The New England Patriots look primed for another division-winning season, but the team has major voids in depth for the second straight year.
Narrowing down a 53-man roster projection typically is a difficult task. After first glance, it’s normal to wind up with 56 or 57 players making the roster, but after going through the easy cuts in NESN.com’s first 53-man roster projection of the 2014 season, we came out with exactly 53 players.
There’s still time to fix some of those depth needs before training camp, however. There are useful players available at the Patriots’ biggest areas of need — safety, tight end and defensive end.
In: Tom Brady, Ryan Mallett, Jimmy Garoppolo (3)
Out: No one
Garoppolo still has a chance to push out Mallett during training camp, but the rookie quarterback didn’t show enough this spring for the Patriots to be comfortable carrying him as the lone backup signal-caller.
In: Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, James White, Brandon Bolden (4)
Out: Roy Finch, Stephen Houston, Jonas Gray
Bolden is a core special-teamer, which should allow him to play out the final year of his three-year contract. Undrafted rookies Houston and Finch had some flashes during the spring, so they could compete for the fourth — or a fifth — spot at running back.
In: Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Aaron Dobson, Kenbrell Thompkins, Josh Boyce, Brandon LaFell (6)
Out: Jeremy Gallon, Jeremy Johnson, Reese Wiggins, Wilson Van Hooser
Rookie Jeremy Gallon didn’t do nearly enough during the spring to beat out Thompkins, Boyce or LaFell. Gallon’s biggest competition for a roster spot might be Boyce, who dealt with a knee injury at the end of minicamp.
In: Rob Gronkowski, Michael Hoomanawanui, James Develin (3)
Out: Justin Jones, Asa Watson, D.J. Williams
Unless the Patriots sign a veteran free agent like Dustin Keller or Jermichael Finley, they likely won’t play with many two-tight end sets. That means the Patriots only need to carry three players at the position. Williams likely won’t get scooped up right away if he’s released in September, so he could be back at some point in the regular season. Watson and Jones didn’t show enough in minicamp to grab a roster spot just yet.
In: Nate Solder, Logan Mankins, Ryan Wendell, Sebastian Vollmer, Bryan Stork, Jon Halapio, Marcus Cannon, Cameron Fleming (8)
Out: Josh Kline, Dan Connolly, Chris Barker, Braxton Cave, Jordan Devey
Josh Kline was a difficult cut, since he’s received a lot of reps in minicamp with Mankins injured. I can’t see the team cutting Halapio, Stork or Fleming, so Kline could be competing with Wendell for a spot on the roster.
In: Vince Wilfork, Tommy Kelly, Dominique Easley, Sealver Siliga, Chris Jones (5)
Out: Armond Armstead, Seali’i Epenesa, Marcus Forston, L.T. Tuipulotu, Joe Vellano
Given Wilfork, Kelly and Easley’s recent injury histories, it would be wise to carry extra depth at defensive tackle. Armstead still is nowhere to be found, and, as they say, you can’t make the club from the tub.
In: Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich, Michael Buchanan, Will Smith (4)
Out: Jake Bequette, Zach Moore
It would be a good idea to grab some more depth at this position before training camp. Jason Babin and Daneil Te’o-Nesheim are the most intriguing players available. Easley can play some defensive end if the Patriots suffer any injuries, though.
In: Jerod Mayo, Dont’a Hightower, Jamie Collins, James Anderson, Steve Beauharnais, Chris White (6)
Out: Ja’Gared Davis, Darius Fleming, Cameron Gordon, Josh Hull, Taylor McCuller, Deontae Skinner
The Patriots always like to carry some extra linebackers, since they make quality special teams players.
In: Darrelle Revis, Logan Ryan, Alfonzo Dennard, Kyle Arrington, Daxton Swanson, Jemea Thomas (6)
Out: Malcolm Butler, Justin Green, Travis Hawkins
The Patriots could elect to carry six cornerbacks and four safeties to start the season, since Thomas can play either position. Brandon Browner is not on this list because he starts the season with a four-game suspension.
In: Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon, Patrick Chung, Nate Ebner (4)
Out: Kanorris Davis, Shamiel Gary, Tavon Wilson
The Patriots lack depth at this position, but in a pinch, Ryan or Thomas could move from cornerback to safety. Ebner won’t contribute much on defense, but he’s a core special-teamer. The Patriots also could bring back Steve Gregory if the lack of depth at safety is concerning later in the summer.
Stephen Gostkowski, Ryan Allen, Danny Aiken, Matthew Slater (4)
No surprises among the special teams players.
Dan Connolly, Armond Armstead, Josh Kline
The Patriots could save $3 million against their cap by releasing Connolly, who struggled last season. Armstead could land on the non-football illness list for the second straight year if he can’t return for training camp.
Roy Finch, Stephen Houston, Jeremy Gallon, Justin Jones, Josh Kline, Zach Moore, Cameron Gordon, Justin Green
It’s unlikely all eight of those players will pass through waivers and make it to the practice squad, but this is the ideal scout team after seeing the team perform in minicamp.