With the regular season looming and cuts just around the corner, it’s only natural to wonder about the final makeup of the 2014 roster. We already did one roster projection earlier this summer, but this time around, instead of providing throwing out the 53 best names, we added some historical context in an attempt to try figure out if the rosters the Patriots have assembled for the opener the last five years can give us any insight on how the Patriots will go about the team-building process for the rest of the summer.
To that end, we have compiled the average number of players at each position for New England’s opening day roster over the previous five seasons. And while there are personnel changes from week to week over the course of the year, hopefully, this blueprint will be able to give us an idea of how this year’s initial roster might take shape when the Patriots have to start making cuts later this month.
(One note: For purposes of this exercise, we’ll count special teams captain Matthew Slater as a special teamer. He usually plays a handful of snaps every season as a receiver, but truthfully, the veteran is a wide receiver in name only at this point in his career.)
Average number of defensive linemen on the opening day roster the last five seasons: 7.8
Roster locks (5): Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich, Vince Wilfork, Tommy Kelly, Dominique Easley
Could still go either way at this point (2): Michael Buchanan, Will Smith
What it means: If history holds, that would leave roughly one spot to choose between Jake Bequette, Sealver Siliga, Chris Jones, Joe Vellano, Zach Moore and Marcus Forston, as well as newcomers Jerel Worthy and Ben Bass. Depending on the severity of the injuries to Siliga and Jones, they could place one or both on injured reserve. (Vellano is an intriguing piece because of his familiarity in the system from last year, as well as the fact that he’s been seen more and more at defensive end when Jones has dropped into coverage.) Regardless, if Smith and Buchanan make the team -- and their chances are pretty good right now -- the guess is the Patriots would need more help on the inside, which would conceivably leave Bequette on the outside looking in. (However, Bequette and Moore might be practice squad candidates at this point, as both are eligible and could be daily easy to slip through waivers.)
Average number of linebackers on the opening day roster the last five seasons: 7.4
Roster locks (4): Jerod Mayo, Jamie Collins, Dont’a Hightower, James Anderson
Could still go either way at this point (2): Chris White, Steve Beauharnais
What it means: Given what’s in camp right now, that would appear to fill out the roster. However, the Patriots haven’t gone into a season with fewer than seven linebackers over the last five seasons. If they do have a seventh, it might be Darius Fleming. (If they do only have six linebackers to start the year, they could carry an extra defensive lineman, which might help relieve some of the logjam at that position.)
Average number of cornerbacks on the opening day roster the last five seasons: 5.4
Roster locks (5): Darrelle Revis, Alfonzo Dennard, Kyle Arrington, Logan Ryan, Malcolm Butler. (Brandon Browner starts the year on the reserve/suspended list and does not count toward the final 53-man roster, at least for the first four weeks.)
Could still go either way at this point: No others
What it means: Browner’s absence could open up an opportunity for another body added for depth purposes over the first four weeks -- a strong finish to the summer could allow rookie Jemea Thomas or Daxton Swanson to make the roster in Browner’s absence, or the Patriots could go with five corners and add a body elsewhere like the defensive line.
Average number of safeties on the opening day roster the last five seasons: 4.2
Roster locks (2): Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon
Could still go either way at this point (3): Patrick Chung, Kanorris Davis, Nate Ebner
What it means: The Patriots might go slightly over the average number this season, at least as it stands right now, as Chung, Davis and Ebner all have special teams value. (The last time they opened the year with five safeties was 2008.) There’s still a couple weeks left, but right now, Tavon Wilson is on the outside looking in. If camp is any indication, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Arrington pop up here from time to time as needed.
Average number of offensive linemen on the opening day roster the last five seasons: 9.4
Roster locks (8): Nate Solder, Logan Mankins, Dan Connolly, Josh Kline, Sebastian Vollmer, Marcus Cannon, Ryan Wendell and Bryan Stork.
Could still go either way at this point (3): Jordan Devey, Jon Halapio, Cameron Fleming.
What it means: The position that takes up the most bodies, and is almost always between eight and 10 players overall. (In 2009, they had 10 offensive linemen to open the year, while the low-water mark was eight in 2012.) We have them down for nine locks at this point, and that’s without counting Halapio, Fleming or Devey, all of whom have practice squad eligibility. While there are few questions about the top of the depth chart, there are some really interesting decisions to be made further down the food chain.
Average number of tight ends on the opening day roster the last five seasons: 3.2
Roster locks (2): Rob Gronkowski, Michael Hoomanwanui.
Could still go either way at this point (2): Steve Maneri, D.J. Williams
What it means: This remains the most fluid position to this point in camp. Much of this could depend on the health of Rob Gronkowski as the season begins -- if Gronkowski is really to roll for Week 1 (and whether or not he’s OK is another question altogether), they might feel comfortable with entering the season with two or three total tight ends. If the Patriots feel that Gronkowski isn’t a full-go for Week 1, there’s the possibility of D.J. Williams or Steve Maneri added as a fourth for depth consideration. And there’s also the possibility that the whole depth chart (with the obvious exception of Gronkowski and Hoomanawanui) could be swept clean and they could start over again.
Average number of running backs on the opening day roster the last five seasons: 5
Roster locks (4): Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, James White, James Develin
Could still go either way at this point (2): Brandon Bolden, Roy Finch
What it means: Running backs have always been a pretty big part of the passing game. Whether it’s been Kevin Faulk, Danny Woodhead or Shane Vereen New England has relied pretty heavily on using running backs in the passing game. That could be one of the reasons why -- on average -- the Patriots have broken camp with more running backs on their roster than wide receivers. (That includes the six backs that were on the roster at the start of the 2013 season.) Also, the running backs in New England have traditionally been able to provide pretty good special teams value the last five seasons -- even if they didn’t necessarily work as returners, individuals like Bolden and BenJarvus Green-Ellis were able to make their bones as grinders on coverage return units, and use those appearances as an entree into the starting lineup. If Vereen, Stevan Ridley, James Develin and (probably) White are in, that means Bolden and Finch could be battling for the final spot on the depth chart, although it’s worth mentioning that the Patriots went with six backs to open the year last season. Finch does have practice squad eligibility, but it might be tough to get him through waivers.
Average number of wide receivers on the opening day roster the last five seasons: 4.8
Roster locks (5): Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Brandon LaFell, Kenbrell Thompkins, Aaron Dobson.
Could still go either way at this point: Josh Boyce, Jeremy Gallon. (Brian Tyms starts the year on the reserve/suspended list and does not count toward the final 53-man roster, at least for the first four weeks.)
What it means: If the Patriots are truly going to break with history when it comes to roster-building, this might be the position where it’s most dramatic. There are already five receivers who figure to be in, as Thompkins has had a very good camp to this summer (which should be enough to put him over the top, despite the fact that he has almost no special teams value whatsoever) and LaFell have come on nicely over the last week. In addition, no one is going to cut a second-round pick like Dobson after only one year. Boyce needs a strong finish to the summer to make the roster -- he’s getting lots of work as a kick returner, and will have his best chance there. Meanwhile, Tyms has nudged his way into the picture over the last week with a series of nice performances that could end up finding him a spot (maybe as a practice squadder) when he comes back from his four-game suspension. And seventh-round pick Jeremy Gallon is an intriguing puzzle piece who lit it up at the collegiate level, but has been sidelined all summer to this point with an injury.
Average number of quarterbacks on the opening day roster the last five seasons: 2.2
Roster locks (3): Tom Brady, Ryan Mallett, Jimmy Garoppolo
Could still go either way at this point: None
What it means: Despite Mallett’s struggles in the preseason opener, he’s still the No. 2 quarterback on this team. If all goes according to plan, Garoppolo will fundamentally take a redshirt season while he learns about life in the NFL. (For what it’s worth, the last time the Patriots carried three quarterbacks for a full season was 2011.)
Average number of special teamers on the opening day roster the last five seasons: 4
Roster locks (4): Matthew Slater, Stephen Gostkowski, Ryan Allen, Danny Aiken
Could still go either way at this point: None
What it means: Zero surprises here. Slater will likely remain special teams captain, while Gostkowski and Allen have had excellent spring and summer workouts.