Eighteen days. That’s all that’s left of Patriots’ training camp — three exhibition games and 10 or 11 days of practice for Bill Belichick to get his starters ready for the regular season and sort through the roster to pick his 53-man squad.
There’s a good chance the final 53-man roster will include players currently in camp with other teams. But for now, here’s how we see it unfolding (practice squad players marked with an asterisk):
OFFENSE (25 players)
Quarterbacks (3): Tom Brady, Ryan Mallett, Jimmy Garoppolo.
Just missed the cut: None.
Analysis: There’s some thought, following Thursday night’s game in Washington, that the Patriots will cut Ryan Mallett, but that’s too risky. Garoppolo looked good in the second half, but his first 2½ weeks of training camp were shaky, at best, and he needs a lot of seasoning before he’s ready to play in the NFL. The Patriots kept three quarterbacks in Mallett’s rookie year, and should probably do the same this year. Mallett’s cap number is less than $1 million, so it won’t cost much to keep a veteran backup around in case something happens to Brady. But this is definitely a situation that bears watching if Garoppolo continues to improve.
Running backs (4): Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, James White, FB James Develin.
Just missed the cut: Brandon Bolden, *Jonas Gray, Stephen Houston.
Analysis: The Patriots will likely carry a few extra players at other positions (such as quarterback), and need to cut back elsewhere. The running back position can afford to take a hit, particularly because Develin offers such great flexibility as a fullback and tight end. Ridley, Vereen and White are locks, and provide a nice, three-headed running back committee. Bolden has little chance of sticking around — White was drafted to fill his role. It’s possible either Gray (who has shown good burst and power in camp) or Houston sticks around in the LeGarrette Blount role, but the Patriots can easily stash one or more running backs on the practice squad in case something happens to one of their top three.
Wide receivers (6): Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Brandon LaFell, Aaron Dobson, Kenbrell Thompkins, Matthew Slater.
Just missed the cut: *Brian Tyms, Jeremy Gallon, Josh Boyce.
Analysis: Four of the receiver spots are locked up in Edelman, Amendola, LaFell and Slater, who is more of a special teams contributor than receiver. Dobson has a roster spot waiting for him if he can get healthy, but his situation bears watching because it’s possible he begins the season on the physically unable to perform list, which would keep him out a minimum of six games. Thompkins snags the last receiver spot, but his inconsistency catching the football, lack of special teams skills, and team-friendly contract could make him a surprise cut. We like Tyms for the practice squad for now (and either the practice squad or injured reserve for Gallon), but wouldn’t be shocked if Tyms sneaks onto the roster if Dobson goes on PUP or if Thompkins doesn’t pick up his game.
Tight ends (3): Rob Gronkowski, Michael Hoomanawanui, Justin Jones.
Just missed the cut: D.J. Williams, *Asa Watson.
Analysis: Develin’s versatility allows the team to keep one fewer tight end. Gronk and Hooman are locks, and we expect both to be available for Week 1 despite their current injuries (Gronk’s snap count will be limited early on, though). Jones has way too much upside for the Patriots to pass on. He didn’t make an impact in the exhibition opener, but he’s 6 feet 8 inches, solid enough in the run game, and can offer Brady a little Gronk insurance in the early part of the season. Williams offers some athleticism at the position, but his deficiencies as a blocker will ultimately hurt him. Watson hasn’t shown much, but the Patriots can afford to keep him on the practice squad.
Offensive line (9): Nate Solder, Logan Mankins, Ryan Wendell, Marcus Cannon, Sebastian Vollmer, Josh Kline, Bryan Stork, Cameron Fleming, Jon Halapio.
Just missed the cut: Dan Connolly, *Jordan Devey.
Analysis: Solder, Mankins, Vollmer, Stork and Fleming are locks, and the Patriots re-signed Wendell to a two-year contract with an $850,000 signing bonus in the offseason. Halapio, a sixth-round pick, should make the team. One of our surprise cuts is Connolly, who has been a solid member of the offensive line since 2008, but was the weak link last year, is on the wrong side of 30, and has an unfavorable contract. The coaching staff absolutely loves Kline, a second-year player who will compete for the starting right guard spot. As of now, we have Cannon, who can play everywhere but center, competing with Kline to start at right guard. But Cannon will have to beat out Devey, who also offers position flexibility and played 100 percent of the snaps against Washington. Devey has practice squad eligibility, though.
DEFENSE (25 players)
Defensive line (9): Chandler Jones, Vince Wilfork, Rob Ninkovich, Tommy Kelly, Dominique Easley, Chris Jones, Sealver Siliga, Zach Moore, Michael Buchanan.
Just missed the cut: Will Smith, Joe Vellano, *Marcus Forston.
Analysis: The defensive line remains fluid given the recent injuries to Siliga (hand) and Chris Jones (ankle), plus the rehab of Easley (ACL). Jones and Siliga are close to roster locks, but if one lands on IR, it would open up a spot for Vellano or Forston. Easley, meanwhile, could start the season on PUP. Smith, the longtime New Orleans Saint, is another one of our surprise cuts. Coming off a torn ACL, Smith has been dominated in 1-on-1 drills and doesn’t look like he has much left in the tank. The Patriots signed him to a minimum contract to see what he’s got left, and it won’t cost anything to cut him. Youngsters Buchanan and Moore offer more upside as the backups to Chandler Jones and Ninkovich.
Linebackers (6): Jerod Mayo, Jamie Collins, Dont’a Hightower, James Anderson, Cameron Gordon, Chris White.
Just missed the cut: *Steve Beauharnais, *Ja’Gared Davis.
Analysis: Mayo, Collins, and Hightower are locks, while Ninkovich and Chandler Jones will also play outside linebacker in a 3-4 defensive front. Anderson will be the nickel linebacker, and White will assume Dane Fletcher’s role as special teams ace and top backup. The Patriots like Gordon’s potential after giving him $35,000 guaranteed as an undrafted rookie free agent. Beauharnais gets beaten out for a roster spot, but is one of the team’s smartest players and is kept on the practice squad, along with Davis.
Cornerbacks (5): Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner, Alfonzo Dennard, Logan Ryan, Kyle Arrington.
Just missed the cut: *Malcolm Butler, Justin Green, Daxton Swanson.
Analysis: The team’s top five cornerbacks are obvious. Of the young cornerbacks vying for a final roster spot, or more likely a practice squad spot, Butler looks to be the front-runner. He has stood out among the group during practice, and played the most snaps of any defensive player against Washington (64).
Safeties (5): Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon, Tavon Wilson, Nate Ebner, Kanorris Davis.
Just missed the cut: Patrick Chung, Jemea Thomas.
Analysis: McCourty is in line for a contract extension this season, and Harmon has the inside track on the starting strong safety job. Chung loses out to Wilson and Ebner and only costs the Patriots $60,000 guaranteed. The surprise is Wilson, who rarely played last year and was assumed to be a goner, but is quietly impressing in his third training camp. Considering Belichick stuck his neck out to draft Wilson in the third round two years ago, and he doesn’t present much in cap savings if they cut him, I see Wilson getting one more shot this year. Thomas, a sixth-round pick, could be stashed on IR after missing the last two weeks of camp with an injury.
Specialists (3): K Stephen Gostkowski, P Ryan Allen, LS Danny Aiken.
Just missed the cut: None.
Analysis: Not much to discuss as the Patriots have three of the best in the business. Gostkowski is entering the final year of his contract and is due for an extension.