It’s vacation time around the NFL, meaning OTAs and minicamps are through.
The Patriots finished up their offseason schedule on Thursday with a satisfied Bill Belichick cancelling the third day of the three-day minicamp. Now, Tom Brady and his teammates will have about six weeks to relax and rest up before reporting back to Gillette Stadium at the end of July for the start of training camp.
The Patriots’ offseason program left NESN.com NFL writers Luke Hughes and Doug Kyed with plenty of leftover thoughts and opinions on key position battles and players. So, they decided this was as good a time as any to take another stab at an early projection of the 53-man roster.
There were some tough cuts, a few disagreements, including the future of Tim Tebow, and even an undrafted rookie on the roster. So, take a stroll through and see what the eventual 53-man roster could look like.
Kyed: Tom Brady, Ryan Mallett (2)
That’s right, Tim Tebow is not making the squad. I think the Patriots value the extra spot on the roster too much for Tebow to squeak in there. He likely won’t impress enough at quarterback during training camp to force the Patriots to keep him around.
Hughes: Brady, Mallett, Tim Tebow (3)
Brady and Mallett, enough said. Tebow, though? I’m not so certain. I jostled back and forth on him, but I think he can earn himself a spot. Bill Belichick knew the media storm Tebow would cause and he signed him anyway. Mallett could be on his way out after 2013, and the Patriots may be looking for Brady’s backup for the future. A year with Josh McDaniels and behind Brady could give Tebow just the time and resources he needs to figure things out.
Kyed: Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, Leon Washington, Brandon Bolden (4)
LaGarrette Blount was the tough cut. Bolden is recovering from a foot ailment, but should prove to be the better player when he can get on the field and carry the ball again. I could see another running back brought in before training camp to give both players a run for their spot. It could also be a smaller, shiftier back to compete with Washington
Hughes: Ridley, Vereen, Washington, LeGarrette Blount (4)
I think Bolden still has a great chance to make the team, but his injury has him behind the eight ball thus far. Blount has been something of a roller coaster with the Patriots so far, making really nice plays and some bonehead mistakes. He’s got the upper hand, for now, but Bolden could easily turn the tables in camp.
Kyed: Danny Amendola, Aaron Dobson, Julian Edelman, Josh Boyce, Michael Jenkins, Matthew Slater (6)
Jenkins is in and Donald Jones is out. This could very well change before the season starts, but for now, the healthy player who has been hooking up with Brady has a better shot than Jones, who missed time during minicamp.
Hughes: Amendola, Dobson, Boyce, Jenkins, Slater, Lavelle Hawkins, Donald Jones (7)
Seven is a little heavy at the receiver position, but with so many young receivers it makes sense to carry an extra. Plus, Slater is really more of a specialist who provides added depth at the position. Edelman was my toughest cut, but, just like with Bolden, until he shows he’s healthy and capable, I’m going with the guys who have done it. Hawkins has been impressive and Jones has seemed to pick up the offense pretty quick so far.
Kyed: Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Jake Ballard, Zach Sudfeld (4)
If Gronkowski starts the season on the PUP, then Michael Hoomanawanui gets in. But for now, until we know the extent of Gronkowski’s recovery, the All-Pro stays in.
Hughes: Gronkowski, Hernandez, Ballard, Sudfeld (4)
Echo! Echo! I like Hooman, a lot in fact, but I see the Patriots settling with four tight ends this time around and Sudfeld gets the finals spot over both he and Daniel Fells. But, if Gronk hits the PUP, which is likely, then Hooman should make the team.
Kyed: Nate Solder, Logan Mankins, Ryan Wendell, Dan Connolly, Sebastian Vollmer, Will Svitek, Marcus Cannon, Markus Zusevics, Nick McDonald (9)
Not much changes here from the last 53-man roster projection except that McDonald is in and Matt Stankiewitch is out. I’m just going more chalk here than I had in the past.
Hughes: Solder, Vollmer, Mankins, Connolly, Wendell, Zusevics, Cannon, Kevin Haslam (8)
They kept Zusevics around for a reason last season and he seems like the better option over Svitek at this point. Haslam gets the nod over Svitek and McDonald, too, because of his athleticism. He can be a solid interior backup for Mankins and Connolly.
Kyed: Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich, Justin Francis, Michael Buchanan, Jermaine Cunningham (5)
After seeing some of what the Patriots were running in OTAs and minicamp, it makes sense to keep Cunningham over Jake Bequette, who I had making the team before. Cunningham looks bigger this offseason, which means he could serve a very versatile role.
Hughes: Jones, Ninkovich, Buchanan, Cunningham, Francis, Jake Bequette (6)
It may seem there’s a bit of an overload at defensive end, but the versatility of Cunning ham and Francis to move inside makes that decision easier. Bequette was one of the final few in, just barely eking out CFL-exile Jason Vega. Ninkovich has been mentoring Bequette throughout the offseason and I think that makes the difference.
Kyed: Vince Wilfork, Tommy Kelly, Armond Armstead, Marcus Forston (4)
Kelly was plugged in next to Wilfork as the starter during the Patriots’ offseason workouts. Armstead has a ton of promise and could be just what the team needs to get some pressure from the inside on passing downs.
Hughes: Wilfork, Kelly, Armstead (3)
Cunningham’s ability to play on the interior allows the Patriots to go thinner at defensive tackle. Kelly and Armstead should give the pass rush a significant boost, all which could make Forston a goner.
Kyed: Jerod Mayo, Brandon Spikes, Dont’a Hightower, Jamie Collins, Dane Fletcher, Steve Beauharnais (6)
The Patriots found some nice depth at linebacker this year. Mayo, Spikes and Hightower will likely be starters, but Collins could push for a big role this year if he can translate his athleticism into production on the field. Having Fletcher back is a plus, since he has the versatility to play inside or outside in either a 3-4 or 4-3.
Hughes: Mayo, Spikes, Hightower, Collins, Fletcher (5)
Spikes may not be high on Belichick’s list right now, but he’s just too talented to do without. Fletcher’s return adds depth to the group, and Adrian Wilson‘s ability to fill in at linebacker makes Beauharnais expendable.
Kyed: Aqib Talib, Alfonzo Dennard, Kyle Arrington, Logan Ryan, Ras-I Dowling (5)
Dowling looks impressive while healthy, but we’ll see how long that lasts. As long as he stays healthy, he should make the team as great depth outside.
Hughes: Talib, Arrington, Dowling, Dennard, Ryan (5)
Dennard’s injury doesn’t seem too serious after all, and Dowling has looked terrific so far. Marquice Cole was a tough cut, but Ryan is more than capable on the corner and safety Duron Harmon can fill his role on special teams.
Kyed: Devin McCourty, Tavon Wilson, Adrian Wilson, Steve Gregory, Duron Harmon (5)
The Patriots have some nice depth at safety this year, too. Nate Ebner or Marquice Cole, who spent some time at safety, could push to make the roster in special teams roles.
Hughes: McCourty, Adrian Wilson, Tavon Wilson, Gregory, Harmon (5)
Gregory could be hard-pressed for a spot, especially if Ebner improves in year two. But with the way things look now, Gregory should find his way onto the roster pretty easily.
Kyed: Steve Gostkowski, Zoltan Mesko, Danny Aiken (3)
For now, the incumbents are making the team.
Hughes: Gostkowski, Mesko, Aiken (3)
They’re all pretty safe, but Mesko better not sleep on Ryan Allen.
LAST THREE IN
Kyed: Jermaine Cunningham, Nick McDonald, Steve Beauharnais
Hughes: Donald Jones, Jake Bequette, Kevin Haslam
LAST THREE OUT
Kyed: Jake Bequette, Tim Tebow, Michael Hoomanawanui
Hughes: Julian Edelman, Marquice Cole, Marcus Forston