp. He’s bigger, stronger, and more talented than Ryan Wendell. It will take some time to learn the protections and build rapport with Tom Brady, but the job is his to lose in my opinion.
29. Duron Harmon (23), SAF – Has the inside track to the starting Safety job next to Devin McCourty. Harmon must prove he can be an impact player and not just a body on the field. When Brandon Browner returns from suspension he’ll be pushed by Logan Ryan as Bill Belichick tries to find a way to get his best defenders on the field together.
28. Jimmy Garappolo (22), QB – Controversial 2nd Round draft pick will spend 2014 as a Redshirt year. Unlikely to see the field Garappolo will use this season to learn the system, adjust to this level of football, and follow Tom Brady’s every move. This was a long term draft pick and shouldn’t be judged on the results of this season or even the next two.
27. Brandon LaFell (27), WR – By far the most under the radar Patriots signing of the off-season. Talk to Patriots supporters and it’s like he’s not even on the team. Everyone talks about Aaron Dobson’s foot or how will Thompkins, Boyce improve. The fact is LaFell is a better WR than any of those three right now and as long as he learns the system (never easy) will have a significant role in the passing game.
26. Marcus Cannon (26), OL – Can be a dominating run blocker at times. Cannon played pretty well filling in for the injured Sebastian Vollmer. The change in Offensive Line coaches could effect Cannon more than any other OL. It will be interesting to see how Dave DeGuglielmo uses Cannon this season. When everyone is healthy, I still believe he’s best suited to play inside at Right Guard.
25. Stephen Gostkowski (30), K – Coming off a massive season in which Gostkowski solidified himself as one of the best kickers in the NFL. No competition was brought in during the off-season. This spot is a lock.
24. Kyle Arrington (27), CB – With the additions of Revis and Browner, Kyle Arrington will be put in more situations that fit his skillset this season. It’s no secret that he’s much better in the slot and with great depth on the outside Arrington can focus his attention fully on improving in the slot.
23. Danny Amendola (28), WR – Amendola takes a beating by fans and media, but still managed a reasonable season despite fighting injuries and limited targets (relative to Edelman). As always the question with Amendola is health and if he stays healthy I expect 80+ catches this season. Many think his roster spot is in danger, but now that his roster bonus has been paid it makes zero sense to let him go. He will be on the roster in September.
22. Stevan Ridley (25), RB – Entering a contract season and looking to bounce back from an uneven 2013. After Ridley’s early fumbles last season his playing time was greatly diminished by the arrival of LeGarrette Blount. Now that Blount is in Pittsburgh and no other “big” back was brought in, Ridley is poised for a bounce back season. He should receive the majority of the goal-line and 1st down carries. His future in New England is riding on his performance this season.
21. Alfonzo Dennard (24), CB – Dennard begins training camp on PUP after undergoing off-season shoulder surgery. He also put his prior sins to rest by serving his jail sentence in March. He battled that shoulder injury last year, but whenever Dennard is on the field he plays well. This season he’ll be slotted into the #3-#4 CB role and he should thrive matching up with a lesser tier of competition.
Core Players and Pro Bowl Candidates
20. Matthew Slater (28), WR/ST – Not often can a player with 1 career reception in six NFL season be considered a “core” player, but Matthew Slater is. He’s perhaps the best Special Teams coverage player in the entire NFL and has developed into one of the leaders of the locker room. Coach Belichick absolutely loves Slater and everything he brings to the team. His future in New England is secure.
19. Aaron Dobson (22), WR – Put together one of the most productive rookie seasons for a WR under Bill Belichick despite injuring his foot late in the season. Dobson only recently got his boot removed and the team will take it slow to make sure the screws in his foot heal properly. He’s starting camp on the PUP list and there is a chance he could miss even more time. Once he gets on the field the expectation is that he’ll show improvements on his rookie season.
18. Shane Vereen (25), RB – Ranks ahead of Ridley on this list only because his skillset is tougher to acquire. Vereen caught 47 passes in 8 games last season, which are staggering receiving numbers for a RB. I expect Vereen to earn more carries this season now that they 4-headed RB rotation has thinned out. Vereen is entering a contract year and his future in New England is predicated on his ability to stay healthy. An absolute must this season.
17. Logan Ryan (23), CB – Put together an impressive rookie campaign and looks like a core defensive building block moving forward. Whether it’s at corner or safety remains to be seen, but Ryan’s ball-skills and football instincts will show up at either position. Ryan needs to build on rookie success something other young defensive backs have failed to do in the Patriots system.
16. Dominique Easley (22), DT – Expect the Patirots to put Easley on the “Jamie Collins rookie plan”. Integrate him slowly over the first half of the season and protect his ACL recovery. As the season goes on we’ll see more responsibility and snaps awarded to the dynamic interior player. The Patriots view Easley as a long term building block on the defensive line and want him to be 100% before throwing him into the fire.
15. Sebastian Vollmer (30), OT – Vollmer is coming off a broken leg, but was on the field for minicamp and wasn’t placed on the PUP list yesterday. Vollmer is already 30 years old (25 when drafted) and enters the 2nd year of a four year deal. Staying healthy and playing all 16 games would go a long way to stabilizing an offensive line that uncharacteristically lacked continuity last season.
14. Dont’a Hightower (24), LB – Now that Brandon Spikes is out of the way, Hightower steps into the middle of the defense. He can now focus on one LB position and the position he’s best suited to play. Hightower forms one third of what should be a very dynamic and productive linebacker unit.
13. Brandon Browner (29), CB – He’s not Darrelle Revis, but Browner’s additions shouldn’t be minimized. His size and physicality will allow the Patriots defense to match up with the types of WR that kill them year after year. He’ll also allow the defensive backfield to be more diverse, more physical, and better on third down.
12. Logan Mankins (32), OG – The clock on Mankins’ Patriots career may be ticking down. I fully expect him to be the starting Left Guard when the season starts and I expect him to be better than last season. Next season Mankins will turn 33 and with a massive salary cap number could quickly become a cap casualty. Things could change if Mankins reverts back to the All-Pro version of himself, but as of now I think this is his last year in Foxboro.
11. Rob Ninkovich (30), DE – Followed an eerily similar career path to Mike Vrbal. Entering his 6th season with the Patriots he’s emerged as one of the leaders of the team and a top performer each week. Ninkovich can be relied on to do his job and finds a way to maximize his physical tools. This is the first year he’ll actually be paid like a productive NFL Defensive End.
10. Jamie Collins (24), LB – Collins flashed his immense potential during the Patriots playoff run last season. He’s the most fluid, athletic, and dynamic LB the Patriots have had in a long time. He’ll deal with growing pains as he steps into a full time role and fans should be patient. His ceiling is higher than just about any other young player on the current roster. He could be the centerpiece of a dynamic, young, defensive moving forward.
9. Julian Edelman (28), WR – The breakout star of 2013. Edelman managed to stay healthy for a full slate of games and proved he can play the role of Wes Welker in the Patriots offense. He can’t be relied on to carry such a heavy load this season, but he can be just as good with reduced targets. He flirted with other teams during free agency, but it made little sense to leave BFF Tom Brady and the situation he has in New England. He enters camp as the #1 WR on the depth chart.
8. Jerod Mayo (28), LB – Losing Mayo last season was understated and was one of the reasons the Patriots run defense struggled down the stretch. With all the reinforcements in the secondary and the young talent at LB, Mayo will be allowed to play much more free than last year. He’s still one of the leaders of the defense and should have a very good season as he bounces back from a torn pec.
7. Vince Wilfork (32), DT – At one point it looked like he’d be playing somewhere else in 2014. Wilfork and the Patriots came to an agreement on a restructured deal and now Wilfork can potentially finish his career in New England. Wilfork is coming off a serious injury and it remains to be seen how he bounces back. Even if he regains his previous form it benefits both player and team to limit his snaps to keep him fresh.
6. Nate Solder (26), OT – Franchise Left Tackle plays the pivotal role of protecting Tom Brady’s blindside. Solder is still developing and continues to improve each season. He hasn’t even come close to reaching his ceiling, but is still one of the most indispensable players on the roster. I expect Solder to elevate his game in 2014 and make the leap to the Pro Bowl level.
All-Pro Candidates and Potential Franchise Players
5. Devin McCourty (26), SAF – Expect McCourty to get a long term deal with the Patriots soon. Bill Belichick loves McCourty and his leadership on defense. He’s already established himself as one of the best Safeties in the NFL despite only playing there for two seasons. He’ll be afforded more freedom to use his range and instincts to make plays with Revis in the fold, which translates to a monster season from the defensive captain.
4. Chandler Jones (24), DE – Posted 11.5 sacks during his Sophomore NFL season and he can be so much better. He’s still developing as a pass rusher both in terms of rush moves and consistency. A stronger secondary should only help Jones improve on his impressive sack numbers this season. Jones is another long term building block for the rapidly improving defensive unit.
In a Class of their Own
3. Rob Gronkowski (25), TE – HEALTH. It’s the only question surrounding Rob Gronkowski. When he’s on the field he does everything at an elite level. He’s the most complete TE in the NFL and through his first 4 seasons put up Hall of Fame caliber numbers despite missing large chunks of time with injuries. Gronkowski is the difference between the Patriots making it to the Super Bowl and them being “just another good team”. His importance in the latter part of the season is why I can envision the Patriots taking it slow as he recovers from ACL surgery.
2. Darrelle Revis (29), CB – The biggest and best Free Agent signing in Patriots history. Rarely does this organization get the opportunity to acquire the caliber of player that Darrelle Revis is and they didn’t let it pass them by. His addition will dramatically improve the Patriots pass defense and will make the other players around him better. For the first time in a long time the Revis led Patriots defense might be better than the Brady led offense. That’s not a bad thing.
1. Tom Brady (37), QB – Still elite. Still the most important player in the organization. Brady knows he didn’t have his typical season in 2013 and a lot had to do with the injuries and replacement-level players he was forced to play with. I’m sure he heard the “noise” this off-season and Brady doesn’t need much to fuel his fire. Look for a bounce back season from the best of all time.
*Check Back Tomorrow or Thursday for my First Roster Projection*