Three weeks of training camp complete, two more to go, and the Patriots’ roster competition is starting to sort itself out.
There’s still plenty of intrigue at a few positions and battles still to be played out — strong safety, tight end, defensive line, and the offensive line rotation. One or two surprise cuts are always on tap. But with two exhibition games in the books, we’re starting to get a good idea of who the coaching staff likes, and who is on the outside of the roster bubble.
The first round of cuts, from 90 players to 75, will be Aug. 26. The final exhibition game is Aug. 28, and the cut down to 53 players is Aug. 30.
Here’s a look at our most recent 53-man roster projections (plus practice squad). Obviously, we do this knowing that one or two roster spots will probably be filled by a player currently in another camp. And this time, we will not include two suspended players, cornerback Brandon Browner and wide receiver Brian Tyms, on our 53-man roster, because their suspensions will affect whether other players make the team (* — practice squad):
Quarterback: Tom Brady, Ryan Mallett, Jimmy Garoppolo.
Just missed the cut: none
Analysis: Boy, is it tempting to leave Mallett off the team, now that Garoppolo has shown a lot of improvement throughout training camp and played well in two exhibition games. Deep down, we still believe that Garoppolo could use a redshirt year, and that the Patriots would be better off with Mallett as a spot starter in case Brady gets hurt. But the Patriots could definitely use the roster spot on a player who will actually see the field. If Garoppolo plays well on Friday night against Carolina, the Patriots need to seriously consider trading Mallett for a sixth- or seventh-round pick or just flat-out cutting him.
Running back: Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, James White, James Develin.
Just missed the cut: Brandon Bolden, Jonas Gray*, Roy Finch*.
Analysis: If the Patriots keep three quarterbacks, they have to cut elsewhere, and running back is a position where they can afford to do that. Ridley will be the lead running back when healthy, Vereen will be the main option in the passing game, White can be the backup for both, and Develin can be a short-yardage running option. Running backs are always dinged up, but if the Patriots need depth, they can keep Gray and Finch on the practice squad instead of using a roster spot on Bolden, who looks like the odd man out in the rotation.
Wide receiver: Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Brandon LaFell, Aaron Dobson, Kenbrell Thompkins.
Just missed the cut: Jeremy Gallon*, Josh Boyce, Wilson Van Hooser.
Analysis: Four of the receiver spots are locked up in Edelman, Amendola, LaFell, and Dobson, who is slowly working his way back from a foot injury (but no longer eligible to start the season on the physically unable to perform list). Thompkins looks like the leader for the fifth spot, and the only reason we don’t consider him a lock is because he doesn’t contribute on special teams. But Thompkins is making the league minimum and is worth stashing on the roster. Tyms is arguably outplaying Thompkins, but Tyms will be suspended for the first four games. While the Patriots appear to have a roster crunch at receiver, these things usually work themselves out. Here’s betting that injuries or ineffectiveness will create a spot for Tyms when he comes back, or the Patriots will probably have to cut him and try to sneak him onto the practice squad.
Tight end: Rob Gronkowski, Michael Hoomanawanui, Steve Maneri.
Just missed the cut: Justin Jones*.
Analysis: The Patriots probably will carry a third blocking tight end (they probably should’ve just re-signed Matthew Mulligan), and for now that person is Maneri, so we put him on the roster. But the way the Patriots have siphoned off tight ends in the last week shouldn’t make Maneri feel too comfortable. Jones was re-signed on Sunday, and at 6 feet 8 inches he’s worth keeping around on the practice squad.
Offensive line: Nate Solder, Logan Mankins, Dan Connolly, Marcus Cannon, Sebastian Vollmer, Josh Kline, Bryan Stork, Cameron Fleming, Jordan Devey.
Just missed the cut: Ryan Wendell, Jon Halapio*.
Analysis: Stork’s injury, which has kept him out of camp the last two weeks, has seemingly breathed new life into Connolly’s chances of making the team. On paper, Connolly looked like he was in serious trouble of getting cut — he wasn’t great at right guard last year, has a large cap number ($4 million), and the Patriots can save $3 million of that by cutting him — while Wendell looked like he’d be returning to play center for one more season after signing a new deal in the offseason with an $850,000 signing bonus. But Connolly is getting a ton of reps at center with Stork out, while Wendell seems to be on the outs. Cannon will battle Kline for the right guard job, and we’ve got Devey, who has played every snap in the first two exhibition games, beating out Halapio for the final spot, with Halapio sticking on the practice squad.
Defensive line: Chandler Jones, Vince Wilfork, Rob Ninkovich, Tommy Kelly, Dominique Easley, Chris Jones, Sealver Siliga, Joe Vellano, Zach Moore, Michael Buchanan.
Just missed the cut: Will Smith, Marcus Forston*.
Analysis: The defensive line remains a fluid situation given the recent injuries to Siliga (hand) and Chris Jones (ankle), plus the rehab of Easley (ACL). Vellano got a ton of action with the starting defense last week with Jones and Siliga out, and if one of their injuries lands them on IR, it would open a spot, most likely for Forston. Still haven’t seen much out of Smith to warrant a roster spot. Given the injury situation on the line, could definitely see coach Bill Belichick keeping 10 defensive linemen to have a deep rotation.
Linebacker: Jerod Mayo, Jamie Collins, Dont’a Hightower, James Anderson, Chris White, Darius Fleming.
Just missed the cut: Steve Beauharnais*, Ja’Gared Davis.
Analysis: Mayo, Collins, and Hightower are obvious roster locks, while Ninkovich and Chandler Jones will also play outside linebacker when the Patriots play in a 3-4 front. Still like Anderson as the nickel linebacker, although he needs to get back on the field. White is a core special teams player, and Fleming played the second-most snaps on Friday (40) plus 13 special teams snaps.
Cornerbacks: Darrelle Revis, Alfonzo Dennard, Logan Ryan, Kyle Arrington, Malcolm Butler.
Just missed the cut: Daxton Swanson.
Analysis: The team’s top five cornerbacks are obvious. We’re ready to give Butler a roster spot after he started Friday’s game against Philadelphia in Browner’s spot. The Patriots might have another roster crunch at cornerback when Browner returns, but like we said with wide receiver, these things tend to work themselves out as the season progresses.
Safeties: Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon, Tavon Wilson, Nate Ebner.
Just missed the cut: Patrick Chung, Jemea Thomas*.
Analysis: Not sure what to make of Chung, who has gotten a decent amount of time as the starting strong safety. Still sticking with Wilson and Ebner as the backups and core special teams guys for now, but Chung could replace Wilson if Wilson doesn’t get on the field soon. And Chung is someone who would benefit if the Patriots decide to move Mallett.
Specialists: kicker Stephen Gostkowski, punter Ryan Allen, long snapper Danny Aiken, special teams Matthew Slater.
Just missed the cut: none
Analysis: Gostkowski and Allen don’t have any competition, Slater will again be the special teams captain, and Aiken beat out Tyler Ott, who was partially responsible for a blocked punt against the Eagles.
Ben Volin can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @BenVolin.