With one preseason game remaining, there are still a number of questions that need to be answered about this Patriots roster. In an effort to take my mind off of the looming Brady decision, here is my projection for the final 53.
Quarterbacks: Tom Brady, Jimmy Garoppolo
Analysis: Assuming Judge Berman wants the keys to the city and free drinks for life, there is no need for a third string quarterback. If the suspension is upheld however, and Brady cannot suit up, look out for old friend Matt Cassell to be signed, who is likely on the chopping block in Buffalo and would be a marked upgrade over Ryan Lindley.
Running Backs: LaGarrette Blount*, Jonas Gray, James White, Travaris Cadet, Dion Lewis, Brandon Bolden
Analysis: Because Blount’s suspension does not count him against the active roster for week 1, basically everyone (minus Tony Creecy) is temporarily safe. After week 1, however, this gets very interesting. Blount will be back, Bolden is a lock due to his special teams contributions, and Gray should be fine because he’s the only other “big back” and has had a strong preseason. That leaves 3: Cadet, White, and Lewis. White and Lewis have flashed throughout the preseason and currently have a leg up on Travaris, but Bill seems to love his unique style and versatility as a pass catcher out of the backfield. This is one of the best battles remaining in camp. The real question is: who runs for 200 vs. Indy?
Tight End: Gronk, Scott Chandler, Hooman, Michael Williams
Analysis: The one guy who probably isn’t all that upset James Develin was placed on season ending IR was Michael Hoomanawanui. Because of his versatility and ability to spell at fullback, Hooman slides on. I expect Michael Williams to take over the blocking tight end role in the jumbo package Cameron Fleming and Marcus Cannon dabbled in last season.
Offensive Line: Nate Solder, Ryan Wendell, Bryan Stork, Tre Jackson, Sebastian Vollmer, Shaq Mason, Marcus Cannon, Cameron Fleming, Josh Kline
Analysis: The first eight listed are virtually locks, so it comes down to Kline and undrafted rookie free agent David Andrews. I’ll give the nod to Kline, who has experience starting in big game situations.
Wide Receiver: Julian Edelman, Brandon Lafell, Danny Amendola, Reggie Wayne,
Aaron Dobson, Matthew Slater
Analysis: Lafell was not placed on PUP this week, which makes me believe he’ll be ready for September 10. If the top 3 can stay healthy (big if), I’m very confident in this group, especially factoring in the way Amendola contributed down the stretch. With a few more weeks under his belt, expect Wayne to grasp the offense and gain some kind of repertoire with Brady. I reluctantly gave Dobson the edge over Chris Harper, but AD needs to get his act together, ASAP. He cost me my voice against Carolina. Slater, the best special teamer in football, is as much of a lock as Brady or Gronk.
Defensive Tackles: Malcom Brown, Dominique Easley, Sealver Siliga, Alan Branch
Analysis: Brown looks stout up the middle. God, if my glaring team need was run defense and he fell on my lap in the draft, I would have taken this guy in a heartbeat…or maybe just draft another receiver. Like, does the Indy front office even watch the games? But I digress… Siliga and Branch are the meat in the middle, and based on what we’ve seen from Easley over the last few weeks, look out. Holy explosion off the line. He looks all the way back.
Defensive Ends: Nink, Chandler Jones, Jabaal Sheard, Trey Flowers, Geneo Grissom, Rufus Johnson
Analysis: While Nink and Jones are the unquestioned starters, there is absolutely no need to overwork them this year. Sheard has looked phenomenal, and will be a great “chess piece” Belichick and Patricia can use any way they please. Flowers and Grissom have been used to rush the passer in many different ways during the preseason, and Johnson has simply made himself too difficult to cut. This has the potential to be the best pass rush the Pats have had in recent memory.
Linebackers: Jamie Collins, Don’t’a Hightower, Jerod Mayo, James Morris
Analysis: The top 3, on paper, is the best unit in the game. After that though, is where
it gets murky. With Dane Fletcher starting the season on PUP, Morris gets the nod over Freeny. Morris has played well throughout camp and in the pre-season, but clearly has his limitations. If anything were to happen to one of the top 3, expect Bill to stick with two linebacker sets and an extra defensive back/end depending on the situation, as we saw so often last season.
Secondary: Corners: Malcolm Butler, Tarell Brown, Bradley Fletcher, Logan Ryan, Robert McClain
Safeties: Devin McCourty, Pat Chung, Jordan Richards, Duron Harmon, Nate Ebner
Analysis: Why 10 defensive backs? It’s a passing league now. Plus, there is more uncertainty here than any other unit of the defense. The top 3 corners look like Butler, Brown, and Fletcher for now, with McCourty and Chung at the safety spots. Ryan, Richards, Harmon, and McClain should play roles (of varying degree) in nickel and dime packages, and Ebner makes his bones on special teams.
K/P/LS: Gostkowski, Ryan Allen, Joe Cardona
Analysis: As good a trio as there is. Don’t expect to hear Cardona’s name much this season, which for a long snapper, is exactly what you want. The Pats will have top special teams units again this year.
Your move, Judge Berman…