By: Steve Balestrieri
If he’s ready to go by training camp, Dominique Easley will be looked to provide an upgrade at the interior pass rush for the Patriots in 2014. (USA TODAY Images)
The 2014 NFL Draft is over and the New England Patriots have made their selections as well as added the first group of UDFAs to bolster the roster. It’s important to note that the UDFA position is a volatile one and players will be added and dropped pretty frequently between now and training camp.
With that in mind here is a look at the “Much Too Early 53 Man Roster Projection 1.0” for the post-draft week and take a look at how things may play out. Of course how these players actually perform on the field as well as the ever present threat of injuries will determine who is left standing in September. And they may still add some more veteran pieces, (read Dustin Keller) as the summer approaches.
It should be noted that because of the Browner suspension for the first four weeks of the season, the Patriots can in essence keep 54 players on the roster. But for simplicity sake here, we’re going with the best 53.
Quarterback – Tom Brady, Ryan Mallett, Jimmy Garappolo
The Patriots go back to a three QB team this fall, Brady remains the starter and Garappolo won’t be pushed too hard in his first camp, giving him time to develop his game and learn the Patriots offense.
I still don’t buy the Mallett trade rumors and barring any huge jump in play by Garappolo in training camp, will remain Brady’s backup. But this will be a fun group to watch this summer.
Opening day roster- all three.
Running Backs – Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, James White, Brandon Bolden, Jonas Gray, Stephen Houston, Roy Finch
Going into mini-camps, OTAs and training camp, the big back remains Ridley although Houston is an intriguing option if the fumble-itis problems return. But for now Ridley, Vereen and White should all make the final 53. White and Vereen have similar skill sets however and if one really has a bad summer could be cut loose. That leaves a group of four to fight it out for one roster spot as I believe they keep four.
Opening day roster- Ridley, Vereen, White and Bolden (4)
Fullbacks/H-Back – James Develin, Tyler Beck
Develin was used quite a bit last season and is a valuable asset in the short yardage running game as a blocker. But will they keep this position now that three QBs are on the roster? Unless something breaks at the QB position, the team may opt to use Hooman as the H-back….keep this position circled in training camp.
Opening Day Roster – (0)
Tight End – Rob Gronkowski, Michael Hoomanawanui, D.J. Williams, Asa Watson, Justin Jones
After all the speculation that the Patriots were targeting one of the many TEs at the top of the draft, they did the typical Patriots MO and took none of them. They have brought in a couple of intriguing prospects including the 6’8 Jones and Watson, brother of former Patriots tight end Ben.
I still believe that Dustin Keller will eventually sign with the Patriots and one of the two UDFAs will find their place on the practice squad…possibly both if they perform well.
Opening Day Roster- Gronkowski, Hooman, (Keller?) (3)
Wide Receiver– Aaron Dobson, Julian Edelman, Brandon Lafell, Danny Amendola, Josh Boyce, Kenbrell Thompkins, Matthew Slater, Mark Harrison, Jeremy Gallon, Reggie Dunn, Greg Orton, Ja-Mes Logan
Much like the tight end position, the team paid scant attention to WRs in the draft adding only Gallon in the 7th round. But their depth is strong and with a second year of the system for Dobson¸ Boyce, Thompkins and Amendola inside the Patriots offense, they should be much improved from last summer.
As of right now, I think they still keep only six WRs and Dobson, Edelman, Lafell, Amendola, Boyce and Slater virtual locks to make the roster, but… it isn’t inconceivable to imagine they’d keep seven wideouts.
Competition will be fierce at WR with Thompkins, Harrison, Gallon, Dunn, Orton and Logan all vying for a roster spot. With the injury history of both Amendola and Edelman, Gallon with his production from the slot has the inside track for a practice squad slot. Don’t go to sleep on Logan who was very productive for the past three years at Ole Miss and is a tall (6’3) receiver who excels at working underneath.
Opening Day Roster- Dobson, Edelman, Lafell, Amendola, Boyce, Slater (6)
Offensive Tackle – Nate Solder, Sebastian Vollmer, Cameron Fleming, Marcus Cannon, RJ Mattes, Jordan Devey
The starters Solder and Vollmer are locked in and solid. Cannon is a lock and is versatile because of his ability to move inside to guard. Fleming is an interesting addition. He played only RT at Stanford but is also a lock and may be this season’s swing tackle.
Opening Day Roster- Solder, Vollmer, Cannon, Fleming (4)
Offensive Guard – Logan Mankins, Dan Connolly, John Halapio, Josh Kline, Chris Barker
One of the key story lines of training camp will be to watch this position; Mankins is a lock and is still a valuable commodity. Dan Connolly however due to his cap number and struggles inside could very well find himself on the outside looking in.
They drafted the tough Halapio and are high on Kline who worked himself into a roster slot last year. With Cannon and Stork having the option of sliding over, this will be a contentious position once July rolls around.
Opening Day Roster- Mankins, Halapio, Kline (3)
Center – Ryan Wendell, Bryan Stork, Braxston Cave
Stork, the 4th round draft pick from Florida St. is a lock, Wendell was re-signed to a 2 yr deal but could easily be replaced. Stork is going to push Wendell for the starter position and could win it outright in camp. If he doesn’t, they’ll keep both because he has the versatility to play guard in a pinch if need be.
Opening Day Roster – Stork (1)
Total number Offense (24)
Defensive End – Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich, Zach Moore, Jake Bequette, Michael Buchanan, Armond Armstead
Nobody was more overworked than the starting combo of Jones and Ninkovich last year. The team needs a rotation that will keep them fresh. They added the very intriguing Moore from a Div. II school but he’s raw and will be a developmental project. That’s bad news for Jake Bequette who has barely sniffed the field in two years.
A couple of things here, the team lists Armstead as a DE and newly signed Will Smith as a LB so if you’re wondering why….there’s the answer. Buchanan will need to step up his game in year two and join in the rotation.
Opening Day Roster – Jones, Ninkovich, Armstead, Buchanan, Moore (5)
Defensive Tackle – Vince Wilfork, Dominique Easley, Tommy Kelly, Chris Jones, Joe Vellano, Sealver Siliga, Marcus Forston
Another great position to watch this summer, with surprisingly only Easley as the team’s 1st round pick as the only lock here. Wilfork and Kelly are coming off of serious injuries and will bear close watching. Kelly was arguably their best DL before suffering a knee injury against Cincinnati last year. Siliga was a pleasant surprise in mid-season and Chris Jones can fill the old Mike Wright position as the sub-interior pass rusher.
Opening Day Roster – Wilfork, Easley, Kelly, Siliga, Jones (5)
Outside Linebacker – Jerod Mayo, Jamie Collins, Will Smith Ja’Gared Davis, Josh Hull, Cameron Gordon
Mayo returns from a serious injury and he and Collins are the starters….Smith surprisingly is listed as a LB but will be an edge rusher. The team gave Gordon a rather large signing bonus for an UDFA so they obviously have plans for him. But if there is another position that screams veteran addition this summer, the outside linebacker position is it as it is among the thinnest on the team.
Opening Day Roster – Mayo, Collins, Smith, Gordon (4)
Inside Linebacker – Dont’a Hightower, Steven Beauharnais, Chris White, James Morris
Hightower takes over the middle linebacker position for the departed Brandon Spikes, now with the Buffalo Bills. The team will be looking for a big second year jump from Beauharnais who was red-shirted in his rookie campaign. Morris was an UDFA steal from Iowa, who was very productive for the Hawkeyes and looks to replace the departed Dane Fletcher in sub-packages.
Opening Day Roster – Hightower, Beauharnais, Morris (3)
Cornerback – Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner, Alfonzo Dennard, Kyle Arrington, Logan Ryan, Justin Green, Travis Hawkins
This position was upgraded the most with the additions of Revis and Browner, and as a result the loss of Aqib Talib was quickly forgotten. The cornerback position is now the deepest on the team and it’s been many years since that has been the case. At some point Ryan will see some time at safety, perhaps even Browner but this position is rock solid.
Opening Day Roster – Revis, Browner, Dennard, Arrington, Ryan (5)
Safety – Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon, Patrick Chung, Jemea Thomas, Nate Ebner, Kanorris Davis, Tavon Wilson, Jeremy Deering
McCourty and Harmon are locks to make the roster and are at least right now your opening day starters. Chung was brought back for depth and STs play, we may still see Ryan and Browner at safety in some packages. Thomas is a nice player who can play at safety or slot corner so his versatility is a plus. Deering is the wild-card here, a fast jack-of-all-trades who could make some noise.
Opening Day Roster – McCourty, Harmon, Chung, Thomas (4)
Total number Defense (26)
Specialists: Stephen Gostkowski, Ryan Allen, Danny Aiken, Tyler Ott, Charley Hughlett
Gostkowski and Allen were an excellent tandem in 2013, and nothing changes there. With a camp competition at long snapper, it would be nice to see a Harvard guy get the nod.
Opening Day Roster – Gostkowski, Allen, Ott (3)
Total Roster (53)
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