There are two very good reasons why the New England Patriots currently have the best odds to make Super Bowl LI out of the AFC: quarterback Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. There’s also, of course, the fact that most of the team’s top players currently are set to return for next season.
Running back LeGarrette Blount and defensive tackle Akiem Hicks are the team’s top unrestricted free agents. Let’s look at the Patriots’ current depth chart, excluding unrestricted free agents but including restricted free agents (RFAs) and exclusive-rights free agents (URFAs), and their current level of need on a scale of 1 to 10:
Starter: Tom Brady
Reserve: Jimmy Garoppolo
The Patriots will have no problem whatsoever going into 2016 with Brady and Jimmy G. Look for them to add a third quarterback for training camp, though.
Starter: Dion Lewis
Reserves: Brandon Bolden, James White, Tyler Gaffney, Joey Iosefa (future)
Lewis will be the starter next season as long as he comes back healthy after tearing his ACL in November. They could, however, do better than Bolden and Gaffney as the team’s top big backs.
Starter: James Develin (RFA)
Reserve: Joey Iosefa (future)
Develin should return on a restricted free-agent deal. Iosefa serves as depth at both running back and fullback.
Starters: Julian Edelman, Brandon LaFell, Danny Amendola
Reserves: Keshawn Martin, Aaron Dobson, Brian Tyms (RFA), Chris Harper, Matthew Slater, DeAndre Carter (future), Josh Boyce (ERFA)
Another talented receiver should be added through free agency and/or the draft. The Patriots could use a young receiver with speed, size and upside.
Starter: Rob Gronkowski
Reserves: Michael Williams, Scott Chandler, A.J. Derby
The Patriots should add another young pass-catching tight end unless they have high hopes for Derby, who sat out the entire 2015 season, including most of training camp and the offseason workout program, with an injury.
Starters: Nate Solder, Sebastian Vollmer
Reserves: Marcus Cannon, LaAdrian Waddle (RFA), Cameron Fleming (ERFA), Kevin Hughes (ERFA), Keavon Milton (future)
Waddle provides the Patriots with upside, but they still could look to add another player through free agency or the draft.
Starters: Josh Kline, Shaq Mason
Reserves: Tre’ Jackson, Chris Barker (future)
Jackson also has the potential to emerge as a starter this offseason. Expect him and Mason to make a big leap entering their second season.
Starter: Bryan Stork
Reserve: David Andrews
The Patriots should be set at this position for years. Kline also can play center.
Starters: Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich
Reserves: Jabaal Sheard, Geneo Grissom, Trey Flowers, Rufus Johnson (ERFA), Eric Martin, James Vaughters (future)
The Patriots have a year to see what they have in Grissom and Flowers before Jones, Ninkovich and Sheard all are set to hit free agency. Flowers missed most of his rookie year with injuries and healthy scratches.
Starters: Malcom Brown, Alan Branch
Reserves: Dominique Easley, Sealver Siliga (RFA), Chris Jones, Ishmaa’ily Kitchen, Joe Vellano (future)
The Patriots could be set with this group heading into 2016. Depending on what they think of Jones, they could add another pass-rushing interior defensive lineman.
Starters: Jamie Collins, Dont’a Hightower, Jerod Mayo
Reserves: Jonathan Freeny, Dane Fletcher, Darius Fleming, Jon Bostic, Brandon King (ERFA), Kevin Snyder
Mayo is unlikely to be back on his current contract. The Patriots should add another linebacker to compete with Freeny for the No. 3 role if Mayo doesn’t return.
Starters: Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan
Reserves: Justin Coleman (ERFA), Leonard Johnson, Darryl Roberts, Rashaan Melvin (future)
That’s a pretty solid group. They could add another veteran if they aren’t completely confident in Coleman, Johnson and Roberts.
Starters: Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung
Reserves: Duron Harmon, Jordan Richards, Brock Vereen (future), Cedric Thompson (future)
Expect the Patriots to bring back either Nate Ebner or Tavon Wilson, both unrestricted free agents.
Starters: K Stephen Gostkowski, P Ryan Allen, LS Joe Cardona
This group should remain intact for years to come.
Thumbnail photo via Ed Mulholland/USA TODAY Sports Images