By 9 p.m. on Friday, every team in the NFL has to be down to 53 players. While there will be movement after the deadline -- remember that the Patriots picked up Brian Waters, Danny Aiken, A.J. Edds and Dan Gronkowski between cuts and the start of the regular season -- here’s a look at what we believe the New England roster will look like when all is said and done Friday night.
Quarterback (3): Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer, Ryan Mallett. No surprises. Bill Belichick talked about different possibilities when it came to carrying two, three or four quarterbacks in his conference call with the media on Thursday, but considering how the rest of the positions are shaking out and what everyone has done this season, it feels about right.
Running backs (5): Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, Jeff Demps, Danny Woodhead, Brandon Bolden. Bolden has performed too well to risk losing him via waivers, so he sticks on the final 53. Ridley is secure in his status as the No. 1 back and Vereen and Demps were dinged up over the last two preseason games, and while there’s no sense of any long-term worries with either of them at this point, their situations bear watching when it comes to roster building. (Colleague Mike Petraglia believes the Patriots could take advantage of the new IR rules with Demps, where they would place him on IR this weekend, but bring him back at some point later this season.)
Wide receiver (5): Brandon Lloyd, Wes Welker, Deion Branch, Julian Edelman, Matthew Slater. No changes here from last week, as the top three will get the majority of reps at this spot in 2012. In a perfect world, Lloyd would have had more on-field work with Brady over the course of the preseason, but that is a minor worry.
Tight end (3): Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Daniel Fells. Last week, we had Visanthe Shiancoe making the final 53, but injuries leave him on the IR.
Offensive line (9): Nate Solder, Logan Mankins, Dan Connolly, Dan Koppen, Brian Waters, Sebastian Vollmer, Marcus Cannon, Ryan Wendell, Donald Thomas. The same group we had previously, but you still have to wonder whether or not Koppen has played his last game for the Patriots. And no one is completely sure about the Waters’ situation, but I’ve included him here, just in case. If he’s a no-go, put Nick McDonald on the roster.
Defensive tackle (4): Vince Wilfork, Kyle Love, Brandon Deaderick, Ron Brace. No changes from last week, as these guys have been locked and loaded as a group since the release of Gerard Warren and Jonathan Fanene. Expect Belichick to keep Warren on speed dial in case of emergency/injury.
Defensive end (5): Jermaine Cunningham, Chandler Jones, Jake Bequette, Rob Ninkovich, Trevor Scott. Cunningham did enough in the preseason finale to make it onto the roster. As strange as it sounds, while Justin Francis probably outperformed Bequette, there’s more of a chance of getting Francis through to the practice squad through waivers. Not an easy cut. Look for Bequette to work in a development role this season, meaning that more often than not, he’ll be inactive on game day.
Linebacker (6): Jerod Mayo, Brandon Spikes, Dont’a Hightower, Bobby Carpenter, Jeff Tarpinian, Tracy White. The first four are easy, and the last two would have also been a cinch if White and Dane Fletcher were healthy. But injuries have made this one a toughie. If he’s healthy, White brings enough special teams value, while Tarpinian beats out Mike Rivera and Niko Koutouvides for the last spot. (If White can’t go, or if he ends up on IR, then Koutouvides gets the nod because of his special teams skills.)
Cornerback (6): Devin McCourty, Ras-I Dowling, Kyle Arrington, Marquice Cole, Sterling Moore, Alfonzo Dennard. Moore has struggled at times this season, but he stays on the roster at the expense of James Ihedigbo, who could ultimately find his way back to Foxboro if there’s an injury somewhere in the secondary. While Dennard hasn’t out much on film this summer because of injury, he’s too intriguing a prospect to try and sneak through waivers to the practice squad.
Safety (4): Pat Chung, Steve Gregory, Nate Ebner, Tavon Wilson. Ihedigbo just misses out here, but could make it if the Patriots decide to carry five linebackers, or feel that Moore hasn’t performed adequately.
Special teams (3): Kicker Stephen Gostkowski, punter Zoltan Mesko, long snapper Danny Aiken. No surprises here, although as we mentioned before, if Aiken stumbles, expect the Patriots to at least inquire about the availability of Lonie Paxton, who was recently cut loose by the Broncos.