Like the swallows returning to San Juan Capistrano, an annual event for football fans and writers is to predict (usually multiple times) what players will end up surviving training camp cuts and up on the local team’s initial 53-man roster. While it is nowhere near the mass appeal of attempting to predict the winners of the 63 64 65 college basketball games better known as March Madness, give it time; get some money involved, and watch its popularity soar. In the meantime this exercise in varying degrees of futility is a fun way to get reacquainted with your favorite team, and pass the time until the real games kick off after Labor Day.

 


Roster Predictions? The start of the NFL season can’t be far behind

This is my second attempt at predicting the 2012 roster. The first endeavor in early May was highlighted by the erroneous prognostication that Markell Carter would be a member of the club; I continued to adamantly proclaim that he would not only be on the team but would be a key contributor – right up to the day he was released, before training camp had even commenced. Robert Gallery was another big swing and a miss although in my defense I had changed my tune soon after, and gave him a less than 50% chance of making the squad before camp kicked off.

 

 

There are several factors that make this undertaking difficult. For one thing there are several players that we have yet to see perform in actual game conditions. Preseason games are not perfect indicators; for example one player is going up against a Pro Bowl starter, while his competition is facing a third stringer who is there strictly for his special teams play. The most difficult thing to anticipate is the effect of injuries on roster decisions this far in advance of roster cutdowns. This year that is a more substantial consideration than usual when it comes to the Patriots roster: seven players have yet to practice (six on the Physically Unable to Participate List, plus another who has yet to report to camp), and there are nine more players that missed the last practice with various injuries. It’s extremely difficult to speculate who from that group will start the season on Injured Reserve, who will start on PUP, and who will be ready to play in week one – and that’s before the unknown factor of what players that are currently healthy that will be injured between now and the last day of the month, when rosters must be trimmed to 53 players.

 

Barring injury I consider the following 36 players to be locks or near-locks to be on the week one roster. Those that are in italics are current candidates to be placed on PUP or IR rather than making that 53-man roster.

QB (3) Tom Brady, Ryan Mallett, Brian Hoyer
RB (3) Danny Woodhead, Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen
WR (3) Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd, Jabar Gaffney
TE (3) Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Daniel Fells
C/G (3) Dan Connolly, Logan Mankins, Brian Waters
G/T (1) Marcus Cannon
T (2) Nate Solder, Sebastian Vollmer

NT/DT (2) Vince Wilfork, Jonathan Fanene
DE (2) Chandler Jones, Jake Bequette
DE/OLB (1) Rob Ninkovich
LB (3) Jerod Mayo, Brandon Spikes, Dont’a Hightower
CB (3) Devin McCourty, Ras-I Dowling, Kyle Arrington
S (3) Patrick Chung, Steve Gregory, Tavon Wilson

ST (3) Stephen Gostkowski, Zoltan Mesko, Danny Aiken
ST (1) Matthew Slater

The only change from early May is the removal of Julian Edelman as a special teamer. I still think Edelman has an excellent chance to make the team but I’m going to drop him down a tier from the ‘locks and near locks’ grouping. I seriously wavered on continuing to include Daniel Fells, Marcus Cannon and Brandon Spikes in this group, but for the moment they remain. I also almost added Brandon Deaderick and Kyle Love, but I don’t think I’ll include them as locks – though I’m very confident both will be on the final 53.

 

 

So here is my stab at the final 53. Players in bold start the season on PUP or IR; players in italics make the team primarily for special teams play.

QB (3) Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer, Ryan Mallett
RB (4) Stevan Ridley, Danny Woodhead, Shane Vereen, Spencer Larsen
WR (6) Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd, Jabar Gaffney, Matthew Slater, Donte Stallworth, Jeremy Ebert
TE (3) Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Daniel Fells, Visanthe Shiancoe
C/G  (5) Dan Connolly, Ryan Wendell, Logan Mankins, Brian Waters, Donald Thomas, Nick McDonald
G/T (1) Marcus Cannon
T (3) Sebastian Vollmer, Nate Solder, Darrion Weems, Matt Kopa

NT (2) Vince Wilfork, Kyle Love
DT (3) Jonathan Fanene, Brandon Deaderick, Justin Francis
LDE (2) Rob Ninkovich, Jake Bequette
RDE (2) Chandler Jones, Trevor Scott
OLB(4) Jerod Mayo, Tracy White, Jeff Tarpinian, Bobby Carpenter
ILB(3) Donta Hightower, Brandon Spikes, Dane Fletcher
CB (5) Ras-I Dowling, Devin McCourty, Kyle Arrington, Sterling Moore, Alfonzo Dennard, Marquice Cole
SS (2) Patrick Chung, James Ihedigbo
FS (2) Steve Gregory, Tavon Wilson

ST (3) Stephen Gostkowski, Danny Aiken, Zoltan Mesko

 

A few comments:

OL: Camp reports on Dan Koppen have not been encouraging, so he was bumped off my roster. Before training camp I had Nick McDonald as my top interior OL backup but he has been injured while Donald Thomas (a guy I barely even considered) now not only makes the team but could be active on game day. A few months ago I was confident Sebastian Vollmer would be ready to start the season, but reports about him laboring as he walks around at practices have me ready to assume he’ll start the season on PUP. With Vollmer out and Marcus Cannon struggling with his footwork the door opens for Darrion Weems and Matt Kopa over Kyle Hix, Ken Hill and others. Logan Mankins may be tough as nails but his ACL injury came so late in the season I have to figure that he’ll begin the season on PUP as well. Comparisons to the time frame of  Wes Welker‘s rehab don’t mean much because he’s carrying so much more weight on his knees.

At WR I am not convinced that Jeremy Ebert will make the roster over Julian Edelman; it’s more of a hunch. Much of that is based on looking ahead to 2013 and beyond, but Ebert will still need to show a lot over the next three weeks in order to grab that spot over Edelman. All off season I have persistently declared that Deion Branch‘s production and chemistry with Tom Brady made him the obvious choice over Donte Stallworth, but I’m starting to come around to the concept that Branch’s position is redundant with Jabar Gaffney now on the roster, and Stallworth would be the preferable backup in case Brandon Lloyd were to miss any time.

I’m not entirely convinced that Stallworth makes the team or that they even go with six receivers. The Pats could go with another RB instead which would open up a roster spot for Brandon Bolden. In the end I went with Spencer Larsen because he could offers them a different skill set from the backfield, should be more of a special teams contributor, and in a pinch could fill in as an emergency linebacker. Another option would be to start the year with two TE; with Daniel Fells on PUP and Visanthe Shiancoe being released, this would open up a roster spot for both Larsen as well as Bolden.

On the Defensive Line Justin Francis has impressed enough to earn a spot. Ron Brace has had a good camp, but I’ll take Francis’ upside over Brace’s chronic inconsistency. I couldn’t find room for Gerard Warren but as soon as one lineman goes down he’ll be back. Myron Pryor can’t make the club from the tub. Trevor Scott is on my roster but he needs to stay healthy. Despite the praise he has received I left Jermaine Cunningham off the roster; that was another player I flip flopped back and forth with.

At LB I thought back to last year, and Jeff Tarpinian was Bill Belichick‘s choice then; I don’t see why Niko Koutouvides makes it over him for his special teams play. I’m very hesitant to include Tracy White due to his injury issue but it is hard to overlook the fact that he was on the field for more special teams snaps than any other player with the Pats last year, including ST captain Matthew Slater.

I’m no fan of the choices at safety after Patrick Chung, Steve Gregory and Tavon Wilson so rather than five safeties and five cornerbacks I went with four and six respectively at DB. I’m speculating Alfonzo Dennard gets sent to IR as a medical redshirt this year, which opens up a roster spot for special teams ace Marquice Cole over Malcolm Williams, Josh Barrett and Sergio Brown. If Barrett convinces the coaching staff that he can remain healthy for the first time in three years that might change, but I think BB targeted Cole specifically as a ST replacement among the defensive backs. Will Allen is another possibility but a player that far down on the depth chart needs to play special teams.

 

That’s my guess prediction, what’s yours? Any egregious errors? Try your hand at predicting the Pats 2012 roster using this cool app designed by Stub Stub; post your results here and/or here at Patsfans.com.

 

 

 

 

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