At this time of year roster predictions are a very popular topic of debate. The top of these rosters are all set; there is little if any doubt on who the starters will be and whether or not they will avoid a meeting with ‘The Turk’ between now and 4:00 pm Tuesday (when the Patriots must trim their roster from the current 84 players down to 75) or again by 6:00 pm one week from today, when they need to reduce the head count to 53 players.

Looking at many of these various mock rosters it is not uncommon for very little thought being given to special team players on the part of those that are compiling their predictions. It’s more than just allotting space for Matthew Slater as an alleged wide receiver. When you look at a fourth or fifth cornerback or safety, or a fifth or sixth linebacker, then special teams play is not only a consideration – it is probably going to be a bigger factor than position play. Even for other backups – say for example a third running back or third safety – how that player performs on special teams (or if he contributes at all to any of those units) can and will often be the deciding factor on whether or not he is still with the club in September.

It’s not just special teams either. Belichick said yesterday that “we have a lot of jobs that have to be done, when you include the kicking game and all the situational things that we want to do, goal-line, short-yardage, all of our sub packages, multiple defensive backs, multiple receivers. All those type things. It’s just trying to find the right people to balance all that out. I think it could go a number of different ways.”

With all that in mind, here is Roster Prediction version 3, after three preseason games.

QB (2): Tom Brady, Ryan Mallett
X: Tim Tebow

While Mallett still lacks accuracy on some of his short throws, he is a much better option than Tebow. Even though the club took the time to install some plays specifically for Tebow, the Pats need that extra roster spot for depth at other positions.

RB/FB (5): Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, LeGarrette Blount, Leon Washington, James Develin
X: Brandon Bolden, George Winn, Ben Bartholomew

Ridley and Vereen were always locks, and now Blount has surprised me and shown enough to make the team; the rest are up in the air. We have seen so little of Leon Washington that there’s not much to go on, and while I’m not convinced that it is worth using a roster spot on a kick returner he does provide insurance as the backup to Shane Vereen. Brandon Bolden has missed some time with an injury and didn’t help his cause any with a fumble Thursday. Winn and Bartholomew have had virtually no playing time in preseason games, which makes me wonder if they are even considerations for the Practice Squad.

FB James Develin isn’t really competing against any of the above; he is in a roster battle with TE Michael Hoomanawanui, who can line up in the backfield. The fact that Rob Gronkowski will not be ready in week one hurts Develin’s case, since no Gronk would mean the Pats may want to start out with one more TE. It’s a close call, but I think Josh McDaniels finally gets his wish for a FB – helped in part by the cap savings with Develin rather than Hoomanawanui.

TE (4): Rob Gronkowski, Zach Sudfeld, Daniel Fells, Jake Ballard
X: Michael Hoomanawanui, Evan Landi

The toughest cut was Hoomanawanui, as outlined above. I wavered with Fells (can’t make the club from the tub) and Ballard (underwhelmed by his performance), but in the end went with this group. Similar to Winn and Bartholomew, Landi is apparently camp fodder, rarely seen on the playing field.

WR (6): Danny Amendola, Kenbrell Thompkins, Aaron Dobson, Josh Boyce, Julian Edelman, Matthew Slater
X: Quentin Sims, Kamar Aiken, Johnathan Haggerty, Mark Harrison (NFI)

What began last spring as a murky mess has now become the clearest picture of all the units on this roster. Thompkins has emerged as a starter, Amendola and the two drafted rookies were locks from day one, and doubts about the role of Julian Edelman have been erased by his performance after recovering from injury – as well as the departure of Michael Jenkins and Donald Jones (how quickly we forget). Aiken looked good earlier and Sims has come on strong lately, but there is no space for either one. Slater continues to show a high level of productivity on special teams.

OT (3): Nate Solder, Logan Mankins, Will Svitek
X: Markus Zusevics, Brice Schwab

Despite having a poor game against the Lions, I think Svitek has outplayed Zusevics – barely – and gets the nod here. I would keep Zusevics as a 9th OL but there just wasn’t room – and if needed Marcus cannon can fill in at tackle as well.

G/C (5): Logan Mankins, Dan Connolly, Ryan Wendell, Marcus Cannon, Matt Stankiewitch
X: Josh Kline, Chris McDonald, Luke Patterson

If Wendell gets a big offer elsewhere like Donald Thomas did, then the Pats will need a new center next year; they may want to keep Stankiewitch around and make sure he doesn’t sign elsewhere. Josh Kline is a top candidate from these roster cuts for the Practice Squad.

DT (3): Vince Wilfork, Tommy Kelly, Joe Vellano
X: Marcus Forston, Anthony Rashad White, Cory Grissom, Armond Armstead (NFI)

After the two starters it is a tossup. I think Vellano has outplayed Forston and White, who have both shown flashes but need to be more consistent. I would have gone with four defensive tackles but the Pats should be getting Armstead back later – and could very well sign a veteran free agent, possibly after week one.

DE (5): Rob Ninkovich, Chandler Jones, Justin Francis, Marcus Benard, Michael Buchanan
X: Jake Bequette, Jermaine Cunningham

Again after the starters it is a tossup, though in this case Francis is definitely ahead of the rest. Bequette has again shown nothing; it’s time to cut our losses. There is a possibility that the Patriots could put Cunningham on the in-season IR, but in order to do so he first has to start on the 53-man roster; perhaps they do that and leave Buchanan off the original roster with the agreement that he’ll be immediately re-signed.

LB (6): Jerod Mayo, Dont’a Hightower, Brandon Spikes, Jamie Collins, Dane Fletcher, Steve Beauharnais
X: Niko Koutouvides, Mike Rivera, Jeff Tarpinian

Koutouvides and Rivera are tough cuts due to their special teams play but Fletcher and Beauharnais are just as good in that aspect of the game, and much better position players.

S (6): Devin McCourty, Adrian Wilson, Duron Harmon, Steve Gregory, Tavon Wilson, Kanorris Davis
X: Nate Ebner

Adrian Wilson did not look good against Detroit, but there’s really no better alternative to take his place. Steve Gregory does not contribute to special team, but he’s still the best option as a coverage safety after McCourty. Tavon Wilson has nearly played his way off the team but he’s still a solid ST performer; he gets one more chance. Kanorris Davis is the surprise to make the team; he is solid on special teams and could eventually replace the soon to be 34 year old Adrian Wilson. Ebner’s role as a special teams ace is no longer needed with the additions of Davis, Harmon and Logan Ryan – though he could be retained for 2014 by going to IR.

CB (5): Aqib Talib, Alfonzo Dennard, Kyle Arrington, Logan Ryan, Marquice Cole
X: Ras-I Dowling, Justin Green, Brandon Jones, LeQuan Lewis

With a third chance to prove his value, Dowling has run out of options. Even with Alfonzo Dennard possibly being suspended for a couple of games, he’s just too unreliable to use a roster spot on.

ST (3): Stephen Gostkowski, Zoltan Mesko, Danny Aiken
X: Ryan Allen, Mike Zupancic

For a while I though Allen was going to win the job at punter, but Mesko has convincingly outperformed the two-time Ray Guy award winner. At long snapper you never hear Aiken’s name called – meaning that he has done nothing to merit consideration for being replaced.

Changes from the last roster prediction:

– Added Gronk to the 53-man roster rather than starting on PUP

– Dropped RB Brandon Bolden

– Added FB James Develin, in place of TE Michael Hoomanawanui

– On the OL replaced Josh Kline with Matt Stankiewitch

– At DT Joe Vellano takes Marcus Forston’s spot on the roster

– Added Kanorris Davis as an 11th defensive back and dropped Markus Zusevics as a 9th offensive lineman

As a reminder, there is a handy tool where you can create your own New England Patriots roster: check out Pats Picker 2013.

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