Here is the third and final semi-futile attempt at predicting who will be part of the New England Patriots roster come Saturday morning. National Football League rules dictate that all teams must reduce their roster size from the current 75 to 53 by 9:00 p.m. Friday night. That means that a total of 800 NFL players will no longer be on an active roster, so you can be very sure that these will by no means be the final roster transaction that the Patriots will make. Just last year for example Darius Butler survived roster cutdowns, but was released a few days later. The Pats could very well be in the market for an offensive tackle, for example. The salaries for veterans are not guaranteed if they are not on the roster in week one. Last year Gerard Warren was an example of a player in this category who was cut but re-signed shortly thereafter. I somewhat expect the same thing happens to Jabar Gaffney this season once he is able to run at full speed again; in fact, I would not be the least bit surprised if he and Gaffney have an agreement in place for his return in the near future.
There are a couple of things that I consider when undergoing one of these speculative exercises. After crossing off three roster spots for a kicker, punter and long snapper you are left with fifty available spots. Presumably there will be an equal number of offensive and defensive players, so that leaves 25 on each side of the ball. The other factor to consider is that on game days there are 46 active players; you want to be sure there are enough at each position that you can reasonably expect to suit up for each game.
Starting with the offense the bare minimum you can expect on the squad is (2) quarterbacks, (4) running backs, (2) tight ends, (5) receivers and (8) offensive linemen. That’s 21 players, so there are only four more slots available. The Pats are presumably keeping three quarterbacks and three tight ends, so now we are down to three alternatives for two roster spots: a 5th running back, a 6th receiver or a 9th offensive lineman. Of those options I think a 9th OL makes the most sense, and a 6th WR is the least likely for right now. However, due to injuries and ineffectiveness I think we may see a bit of a curve ball: ten offensive linemen remain.
QB (3): Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer, Ryan Mallett
We as people tend to overvalue our own possessions, which is why you might for example see somebody trying to sell a five-year old PC for close to what they paid for it – even though you could buy a brand new one which is faster and has a larger hard drive for less money. Some fans of the Patriots have done something similar with Hoyer, speculating that he could fetch a high draft pick once another quarterback elsewhere falters. The reality is that with nothing extraordinary on his resume he’s worth far more to the Pats than he is to anyone else. As for Mallett, he hasn’t been bad enough to kick him to the curb but the hasn’t been good enough to make Hoyer expendable – even though he could walk as a free agent next spring.
With the release of Jabar Gaffney and Donte’ Stallworth, Deion Branch’s roster spot appears to be secure
RB (4): Stevan Ridley, Danny Woodhead, Shane Vereen, Jeff Demps
Ridley should get more snaps than any of the others and Woodhead is valuable as the 3rd-down back. Vereen is hurt again but it’s way too soon to give up on the 2nd-round pick. Demps has shown plenty despite having an extremely limited amount of time to prepare that he stays; his home run ability is a complimentary skill set that none of the others duplicate and has been missing from this team for far too long. Neither Brandon Bolden (3.6 ypc) nor Eric Kettani (2.4 ypc) has shown enough for them to stay; at least one of them will probably end up on the Practice Squad. The experiment at keeping a full-time fullback on the roster will have to wait until next year.
TE (3): Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Daniel Fells
Fells gets healthy enough just in time to avoid going on IR; Visanthe Shiancoe does not. I really wanted to find a way to keep Alex Silvestro on the roster but there are just not enough roster spots. With his versatility and ability to adapt and catch on quickly I could be wrong though. Jesse Holley gets caught in a numbers game.
WR (5): Brandon Lloyd, Wes Welker, Matthew Slater, Julian Edelman, Deion Branch
To paraphrase Mark Twain, the reports of Deion Branch’s impending release are greatly exaggerated. Branch outplayed Donte’ Stallworth and others in practices and games this month. Not being needed to be on the field for virtually every snap like he was in 2011 should make him far more productive when his number is called upon this season. Jeremy Ebert did not do enough on special teams or as a receiver to push Edelman aside. Tyler Urban and the recently signed Kerry Taylor never had a realistic shot at making the squad; look for one of them and/or Ebert to end up on the Practice Squad.
Interior OL (6): Logan Mankins, Dan Connolly, Brian Waters, Ryan Wendell, Nick McDonald, Donald Thomas
Yes, am I one of the few that still firmly believes that Waters will be starting at RG at Tennessee a week from Sunday. Perhaps it won’t be until after Friday in which case another player survives cuts, but what’s the point in including a player on this last that I think will only last for 48 hours? McDonald is the one player from this group I feel the least confident about. Even though I thought he was the best backup G/C on the team in 2011 he missed a lot of training camp with injuries – and we saw what happened to others that were injured (e.g., Spencer Larsen, Josh Barrett, Will Allen, Jabar Gaffney).
At the start of camp I thought Thomas was an extreme longshot but he seized the opportunity and played well in the beginning, but tailed off a bit at the end. Does the fact McDonald did not even make the trip to play the Giants mean he is a goner, or do they covet his versatility so much that they wanted him home rehabbing? And did the Pats use him at tackle just because they needed another body for drills, or do they view him as being too undersized to consider playing there? Has Thomas got enough reps at center that the Pats are okay with him there? I don’t have an answer to those questions but I’m guessing that McDonald is in and Thomas is out if the Pats go with nine linemen. I think due to the current circumstances of injuries and ineffectiveness the Pats start out with ten offensive linemen so both survive cuts – for now. Two other camp bodies, Derek Dennis and Dustin Waldron, never really had a legitimate shot.
OT (4): Nate Solder, Sebastian Vollmer, Marcus Cannon, Matt Kopa
Yes, Cannon has been a disappointment but it’s too soon to give up on him; keep in mind this is his first training camp. Kopa makes it as my 4th tackle rather than McDonld at this position or Darrion Weems, who had some productive practices when he first arrived but didn’t get much of a chance during games. Jeremiah Warren could end up on the Practice Squad.
DT (4): Vince Wilfork, Kyle Love, Brandon Deaderick, Ron Brace
I didn’t give Brace much of any chance to make the team a month ago but between his play, the departure of Jonathan Fanene and Myron Pryor still being sidelined, Brace is in. Justin Francis started strong, disappeared and then improved towards the end of preseason. The undrafted free agent would likely be inactive for every game; Brace pushes him off the roster. If or when an injury occurs re-signing Gerard Warren is another option. Francis and Marcus Forston have the inside track over Aaron Lavarias and Marcus Harrison for one or two Practice Squad spots if nobody else signs them.
DE (5): Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich, Jermaine Cunningham, Jake Bequette, Trevor Scott
Cunningham has earned his way on to the team after being prematurely cut by many. Trevor Scott has played well all month in both practice and in games.
LB (6): Dont’a Hightower, Brandon Spikes, Jerod Mayo; Bobby Carpenter, Jeff Tarpinian, Mike Rivera
Mike Rivera didn’t really do anything special for most of camp but he was all over the place against the Giants, in on twelve tackles. Whether or not that was enough to make the cut is hard to say. Niko Koutouvides is a decent special teamer but easily replaceable. I’m really tempted to go with five linebackers and an extra defensive lineman like Francis or Forston, but five just seems too few. I know Ninkovich could move back in an emergency but he’s been pretty much exclusively at LDE this summer. Tracy White has been injured and even though he had the most ST snaps on the team in 2011 there are other ST-aces that can replace him, who are better linebackers. Of course now that I said that he’ll surely make the roster over one of the other backups, Tarpinian, Rivera or Carpenter.
CB (6): Ras-I Dowling, Devin McCourty, Kyle Arrington; Marquice Cole, Alfonzo Dennard, Malcolm Williams
Another position that I really struggled with on the final spots. Sterling Moore could easily replace Cole, Dennard or Williams, or the Pats could go with five corners as well; that would leave one of those three (most likely Williams) off the roster.
S (4): Patrick Chung, Steve Gregory, Tavon Wilson, Nate Ebner
Ebner was of course the surprise story of training camp. If the Pats go with a fifth safety is it Sergio Brown for his superior special teams play, or James Ihedigbo who is better than Brown at safety? Personally I think I’d prefer to see another cornerback on the field, which is why I went with six corners and four safeties; in today’s pass happy NFL coverage is more important. Derrick Martin already has his bags packed.
What changes would you make? There are plenty of players that I don’t have a strong conviction about; some included are far from being locks, and there are plenty left off that I could easily be wrong about.
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