The New England Patriots eliminated an extra spot on their 53-man roster when they selected Jimmy Garoppolo No. 62 overall in the 2014 NFL draft.
The Patriots have carried just two quarterbacks the last two seasons — Tom Brady and Ryan Mallett — so by adding the rookie, head coach Bill Belichick created one more tough decision when rosters have to be cut from 90 to 53 players by the end of training camp.
Perhaps the Patriots’ toughest decision will come at wide receiver, where there is a surplus of young talent. Rookies and second-year contributors could find themselves on the outside looking in after the Patriots signed free agent Brandon LaFell over the offseason.
Check out our second crack at projecting the Patriots’ 53-man roster:
QUARTERBACK (3): Tom Brady, Ryan Mallett, Jimmy Garoppolo
Garoppolo has struggled as a rookie in his first NFL training camp, so the Patriots will need to keep Mallett around for another year. Mallett, in the final year of his contract, is having a strong summer and should be a suitable backup for Brady.
RUNNING BACK (4): Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, James White, James Develin
White is versatile enough to back up both Ridley and Vereen, and the Patriots should be able to store either Stephen Houston or Jonas Gray on their practice squad. Bolden, Houston or Gray could stick on the 53-man roster, but they haven’t shined in nearly two weeks of practices so far.
WIDE RECEIVER (6): Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Kenbrell Thompkins, Aaron Dobson, Brandon LaFell, Matthew Slater
There’s going to be one odd man out in the receiver group, and in this roster projection, that’s second-year pro Josh Boyce, who has had trouble staying healthy and offers a similar skill set to Edelman and Amendola. The Patriots could store Boyce on short-term injured reserve, but they can only use that roster exemption once during the season. If Dobson can’t get healthy before the season, he could be stored on PUP for the first six weeks of the season, allowing Boyce to crack the roster. Rookie Jeremy Gallon hasn’t practiced yet, so for now, we’ll assume he stays on the PUP list.
TIGHT END (3): Rob Gronkowski, Michael Hoomanawanui, D.J. Williams
It’s possible that the No. 3 tight end isn’t on the Patriots’ roster just yet. Last year, the team signed Matthew Mulligan once training camp was over to fill that role. Williams will have a chance to prove himself in the preseason games with Gronkowski and Hoomanawanui ailing.
OFFENSIVE LINE (9): Nate Solder, Logan Mankins, Ryan Wendell, Marcus Cannon, Sebastian Vollmer, Cameron Fleming, Josh Kline, Jon Halapio, Bryan Stork
By keeping just three tight ends and four running backs, the Patriots can carry nine offensive linemen. Solder, Mankins, Wendell and Vollmer likely will start, and Cannon, Kline, Halapio and Stork will compete for the right guard role. Dan Connolly is the slightly surprising cut in this group, but he’s carrying a $4 million salary that doesn’t match his skill set.
DEFENSIVE END (4): Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich, Michael Buchanan, Zach Moore
The Patriots could elect to run more 3-4 looks this season, which would put less of a necessity on carrying a veteran like Will Smith. The Patriots would have trouble sneaking Moore, a seventh-round pick, onto the practice squad, and Smith likely could be re-signed as a free agent if injuries occur. Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins have seen an increased role as pass rushers in training camp, and they could see reps at outside linebacker and defensive end during the season. Moore has versatility to play multiple positions in a 3-4 and 4-3.
DEFENSIVE TACKLE (5): Vince Wilfork, Tommy Kelly, Dominique Easley, Sealver Siliga, Chris Jones
If the Patriots run a 3-4, they’ll need to carry some big bodies, allowing Chris Jones to crack the roster. The Patriots also would be wise to carry five defensive tackles since Wilfork, Kelly and Easley are coming off injuries.
LINEBACKER (6): Jerod Mayo, Dont’a Hightower, Jamie Collins, James Anderson, Steve Beauharnais, Chris White
Mayo, Hightower and Collins are guaranteed roster spots, but the other two or three slots at linebacker are up for grabs between Anderson, Beauharnais, White, undrafted rookies Cameron Gordon, James Morris, Deonate Skinner and Taylor McCuller, and first-year pros Darius Fleming and Ja’Gared Davis. A strong preseason from any of those players would go a long way toward ensuring a roster spot. Anderson and Beauharnais have impressed in practice.
CORNERBACK (5): Darrelle Revis, Alfonzo Dennard, Logan Ryan, Kyle Arrington, Daxton Swanson
Revis, Dennard, Ryan and Arrington are set, but the Patriots will need to carry a fifth cornerback while Brandon Browner serves a four-game suspension. That roster spot will come down to Swanson, first-year pro Justin Green and rookies Malcolm Butler, Jemea Thomas and Travis Hawkins. Swanson, Butler and Hawkins have had impressive moments in training camp, and any of those three players could line up at safety in a pinch.
SAFETY (5): Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon, Patrick Chung, Nate Ebner, Tavon Wilson
The Patriots don’t have an ideal group to work with at safety, but it might not matter who’s playing next to McCourty with such a stacked depth chart at cornerback. The fifth safety, like the third tight end, might not be on the Patriots’ roster yet. Many players will be cut Aug. 31, and among those defensive backs could be a better option than Ebner or Wilson. Special-teamer Kanorris Davis could compete with Ebner for a roster spot, but Ebner can contribute more as a defender.
SPECIAL TEAMS (3): Stephen Gostkowski, Ryan Allen, Danny Aiken
The Patriots didn’t bring in competition for Gostkowski or Allen this offseason. For now, Aiken is beating out the backup long snapper, Tyler Ott, but the Harvard product will have a chance to compete in preseason.
SUSPENDED (1): Brandon Browner
Browner begins the season with a four-game suspension for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy.
Last three in: Williams, Moore, Swanson
The Patriots have some tough decisions to make at tight end, defensive end and cornerback.
Last three out: Bolden, Connolly, Smith
Three veterans find themselves on the outs for now, but there’s still a month before the Patriots’ season begins.