NEPD Editor: Mike Loyko
A lot of the excitement around training camp is a result of watching 90 football players battle it out for a finite number of roster spots. There’s an old adage that “anyone can make the roster”, but that’s not entirely true. Some players are assured a roster spot no matter how bad they look in camp. On the other hand there are some players that will take the field that have no shot at making the 53-man roster even if they outperform most veteran players. There are a number of factors at work for each roster decision. As the first week of training camp progresses I take a look at where each player ranks on the current roster in relation to one another and layout their chances of making the final roster.
This isn’t a roster projection and isn’t necessarily a ranking of talent from worst to best. The purpose of this is to clarify where each player stands on the roster in relation to one another (from my perspective) and present some of the obstacles ahead of each player. Just for nostalgia here I did the same article last year on July 24 and it’s interesting to look back at those predictions to see how much things change (2014 Ranking).
* Current Roster stands at 88
Longshots to Make the Roster or Practice Squad
88. Brandon King (22), SAF/LB: A 6’2/220 LBs. hybrid player that shuffles between Linebacker and Safety. Despite his size he was deployed as a pass rusher at Auburn, but didn’t see much of the field. It’s going to be tough for him to make the transition to the NFL game as he lacks the experience necessary to play defensive back and lacks NFL size for a Linebacker. He’ll have to cut his teeth on Special teams and even then the outlook is bleak.
87. Zach D’Orazio (24), WR: Undrafted Wide Receiver out of Akron who plays out of the slot. He’s big for a slot receiver, but lacks speed for the NFL game. Released once already back in June, he’s an extreme longshot to make the final roster with multiple experienced slot receivers ahead of him.
86. Harland Gunn (25), OG: Claimed off waivers from the Falcons on Sunday. He played his college ball at Miami(FL) and been in the league for three seasons. Gunn has played in 12 NFL games with his long start coming last season in week 5 vs. the NY Giants. Gunn is a limited athlete, but will provide an extra body during the rigors of training camp.
85. Vince Taylor (23), DT: Began camp on Physically Unable to Perform list making the uphill climb even tougher for the undrafted rookie out of Vanderbilt. Taylor adds depth on the Nose, but doesn’t bring anything to the roster that other players can’t do.
84. Kevin Hughes (26), OT: The Patriots have four Offensive Tackles who are near locks to make the roster. Hughes has bounced around NFL practice squads, but has failed to stick. As camp goes on the Patriots will likely want to give his reps to a younger player and someone that can make the practice squad or roster.
83. Jonathan Krause (23), WR: Spent parts of last season on the practice squad, but has yet to distinguish himself to the point where he has a chance to stick around. There are currently three roster locks at Wide Receiver and another handful of players consisting of draft picks and free agent signings; Krause is in neither group.
82. Rufus Johnson (24), LB: A 6th Round pick by the New Orleans Saints in 2013, Johnson has yet to appear in an NFL regular season game. At 6’5/272 he fits the Patriots mold as an Edge Defender and pass rusher. After signing Jabaal Sheard in free agency and spending multiple draft picks on the same position, there just simply isn’t room for another developmental project.
81. Antonio Johnson (30), DT: Johnson was originally drafted in 2007 spending most of his time with the Indianapolis Colts and Tennessee Titans. He was out of football last year until the Patriots signed him to a futures deal. After spending two first round picks on Defensive Tackles and multiple other picks on the defensive line, the numbers game simply doesn’t work out. To his credit he did win one of the off-season awards, which is a testament to his work ethic.
Unlikely to make 53 – Chance to Make the Practice Squad (if Eligible)
80. Chris Harper (21), WR: Left school early to enter the NFL Draft and failed to get selected. He’s very thin and lacks functional strength for the position. After playing in Cal’s spread passing attack the transition to the NFL is likely to be a rough one. Harper will have to show he has the mental capacity to adapt to the complex New England passing attack, while physically showing he can play at this level. He has a shot at one of the practice squad slots if he makes some plays during some of the pre-season games.
79. Jimmay Mundine (23), TE/H-Back: Signed as an undrafted free agent in June, well after most other free agents were accounted for. Mundine is a player that greatly impressed some front office members during his workout. He’s a very good athlete and the team envisions him as a “Charles Clay type” that can catch the ball and create matchup problems with his alignments. It’s highly unlikely he can crack the roster, but keep an eye on this kid during the Summer, he could stick around for awhile.
78. Jimmy Jean (26), DB: At 6’2/180 he provides impressive size in the defensive backfield. Jean was attractive to the Patriots because he played both Safety and Cornerback in college. Jean generated some buzz in OTAs and might be a prospect worth developing on the practice squad. The problem for Jean is he is already 26 years old (older than Gronk) and really lacks bulk, physical strength.
77. Caylin Hauptmann (24), OT: He’s spent two seasons in the NFL and already has two Super Bowl rings. Hauptmann can play multiple positions on the Offensive Line including Tackle. After using four draft picks on the OL in the last two years there is really only one OL roster spot available.
76. Chris Barker (24), OL: Managed to hang around the last two season (one on the active roster and one on the practice squad). Offensive Line depth is much better heading into this season, especially on the interior. Mason and Jackson are both locks, so Barker is battling Ryan Wendell and Josh Kline for a roster spot. It’s unlikely he wins that battle.
75. Josh Boyce (24), WR: The writing is on the wall for Boyce. He really needs to make significant strides in over the next month or his time in New England is dunzo (shout out Laguna Beach). The former 4th Round pick looks like the next in a long line of Wide Receiver busts the organization has selected. He’s struggled with the transition to an NFL passing attack and mental mistakes when on the field. He was cut after training camp last year, which is rather rare for a 2nd year player in the system, however he managed to stick on the practice squad. Boyce was elevated to the 53-man roster late last year, but went essentially invisible. I had really high hopes for Boyce, but I’ve seen or heard nothing the last 18 months that suggest he’s ever going to make an impact on this team.
74. Jordan Devey (27), OT: Devey was forced into a starters role to begin last season and the results were disastrous. It was probably unfair to Devey and the Quarterback to throw him into Logan Mankins spot, especially after he struggled in the pre-season. His versatility is his best attribute as he can probably play any position on the Offensive Line. The coaching staff put a lot of faith in him last season, but he’s shown few signs of developing into an NFL caliber Offensive Lineman. His run in New England is likely to end this summer.
73. Matt Flynn* (30), QB: He’d probably have no shot at making the team if not for Tom Brady’s looming suspension. Flynn is an experienced backup that will provide competition and depth behind Jimmy Garoppolo during the first part of the season. Flynn begins camp on the NFI list with an unknown ailment and if he’s unable to compete soon the Patriots will need to add another arm. However, I don’t see anyway the Patriots keep more than 2 Quarterbacks on the active roster once Brady is locked and loaded.
72. Xzavier Dickson (22), LB: A 7th Round selection out of Alabama, Dickson has experience playing multiple roles on the end of the line of scrimmage. He has the size and versatility the Patriots covet at the position, but he was highly inconsistent during his college career. Dickson looks like a good bet to land on the practice squad where he can be developed and provide organizational depth at a critical position.
71. Dax Swanson (24), CB: Showed flashes last summer and battled Malcolm Butler for one of the CB positions. Butler quickly lapped him as Swanson petered out, but he stayed on the practice squad almost the entire season. Now entering his third season Swanson must now show he’s developed into an NFL caliber player and has the skills to play in this league. If it doesn’t happen this year, it’ll probably never happen. It’s possible he can sneak on the roster, but he’d need to put on a show during camp and out perform multiple veterans who have guaranteed money on their contracts.
70. Eric Martin (24), LB: Signed December 29, 2014 to the practice squad, just in time to earn himself a Super Bowl ring. The former Cornhusker has spent three seasons in the NFL, mostly with the Cleveland Browns and we know the connections the Patriots now have with players from that organization. Martin earned himself one of the off-season awards and the buzz through the first week of camp has been positive for him. The LB depth chart is a complete mystery and free-for-all, so he has a chance.
69. Dekoda Watson (27), OLB: A six year veteran with 70 NFL games under his belt. Watson is battling for one of the reserve linebacker spots and will add experience on Special Teams. Unlike many of the other Special Teams Linebackers on the roster, he has experience playing in the base defense. Likely competing with Matt Wells, Chris White, Darius Fleming for one spot.
68. Joe Vellano (26), DT: It appears Joe Vellano has already reached his ceiling and likely won’t get any better. It’s been a great ride run for Vellano who maximized every drop of athleticism in his body to turn himself into a Super Bowl champion. He was cut last season only to return to the practice squad and eventually to the active roster. Vellano has two first round picks and at least three veterans ahead of him, making it ever so difficult to find an avenue onto the final roster.
67. David Andrews (23), OC: Andrews received a $30,000 signing bonus, by far the most of any Patriots UDFA this year. He’s a Patriots type player through and through. A multiple time Captain and three year starter at Center for Georgia, he wins battles with his smarts and technique rather than strength. He’s been working at both Guard and Center early in camp as it appears the Patriots are grooming him to be the next Dan Connolly/Ryan Wendell. The most likely scenario is that he spends the season on the practice squad, but if he outperforms Ryan Wendell or another rookie, he could sneak onto the team.
66. Dion Lewis (24), RB: A longtime favorite of some Patriots personnel men, Lewis returns to the field after nearly two seasons away. He’s competing for a spot as a 3rd Down back and pass catcher out of the backfield. His ability to return kicks and play on special teams only increases his chances of sticking. Despite his fans within the organization he’ll need to have an exceptional camp. Lewis needs to clearly separate himself from both James White and Travaris Cadet in terms of pass catching and pass protection ability. I”m not betting on that to happen.
65. AJ Derby (23), TE: An exciting QB to TE transition project that showed promising ability during his Senior Season at Arkansas. I’d love for Derby to explode onto the scene and look like Gronk during training camp in 2010, but that’s not going to happen. Derby will need time to transition and further develop his skills. I’ll be watching his route running potential and fundamental blocking skills during PS games to find out just how big of a project he really is. The practice squad is the likely destination this season.