With the final preseason game in the books and the final round of cuts looming this weekend, here’s one last shot at predicting the final 53-man roster. It’s important to note that when it comes to the 53 players who make the roster after the final cuts are announced on Saturday, that certainly doesn’t mean that will be the same 53 the Patriots will carry into the season opener -- between final cuts and the opener against Buffalo in 2013, New England made 15 personnel moves, not including practice squad transactions.
Quarterback (3): Tom Brady, Ryan Mallett, Jimmy Garoppolo
No surprises at all here. The Patriots go with three quarterbacks for the first time since 2011.
Offensive line (9): Nate Solder, Dan Connolly, Josh Kline, Sebastian Vollmer, Marcus Cannon, Ryan Wendell, Bryan Stork, Jordan Devey, Jon Halapio
The starting tackle spot is secure, but the interior has some personnel questions. In all likelihood, it’ll be some combination of Wendell, Stork and Connolly at center and Kline, Devey and Connolly as the guards. Cannon could play both guard and tackle, and while he’s probably more of a natural guard, do you take him from his backup swing tackle spot -- where he’s looked pretty good at all summer -- and put him as one of your guards? Lots of questions remain between now and the start of the regular season. (Devey and Cannon do have some positional versatility, which helps their cause when it comes to playing time.) At this point, Cameron Fleming is on the outside looking in, likely a practice squadder. His future could be tied to Cannon, in that if the Patriots decided to move Cannon to guard on something resembling a full-time basis, he could end up as the backup swing tackle. And Chris Martin likely will be placed on season-ending IR sometime between now and Saturday.
Tight ends (4): Rob Gronkowski, Michael Hoomanawanui, Tim Wright, James Develin
While he does have some positional versatility and can line up as a traditional fullback, in truth, Develin is a fullback in name only -- he stretches with the tight ends before practice and is seen with the tight ends when positional drills start. His presence allows the Patriots a measure of roster flexibility in that they don’t necessarily need to add another tight end. While much of this projection is based around Gronkowski’s health, we’re going to assume both he and Hoomanawanui are going to be OK for Week 1. Wright looked very impressive in the preseason finale against the Giants with four catches (after only two days of practice), but he’s really a tight end in name only. While others who have watched him say he gets an A for effort, he’s shouldn’t be part of any jumbo packages in the near future. A nice pass-catching complement to the bigger blockers like Hoomananwanui and Develin.
Running backs (4): Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, James White, Brandon Bolden
Both Ridley and Bolden didn’t play in the preseason finale, and while some believe both are on the roster bubble, a veteran who doesn’t play in the fourth preseason game usually is considered a roster lock. Vereen is a slam dunk, while from this viewpoint White has done enough to earn a spot on the final 53. Roy Finch is a question mark who could make it if the Patriots cut somewhere else and likely could be snuck through to the practice squad if needed. Jonas Gray had more touches than anyone else over the course of the preseason (37 carries), and also is a practice squad possibility.
Wide receivers (5): Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Brandon LaFell, Kenbrell Thompkins, Aaron Dobson (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.)
These five have distinguished themselves over the course of the summer as the five best receivers on the roster and deserve to open the regular season with the team. Edelman appears poised to have a terrific year. Josh Boyce and Jeremy Gallon are practice squad candidates, provided they can get through waivers. Tyms’ flexibility because of the ban means the team can postpone a decision on him over the first month of the season. He then could get a chance if someone goes down. If he ends up sticking around, that could provide an opening for Boyce to start the year on the 53-man roster and then force New England to make a call on his future when Tyms returns.
Defensive line (9): Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich, Vince Wilfork, Dominique Easley, Jerel Worthy, Michael Buchanan, Joe Vellano, Sealver Siliga, Chris Jones
No surprises in our first four names, and Worthy has really come on since he was acquired in a deal earlier this month with the Packers. Vellano keeps plugging away and moving up the depth chart, and he remains a good utility line presence. We’re going to go with the idea that Siliga and Chris Jones will be OK to go in Week 1. Zach Moore is a possibility if the injury Buchanan sustained in the preseason finale is serious, but right now he appears bound for the practice squad. If the team is so inclined, Jake Bequette could stick as a practice squadder.
Linebackers (6): Jerod Mayo, Jamie Collins, Dont’a Hightower, Darius Fleming, Steve Beauharnais, Chris White
The first three are no-brainers, while the removal of James Anderson from the roster opens up an opportunity for youngsters Beauharnais and White. Fleming has had a pretty steady summer and has appeared to fit in nicely as a backup.
Cornerbacks (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.)
No surprises here. However, the emergence of Butler has led some to question whether or not he’d be a better choice to replace Browner in the starting lineup over the first four games -- or at least until Dennard proves he’s back to 100 percent health-wise. When Browner comes back, they’ll have to make a corresponding personnel move, and it’s going to be up to Butler to force the Patriots to make changes at another position.
Safeties (4): Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon, Nate Ebner, Kanorris Davis
The tough call here is Davis ahead of Tavon Wilson. (Although Davis does have practice squad eligibility, so the Patriots could flip them if needed.) While the Patriots usually carry four safeties, they might have some roster flexibility as a couple of corners have played safety-type of roles over the course of the summer, including Arrington and Dennard. Not saying it’s a sustainable long-term plan, but it does give them some wiggle room when it comes to roster building.
SPECIAL TEAMS: 4
Special teamers (4): Stephen Gostkowski, Ryan Allen, Danny Aiken, Matthew Slater
No surprises here -- all four have knocked it out of the park this summer.