For whatever reason, special teamer Matthew Slater hasn't always been a fan favorite since the Patriots selected him in the fifth round of the 2008 draft, but he is coming off of his best season in New England.
Still, is there enough room for him on the roster in 2011?
Slater, who will be lumped with the wide receivers, will compete with Wes Welker, Deion Branch, Julian Edelman, Brandon Tate, Taylor Price and Darnell Jenkins, among others, for five to seven spots. However, Slater's true test will be to prove he's one of the two or, maybe, three best gunners on the team.
Why He'll Make the Team
Bill Belichick loves him. Slater had a disappointing 2009 season and missed all but the final week of training camp in 2010, but he still made the team. It worked out because Slater led the Patriots with 21 special teams tackles, including 12 in his last five games. By many accounts, Slater is the fastest player on the team, and he used that speed to be New England's best gunner.
Why He Might Not Make the Team
It's a numbers game with special teamers, and as valuable as Slater can be in coverage, he doesn't provide enough on offense. Other gunners such as cornerback Devin McCourty, cornerback Kyle Arrington, safety Jarrad Page, safety Sergio Brown, safety Patrick Chung and running back Danny Woodhead offer much more value on offense or defense. Young safeties Josh Barrett and Bret Lockett could also give Slater a run for his roster spot.
Slater and linebacker Tracy White were the Patriots' only two non-specialists (kicker, punter, long snapper) who played the entire season solely on special teams, and the two played different positions. Therefore, Slater's spot on the roster is extremely unique, and there's no guarantee that Belichick will keep two players who are strictly limited to special teams in 2011, particularly with the likelihood that they'll carry three quarterbacks this season. That's what makes this such a tricky prediction. Slater might not have to beat anyone out to make the team, but it could come down to whether or not he shows Belichick he belongs on the 53-man roster.
Every day through Aug. 1, Jeff Howe will spotlight one player who could potentially be on the Patriots' roster bubble.
Saturday, July 23: Defensive lineman Eric Moore
Monday, July 25: Wide receiver Taylor Price