NEPD Editor: Mike Loyko
The preseason ended last night in the Meadowlands with a 16-13 loss to the New York Giants and with roster cuts due on Sunday, it was the final opportunity to earn a roster spot. At least 22 players will be cut from the roster between now and Saturday afternoon, even after final cuts are completed more transactions will follow as the Patriots piece together their 2014 roster. Last night we learned a lot about the players who played, but we also learned a lot about the players Bill Belichick decided to sit out. As we approach final cuts a few things are clear. This is a much deeper roster than last year, especially on the backend, and this team is not without areas of weakness. Here’s how I project the initial 53 man roster to shake out.
Garoppolo has shown enough signs during the preseason to move on from Ryan Mallett, but ultimately I don’t believe that will happen. By carrying three Quarterbacks another roster player is forced out the door and that is likely a Wide Receiver or Running Back.
Running Backs (3)
The Patriots kept four total RB/FB on the final roster during the majority of years that Bill Belichick has been coach. The breakdown of three running backs and one fullback would be exactly how they chose to set up the backfield in 2007 when Laurence Maroney, Kevin Faulk, and Sammy Morris were the running backs and Heath Evans was the fullback. This is all a result of keeping three Quarterbacks on the roster, which of course the Patriots did in 2007. To add protection at the position I expect Jonas Gray and Roy Finch to be added to the practice squad.
Develin was one of the players who made the trip to New York, but didnt’ play last night. Further proving that the organization values Develin and his ever-improving skill-set.
Wide Receiver (5)
This is a nice blend of receivers. All five receivers have different body types and bring a unique skill-set to the field. The receiving corps looks significantly more comfortable, capable this preseason and that will lead to the Patriots playing faster and with more multiplicity. I’ve been a big believer in Josh Boyce, but there isn’t room for six receivers on the roster at this point. I hope Boyce can find his way to the practice squad, but I’m not holding my breath.
Tight End (3)
The position looks significantly better and more complete with the addition of Tim Wright. The fact that Wright was able to contribute Thursday night is a testament to his smarts and breeds optimism that he can add another dimension to this offense. A “flex” tight end was absolutely imperative to offensive improvement and the Patriots went to the ends of the earth trying to acquire one. Steve Maneri will be released, but if Hoo-man goes down at any point, Maneri will find his way back to Foxboro.
Offensive Tackles (3)
Fleming has shown enough during the preseason to be a stop gap Right Tackle if an injury should occur. Marcus Cannon and Jordan Devey can also slide into the starting Tackle position if the need arises.
Interior Linemen (6)
Don’t ask me how these six will occupy the three starting interior line spots because I don’t have a clue. Connolly could start at Center or Left Guard. Marcus Cannon could start at either Guard position and Wendell could be the starting Center or be cut. Rookie 6th Round pick Jon Halapio is the odd man out in this projection, but if he makes the roster it won’t be a major surprise. Halapio will find work whether it’s on the practice squad or with another NFL team.
Defensive Ends (5)
Easley will obviously play on the interior as well, but the Patriots announced him as a Defensive End during the draft and I see him playing a pass rush specific role to start his career. One of his strengths is his ability to play multiple alignments on the defensive line and create pressure from all of them. Zach Moore can play both on the outside and on the inside, but he’s still very raw. Buchanan is the lone “pure rush end” behind Jones and Ninkovich. This is a position that should be targeted as other teams cut down their rosters.
Interior Defensive Line (5)
The release of Tommy Kelly added some clarity to the roster. The fact Joe Vellano was held out last night gave us an indication of how highly he’s thought of by the coaching staff. Jerel Worthy is still unproven, but he’s shown some ability to be disruptive. Injury questions to Siliga and Jones means Worthy sticks around for the start of the season.
James Morris was in the running for the sixth Linebacker spot until his injury last night. Even if the knee injury turns out to be minor it’ll likely cost him a roster spot. The Patriots can put him on injured reserve and stash him until next season or put him on the practice squad. Either way there is a really good chance we haven’t seen the last of James Morris. Ja’Gared Davis gets the final linebacker spot thanks to core special teams contributions and some aggressive defensive play. Darius Fleming has stood out in each of the preseason games for his strength at the point of attack and setting the edge vs. the run. He deserves to be on the roster.
No surprises here. This is a deep, talented, and impactful group that will only get better after week four when Brandon Bronwer returns from suspension.
It’s difficult to decipher how this group shakes out. It’s tough to leave Patrick Chung off the roster, but it’s even more difficult to carry five safeties to start the year. I won’t be surprised at all if Wilson is cut and Chung makes the roster, as this is strictly a guess at this point. We’ve seen the Patriots get creative with their safety rotations during the preseason by using corners in a “hybrid safety” alignment and that signals to me they don’t need to carry the extra safety.
From top to bottom one of the best groups of specialist in the NFL.
Suspended (2): Brandon Browner, Brian Tyms
Bottom Five on the Roster: Ja’Gared Davis, Jordan Devey, Jerel Worthy, Tavon Wilson, Steve Beauharnais
Final Cuts: Patrick Chung, Josh Boyce, Jon Halapio, Brandon Bolden, James Morris, Roy Finch/Jonas Gray
Likely Practice Squaders: Jonas Gray, Roy Finch, Jeremy Gallon, Josh Boyce**, Jon Halapio**, Jake Bequette, James Morris, Dax Swanson