Patriots Depth Chart Grades: Linebacker, Tight End Dangerously Shallow

Garrett Graham, Dont'a Hightower

The New England Patriots will have issues if the injury bug bites again next season.

The Patriots were expected to upgrade at tight end, safety and linebacker, and if they drafted a successor for Tom Brady at quarterback, then surely backup Ryan Mallett would be moved. Well, the Patriots largely ignored those three positions of need, and their quarterback meetings might be crowded during the 2014 season, since they drafted Jimmy Garoppolo in the second round but held onto Mallett.

There’s still time to add players at positions that lack depth, but time and talent are running out. Organized team activities start next week, so let’s grade the Patriots’ depth at each position.

QUARTERBACK

Tom Brady, Ryan Mallett, Jimmy Garoppolo

Garoppolo is a considerable improvement over last year’s third-stringer, Tim Tebow, and the rookie hasn’t even taken an NFL snap yet. Mallett already knows the offense, but he could get passed by Garoppolo before the summer is over.

Depth: B+

RUNNING BACK

Stevan Ridley, Brandon Bolden, James White, Jonas Gray, Stephen Houston

The Patriots lost LeGarrette Blount in free agency, but they were able to replace him with more versatile options like White and Houston, both of whom can catch out of the backfield. The Patriots might want to pick up another veteran who can compete for the backup role behind Ridley, however. Michael Bush and Ronnie Brown still are available in free agency.

Depth: B

THIRD-DOWN BACK

Shane Vereen, James White, Brandon Bolden, Roy Finch

The Patriots were forced to use Bolden when Vereen went down with a broken wrist in 2013. White fits the third-down role much better behind Vereen, who is entering a contract year.

Depth: A-

FULLBACK

James Develin, Michael Hoomanawanui

The Patriots reportedly worked out Brian Leonard, who would be a great fit to give Develin a run for his roster spot, on Tuesday.

Depth: C

WIDE RECEIVER

Julian Edelman, Aaron Dobson, Brandon LaFell, Kenbrell Thompkins, Matthew Slater, Mark Harrison, Greg Orton, Reggie Dunn, Jeremy Deering

The Patriots have plenty of options when it comes to outside receivers, but Dobson or Thompkins will have to take major strides to emerge as No. 1 options at the “X” receiver role. LaFell is a fine backup option if Dobson or Thompkins can’t take the next step.

Depth: B-

SLOT RECEIVER

Danny Amendola, Josh Boyce, Jeremy Gallon, Derrick Johnson

Edelman can be added in here, too, but he’ll be a starter in the “Z” receiver role. The Patriots, per usual, have great, scrappy depth in the slot.

Depth: A-

TIGHT END

Rob Gronkowski, Michael Hoomanawanui, D.J. Williams, Justin Jones, Asa Watson

The Patriots treated this position in the offseason like Gronkowski is a lock for 16 games plus the playoffs. He’s not, though, and it would make a lot of sense for the Patriots to sign available free agent Dustin Keller, if his knee is healthy.

Depth: C

OFFENSIVE TACKLE

Nate Solder, Sebastian Vollmer, Marcus Cannon, Cameron Fleming, Jordan Devey, R.J. Mattes

The Patriots are stacked at tackle after adding Fleming in the fourth round of the draft. He should be an improvement over last year’s swing tackle, Will Svitek.

Depth: A

GUARD

Logan Mankins, Dan Connolly, Marcus Cannon, Josh Kline, Jon Halapio, Chris Barker, R.J. Mattes

The Patriots boosted their depth along the entire offensive line this offseason. Halapio has a chance to jump Kline, Cannon and Connolly for a starting spot.

Depth: A-

CENTER

Ryan Wendell, Bryan Stork, Josh Kline, Braxston Cave

The Patriots re-signed Wendell but also pushed the three-year starter by selecting Stork in the fourth round of the draft.

Depth: B+

DEFENSIVE END

Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich, Will Smith, Michael Buchanan, Jake Bequette, Zach Moore

If Smith is healthy and still effective, he should be the rotational/situational pass rusher for the Patriots. Buchanan has a chance to earn that role if he can add some strength over the offseason, however. Neither player is a guarantee to consistently produce pressure.

Depth: B-

DEFENSIVE TACKLE

Vince Wilfork, Tommy Kelly, Dominique Easley, Sealver Siliga, Chris Jones, Armond Armstead, Joe Vellano, Marcus Forston

The Patriots’ depth at defensive tackle is incredible if Wilfork, Kelly, Easley and Armstead are healthy. There are one or two too many question marks at this position, however.

Depth: B

LINEBACKER

Jerod Mayo, Dont’a Hightower, Jamie Collins, Steve Beauharnais, Darius Fleming, Chris White, Josh Hull, Cameron Gordon, Ja’Gared Davis, Deontae Skinner, Taylor McCuller

Linebacker might be the Patriots’ most shallow position. The reserves have played just 54 career snaps on defense. Beauharnais, White and Hull only played one defensive snap each in 2013. Fleming has potential as a former fifth-round pick, but torn ACLs in consecutive seasons derailed his career. The Patriots are lucky they have quality starters — now they just need to stay healthy.

Depth: C-

CORNERBACK

Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner, Alfonzo Dennard, Logan Ryan, Kyle Arrington, Jemea Thomas, Justin Green, Travis Hawkins, Malcolm Butler

Cornerback is the Patriots’ deepest position by far. They should feel comfortable starting their top five players at the position.

Depth: A+

SAFETY

Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon, Logan Ryan, Patrick Chung, Tavon Wilson, Jemea Thomas, Nate Ebner, Jeremy Deering, Shamiel Gary, Kanorris Davis

If Ryan moves to safety, it slightly weakens the Patriots’ depth at cornerback, but New England might need the second-year pro to change positions. Chung isn’t an ideal third safety on the depth chart.

Depth: C+

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