Veteran Players Likely to Make the Final 53
44. James Anderson (30), LB – Anderson’s missed some time during training camp, but his ability to cover backs and tight ends has not gone unnoticed. Arguably the biggest weakness on team is their ability to defend in the middle of the field and scheme against RB/TE in coverage. That’s Anderson’s strength and he’ll play plenty of snaps during the regular season.
43. Nate Ebner (25), SAF – Adds little to the base defense, but has turned himself into a standout performer on special teams. He’ll make this roster unless the Patriots are really concerned about the depth at safety and their ability to play snaps on defense.
42. Dan Connolly (31), OG/OC – Carrying a four million dollar cap hit Connolly was a “Dead Man Walking” during the off-season. Somehow he’s manage to survive this long and now it looks like he’ll actually be the starting Center when they play Miami. Connolly’s much more natural at Center, but was forced to play Guard when Brian Waters didn’t show up prior to the start of the 2012 season.
41. Michael Hoomanawanui (26), TE – Developed a niche role for himself over the last two seasons. Hoomanawanui could handle even more blocking responsibilities in 2014 as the Patriots attempt to limit Gronkowski’s exposure to inline blocking. He’s locked into one of the tight end spots moving forward.
40. Sealver Siliga (24), DT – He was having a strong camp and building on the momentum he created last season before he got hurt. The extent of his hand/arm injury is unknown, but there is a possibility it costs him a few games. Siliga is still a strong bet to make the final roster, but it’ll be interesting to see how the Patriots manage his injury and availability.
39. Duron Harmon (23), SAF – Still the front runner to start opposite Devin McCourty. Harmon hasn’t done anything to lose the starting safety job, but he also hasn’t done anything to stake his undisputed claim on it. His interception against Philadelphia certainly helped his cause given how Patrick Chung struggled in coverage and how Tavon Wilson was absent with injury. Regardless if Harmon wins the job or not, he’ll be part of the rotation early in the season.
38. Chris Jones (24), DT – In the same boat as Sealver Siliga. Off to a good start in camp, injured vs. the Redskins and will miss the majority of the preseason. Jones has a lower leg issue and the timetable on his return hasn’t been established. He definitely has flaws in his game, but showed too much pass rush potential as a rookie to cast aside in year two. Before his injury he was taking reps at Defensive End in the 3-4 adding some intrigue to how he’ll be used during the season. Like Siliga it’ll be interesting to see how the Patriots manage his roster spot as he regains his health.
37. Tommy Kelly (33), DT – I expected the Patriots to bide their time with Kelly and start him on PUP to begin the season; the Patriots thought otherwise. Kelly has been an active participant in practices and games which is a good sign for his health. With other injuries cropping up at Defensive Tackle he’ll play a big role next to Vince Wilfork to start the season. It’s still conceivable he’d be cut, but that would be a surprising turn of events.
On the 53 Man Roster
36. Bryan Stork (23), OC – Stork’s battled injuries the majority of training camp, which was him M.O. during his time at Florida State. There are still two weeks left to win the starting Center job, but making up ground this late in the summer will be difficult. He’ll be a major contributor on the offensive line before the end of the season (if he stays healthy).
35. Malcolm Butler (24), CB – The biggest surprise of training camp and the player that’s helped himself the most over the last month. Butler went from a low-level UDFA to a practice squad candidate and now looks like a roster lock. Butler has played awesome in the first two preseason games translating his success in practice to the game field. Not only is Butler going to make the team, it looks like he’s going to be a contributor. Cases like Malcolm Butler are why the NFL Draft and the scouting process is so much fun. Five months ago no one knew who he was and now the West Alabama product is lining up across from Darrelle Revis. That’s pretty damn awesome.
34. Cameron Fleming (21), OT – The 4th round draft pick is the youngest player on the team and has impressed me during his first two NFL appearances. Fleming’s ability to run block and get movement at the line of scrimmage stood vs. Philadelphia. He’s still a work in progress in all phases, especially pass protection. He looks like he could step in and contribute at Right Tackle if needed and that’s a positive development.
33. Ryan Allen (24), P - Incumbent punter hasn’t been challenged during training camp. Allen can be a lot better than what he showed last week. After an impressive rookie season Allen needs to continue to develop and improve. He has all the tools to be the long term Punter in New England.
32. James White (22), RB – Firmly entrenched as the #3 running back and is certain to play a role during the regular season. With Ridley’s ball security issues and Shane Vereen’s durability issues, White is one series of events away from being the starting RB of the Patriots. He doesn’t have any “wow” skill, he’s just a steady player that can be relied on in multiple phases of the offense.
31. Ryan Mallett (26), QB – The Ryan Mallett roller coaster is in full swing this summer. He struggled during the first preseason and bounced back to have his best performance as a New England Patriot in the second game. Regardless of how he plays in the final two exhibition games he will be on the 53 man roster. His value to the Patriots continues to be higher than it is to other teams around the league. This is a legitimate Super Bowl contender and if Tom Brady goes down for a few weeks the Patriots need to have multiple QB options at their disposal.
30. James Develin (26), FB/TE – It’s incredible the transformation James Develin has made over the last two seasons. He’s gone from barely on the practice squad to training camp body to roster bubble to 53 man roster to the active roster and now he’s a significant contributor on the offense. Develin will play the role of a utility player on the Patriots. Depending on the game plan and health of the team he could line up at as many as four different positions.
29. Kenbrell Thompkins (26), WR – Thompkins has done enough to make the team and carve out a role in the passing game. Consistency will be the main issue to watch with Thompkins. He needs to find a way to be the same player each game as he continues to build up the trust of Tom Brady. The role he plays will likely be altered once Aaron Dobson and Rob Gronkowski are on the field and the Patriots have all their offensive weapons healthy.
28. Marcus Cannon (26), OL – Cannon’s played all over the offensive line during the summer. While he might not start games he will be a significant contributor at multiple positions on the OL and by the end of the season he may end up playing more snaps than some of the starters. I still believe that Right Guard is his best position and he should be given a chance to start there at the beginning of the year.
27. Brandon LaFell (27), WR – Steadily improving as training camp moves forward. LaFell looks more comfortable within the offense and provides Tom Brady with size on the perimeter. LaFell’s role will probably change over the course of the season, but right now he looks like a solid fouth option in the passin game.
26. Kyle Arrington (28), CB – After all the moves at Cornerback in the off-season Arrington has been the forgotten man. Arrington will be the slot cornerback when the team goes into it’s nickel defense, but I’m sure he’ll still be moved around at some points. Arrington will be put into spots that better suit his skill-set this season.
25. Jimmy Garoppolo (22), QB – Made dramatic improvements since the early days of training camp. Garoppolo put his skill-set on display during the two exhibition games and has generated a lot of optimism from Patriots fans. Even those fans that hated the selection during the draft are starting to change their tune. Garoppolo won’t be asked to do anything other than learn the system and sdjust to the NFL during the 2014 season. Regardless of how well he plays in the pre-season the Patriots prefer him to be the #3 QB this season and leave the back-up role to Ryan Mallett.
24. Danny Amendola (28), WR – He definitely looks more comfortable in the Patriots offense this summer. As always the question with Amendola will be his health. If he avoids injury and plays in all 16 games there is no reason to believe he won’t catch 70-80 passes and become one of the “go to” receivers in key situations.
23. Stevan Ridley (25), RB – He’ll get every opportunity to be the 1st and 2nd down running back. Ridley must prove he can hold on to the football or else it will get to the point where the team has to move on from him. He’s always productive when given a full compliment of carries. At this point he’s his own worst enemy with the fumbles. With no LeGarrette Blount around to vulture goal line carries Ridley will have a big season. He’s entering a contract year, meaning he’s not just playing for his future with the Patriots.
Core Players and Potential Pro Bowl Players
22. Aaron Dobson (22), WR – It’s definitely disappointing Dobson injured his foot and missed almost all of training camp while recovering. Before he was injured last season he was beginning to build some legitimate momentum with his on-field performances. The fact that Dobson is off PUP should be viewed as a positive because I thought there was a legitimate possibility he could miss the first few weeks of the season. The Patriots have high hopes for the second year product and believe when he’s on the field with Rob Gronkowski that the offense will be nearly impossible to defend.
21. Stephen Gostkowski (30), K – Coming off his career best season Gostkowski looks to follow it up and cash in as one of the highest paid kickers in the game. He’s looked shaky during the first two games, but he’s the least of the Patriots concerns at this point.
20. Alfonzo Dennard (24), CB – Missed the majority of training camp as he recovered from shoulder surgery. Since he hasn’t been on the field much it remains to be seen how the Patriots will use him with Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner in the mix. Dennard is pretty good cover corner in his own right and matching him up with opposing teams #3 or #4 receivers is a huge advantage for the Patriots defense. If he can stay healthy all season he’ll be one of the breakout stars around the league.
19. Logan Ryan (23), CB – Should be a major contributor in the defense backfield after an impressive rookie season. His versatility will help him get on and stay on the field when all five cornerbacks are healthy. It’s likely Ryan will even see some time at safety as the season progresses. Let’s just hope he avoids the dreaded “Patriots second year defensive back regression”.
18. Brandon Browner (30), CB – Adds size, physicality, and toughness to the Patriots defensive backs corps. People expecting him to be a shutdown corner will be disppointed because that’s not what he is. He’s a press man cornerback that can make it difficult for opposing teams top WR to get into their routes. When you look at the Patriots schedule and the struggles they’ve had defending big, physical receivers it’s clear why he was acquired. He’ll make his impact felt in big games this season.
17. Shane Vereen (25), RB – This might be a little high for Shane Vereen given what he’s accomplished in the past. He really hasn’t been able to stay on the field and if he doesn’t stay healthy this season he’s likely finished in New England. With that being said the Patriots don’t have another player like him on the roster. His ability to catch the ball out of the backfield and split out to create mismatches adds a critical element to the offense. If he plays in all 16 games he’ll lead the NFL in receptions by a running back. I want to see the Patriots give him more carries out of their spread and “hurry-up” offense because he can add even more value as a ball-carrier.
16. Matthew Slater (28), WR/ST - Slater knows his role on the team and plays it perfectly. He’s completely inept as a wide receiver, but has turned himself into the games premier special teams player. He’s an invaluable piece on all four special teams units and is one of the leaders in the locker room.
15. Dominique Easley (22), DL – He’s back on the practice field and might see his first game action this week vs. the Panthers. Expect the Patriots to ease him into the defense and build him up for late in the season. They followed the same path with Jamie Collins last year and it worked out perfectly. Easley is by far the most explosive and dynamic interior pass rusher the Patriots have had in years. He’ll create challenges for the opposing team’s interior blockers and improve the pass rush up the middle.
14. Sebastian Vollmer (30), OT – Vollmer is returning from a scary lower leg injury. When he’s on the field he’s been one of the best Right Tackles in football and the Patriots hope that continues in 2014. Vollmer has been banged up the last few days with a foot injury and while it’s not considered serious, his durability is a concern at this point. Marcus Cannon filled in nicely when he went down last season, but the offensive line is much better with him in the game.
13. Dont’a Hightower (24), LB – He might never become a star player, but he will be a critical piece to the success of the Patriots defense. He can play multiple LB positions and should be allowed to rush the passer more this season. His best football is ahead of him and he’s one of the players I’m anticipating taking a big leap forward in 2014.
12. Logan Mankins (32), OG – 2014 may end up being the final year in New England for Mankins. He has a huge cap number next season and it’s difficult to envision the Patriots paying that for a declining player. Logan Mankins is still a very good football player and will be the glue that holds the OL together this season, but he’s not getting any younger or cheaper.
11. Rob Ninkovich (30), DE – One of the irreplaceable members of the Patriots roster. He still continues to improve each season and has truly turned himself into this decade’s Mike Vrabel. His versatility will allow the Patriots to alternate between 3-4 and 4-3 defenses and become more diverse in 2014. Ninkovich is poised for another big season as he looked faster and more explosive during the exhibition games.
10. Jerod Mayo (28), LB – His loss was understated last season and the Patriots really missed his “all around game” during the playoff run. His impact on the defense goes further than on the field performance as he’s the vocal and emotional leader of the team. His return along with the development of Jamie Collins gives the Patriots their best LB corps since 2004.
9. Nate Solder (26), OT – Solder’s best football is still ahead of him. While he can still be inconsistent at times and he gives up sacks vs. explosive pass rushers, he’s by far the most talented Offensive Tackle on the team. His athleticism is irreplaceable on the Offensive Line and over the next two season I expect him to become one of the top Left Tackles in football.
8. Jamie Collins (24), LB – All reports indicate that he’s had a great summer and is poised for a breakout campaign. His fluidity, speed, and explosiveness are traits the Patriots have lacked on defense for a long time. His ability to run with tight ends, split out wide to cover wide receivers and blitz from any alignment make him such a versatile weapon that Bill Belichick can use in a variety of ways. If his playoff performances were any indication of his future, then he’s on his way to a Pro Bowl season.
7. Vince Wilfork (32), DT – Getting up there in terms of age and miles on the body, but he’s still a vital cog on the defense. When he went down last season the Patriots run defense was terrible, especially up the middle. Even if Wilfork has lost a step or two, his massive presence is enough to occupy space and multiple blockers. The Patriots don’t have a replacement for him anywhere on the roster.
6. Julian Edelman (28), WR – Edelman appears poised for another big season after breaking out in 2013. He’s turned into Brady’s go to receiver in key situations and will receive a large volume of balls thrown in his direction. He’s a different player than Wes Welker, but his impact on the offense will be similar. He’s put together a fantastic summer and while he might not catch 105 passes this season, he can be a better player than he was last year.
All-Pro Candidates and Potential Franchise Players
5. Devin McCourty (27), SAF – McCourty’s move to safety has been effortless and was probably the best move for both player and team. His range, instincts, and speed allow him to take away a large portion of the field from opposing Quarterbacks. While one of the Patriots safety spots is a mess, McCourty brings stability to the other. McCourty can become one of the games elite Free Safeties as he continues to improve at his “new” position. His contract is up after the 2014 season, but it’s a near certainty he’ll sign a long term deal at some point in the next four months.
4. Chandler Jones (24), DE – One of the most irreplaceable players on the entire roster. The best pass rusher on the team and a player just beginning to stratch the surface. The Patriots could struggle to rush the passer at times this season and if Jones were to go down it’d be a disaster. He’s coming off a 11.5 sack season despite showing inconsistencies getting to the QB. Anything less than 13-14 sacks in 2014 would be considered a disappointment.
In a Class of Their Own
3. Rob Gronkowski (25), TE – Gronkowski is the difference between the Patriots getting to the Super Bowl and winning the Super Bowl. He’s one of the biggest offensive weapons in the NFL and absolutely vital to the success of the Patriots offense. It’s a completely different animal when he’s out on the field and the defense has to account for him with multiple defenders. The goal of the Patriots should be to preserve him and keep him healthy for December and January, not September.
2. Darrelle Revis (29), CB - Poised to regain the title as the “NFL’s Best Cornerback” in 2014. Revis could be the missing piece that gets the Patriots over the hump in 2014. A lot of talk and focus will be on his contract for next season. The bottom line is if Revis plays like the Patriots think he will, then they will have no problem paying him the 14-15 million he’ll command in free agency.
1. Tom Brady (37), QB – He’s still pretty damn good.