With the preseason games just around the corner many members of the New England Patriots team will be hoping to prove themselves on the field ahead of the regular season in hope of a spot on the roster for the start of the 2013 campaign. The Patriots have a lot of competition at various positions on both sides of the ball so it will be interesting to see who makes the final roster; let us take a look at my stab at predicting the 53 man roster come September with the following projection:
Quarterback: Tom Brady, Ryan Mallett, Tim Tebow (3)
Despite the extra roster spot when having just two QB’s on the team being especially valuable to the Patriots in recent years I think Tim Tebow earns a spot on the team come crunch time. Obviously Tom Brady is a dead certainty as the future hall of famer looks to guide his team to their 4th Super Bowl Championship and with the Ryan Mallett to Cleveland trade rumours now all but gone he will definitely be on the squad too but whether Tebow makes it is a question everyone will have an opinion on.
Personally I think that although we know Tebow won’t be taking any snaps away from Brady his versatility will be the decisive factor in Belichick selecting him as New England can try to use him in various scenarios. Belichick would not have signed the former Florida man as a publicity stunt and after he spends a year with Brady and McDaniels they can assess his skill-set throughout the season giving the franchise the ability to assess the situation properly next year.
Running back: Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, Leon Washington, LeGarrette Blount (4)
Ridley is a guaranteed selection after his production last season and after lining up at wide receiver in training recently Shane Vereen will make the team as he offers the team versatility which is what Belichick loves. Leon Washington can offer New England something different at the special teams and arguably something they have lacked in recent seasons especially in the shape of a kick-off returner so it’s worth him being chosen for the squad.
The three mentioned already are the sure fire bets but the 4th spot came down to either LeGarrette Blount or Brandon Bolden; Bolden has had recent injury problems and while the potential is there Blount is only 26 so despite being 3 years older than Bolden he has the advantage as he is reaching his physical prime as well as the fact that that he’s been making some nice plays in training camp so far so my bet is that Blount beats out Bolden for the 4th running back spot.
Wide Receiver: Danny Amendola, Julian Edelman, Aaron Dobson, Josh Boyce, Donald Jones, Michael Jenkins, Matthew Slater (7)
The battle to be a receiver on the New England Patriots’ team this season is the most intriguing and the productivity of this year’s receiving corpswill be crucial in determining any success the Patriots have in 2013. Dobson and Boyce both have the potential to be valuable for New England but obviously with it both being their rookie year in the league predicting any success for either remains a mystery but nevertheless both make the roster and will hope to improve before the start of the season. Danny Amendola has built up a good rapport with Tom Brady so far and any fan of the Patriots will be excited to see how the two link up when the season starts as well as how their on the field relationship progresses during the campaign. Amendola has the talent to become a star and now that he has Tom Brady throwing to him I believe this will happen; we saw the same happen with Julian Edelman last season before his injury and remember he did start the 2012 season ahead of Wes Welker. With that being said it is safe to say that Edelman makes the roster with his versatility being a key asset to the Patriots at this moment in time.
With Aaron Hernandez now off the roster the next 3 wide receiving slots are as crucial as ever with the offense needing as many valuable weapons as possible. The current receiving core is drawing comparisons to a depth chart that included the likes of Jabar Gaffney yet still made the Super Bowl but as we know Tom Brady can make anyone produce the goods due to the fact that he is arguably the greatest quarterback ever with this being one of the arguments why. Matthew Slater’s familiarity earns him a spot on the roster while Jenkins and Jones may well battle it out for the final receiving spot on the roster if Belichick decides to go with 6 wideouts which could very well happen but for now I’ll say that both make the team as Jenkins is a reliable veteran option whereas Jones has some decent statistics from his time in Buffalo, most coming against the Patriots, and could therefore prove to be a surprisingly good acquisition once the season progresses.
Tight End: Rob Gronkowski, Jake Ballard, Michael Hoomanawanui, Zach Sudfield (4)
Rob Gronkowski is in a race against time to be ready for the start of the season and following the Aaron Hernandez saga the Patriots are facing the possibility of going from having two superstar tight-ends to none for week 1 of the 2013 season. Gronkowski will be ready to cause havoc on opposing defenses eventually but in the event of his absence during the start of the season the likes of Jake Ballard and Michael Hoomanawanui will get the chance to try and make an impact for the team during the teams early games.
It’s safe to safe after Hernandez being cut from the team that Ballard and Hoomanawanui make the roster; the fourth tight end spot goes to the 6’7 man out of Nevada Zach Sudfeld who signed as an undrafted free agent on in May and has the potential to be a possible diamond in the rough for Bill Belichick. All three will have the responsibility of trying to produce the goods now that Aaron Hernandez has been cut but as long as Rob Gronkowski gets back to full health the Patriots know they have a superstar they can rely on as well as having Tom Brady’s most valuable weapon at their disposal.
Offensive Line: Nate Solder, Logan Mankins, Sebastian Vollmer, Dan Connolly, Ryan Wendell, Nick McDonald, Marcus Cannon, Kevin Haslam, Markus Zusevics (9)
The likes of Solder, Mankins and Vollmer are all valuable assets to this team. Dan Connolly has improved season by season and Ryan Wendell will line up at centre again with Nick McDonald providing cover at that position as well as chipping in at guard. The offensive line needs familiarity that’s why there aren’t many changes from last year with the likes of Marcus Cannon also making the cut but this year Kevin Haslam and Markus Zusevic will get a chance to show what they can do.
Svitek was on my list but when you realise that this Patriots team is full of young faces it makes sense that they would choose a 5 year younger player in the shape of Haslam over Svitek plus Haslam came out of Rutgers and we all know how their connection runs deep. Zusevics makes the cut thanks to his versatility as the second year man his 2012 experience with the team under his belt and can offer cover at tackle and guard positions.
Defensive End: Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich, Justin Francis, Jermaine Cunningham, Michael Buchanan (5)
Chandler Jones is the surefire bet at this position; he will look to build on an impressive rookie season as his raw talent proved to be a valuable asset during the 2012 season. Coming in to his sophomore year Jones will be looking to make a bigger leap by continuing to assert himself as one of the NFL’s best young ends. His ability to rush the passer will improve and if his production continues at a high rate he could help the Patriot’s defense get back to what it was during its Super Bowl winnings years. Rob Ninkovich will want to continue his good form and increase in production. Jermaine Cunningham may well have a shot at the versatility role while Justin Francis also gets in based on versatility. Cunningham gets in thanks to former Rutgers man Francis moving inside; the two seem to have both improved from 2012 and if they are determined to succeed it will earn them a roster spot.
I’ve projected 5 players at this position and it was hard to leave Jake Bequette and Jason Vega out but both just give me the impression that they’ll fall short which leaves the door open for 2013 draftee Michael Buchanan who I believe could be a real steal for New England. The 7th round pick’s stock in the draft fell due to character concerns but the 6’5, 255 pound defensive end is athletic and has shown signs of potential that could prove valuable especially as he possesses the ability to fit in to either a 3-4 or 4-3 defense thanks to the fact that his strength helps him in the pass rush as well as against opposing offensive linemen.
Defensive Tackle: Vince Wilfork, Tommy Kelly, Armond Armstead (3)
With Vince Wilfork being the lone survivor on defense from the Patriots’ last Super Bowl winning team we know that he is pretty much as valuable to New England’s defense as Tom Brady is to its offense! This year I see him teaming up with just two out and out tackles in the shape of Kelly and Armstead; the two’s productivity will go a long way to determining the success of the Patriots’ passing defense in 2013.
Marcus Forston could well make the roster but having Justin Francis move inside along with Cunningham able to play inside means that the Patriots are allowed to go thinner at the defensive tackle position in 2013. If the ends and tackles step up like it seems they can then they can go a long way to helping the Patriots rack up a respectable position among defensive rankings this season and in the long run the production of these guys will go a long way in to determining any success they have come playoff time.
Linebacker: Jerod Mayo, Brandon Spikes, Don’t’a Hightower, Jamie Collins, Dane Fletcher (5)
The linebackers all but pick themselves for the Patriots this season. Jerod Mayo is a key player on this team and Brandon Spikes continues to improve making him a must for New England. Don’ta Hightower is coming in to his second season in the league on a high following a very productive debut year in 2012. The team will hope for something similar from Jamie Collins with the 2nd round pick out of Southern Miss showing he could make a huge difference on the team’s defense this year; his explosiveness, athleticism and versatility means he can play multiple positions for the Patriots and as we know as well as something that has been mentioned many times previously… Bill Belichick loves versatility.
Dane Fletcher may not be as versatile or athletic as any of the previous four linebackers mentioned but he is reliable and a good player to keep on the roster. The fact that new signing Adrian Wilson can also play linebacker means that five linebacker selections is fine for New England which is bad news for the likes of Beauharnais as it seems that he’ll be deemed surplus to requirements and not make the cut. Like I said these five pretty much pick themselves and it will extremely interesting to see how the likes of Mayo, Spikes, Collins and Hightower play together as well as end Chandler Jones with the prospect of this year’s defense wreaking havoc on opposing QB’s being quite likely if all goes to plan.
Cornerback: Aqib Talib, Kyle Arrington, Ras-I Dowling, Logan Ryan, Alfonzo Dennard (5)
Like the linebacker position I believe that the corners pick themselves. Aqib Talib will look to prove himself again after showing how valuable he can be to this Patriot’s secondary during the second half of the 2012 season. The shutdown corner has the ability to go up against any of the top wideouts in the game and after opting to sign just a one year extension with New England in a way it shows that Talib is set on proving himself being committing to a long term deal. We all know Dowling has talent but will injuries haunt him again? Well that remains to be seen; if they don’t we will see how productive he can be but if the plague continues the Patriots will need to bring in someone else.
Third round pick of out Rutgers Logan Ryan was one of the most talented players at his position in this years draft and could be another steal for New England in the long run. Kyle Arrington makes the team for another season but Alfonzo Dennard has questions over his head following his recent arrest. If he stays he will look to improve from 2012 but for now if something happens to him or Dowling you can expect the Patriots to add at this position.
Safety: Adrian Wilson, Devin McCourty, Tavon Wilson, Nate Ebner, Duron Harmon (5)
Duron Harmon was selected by the Patriots as the 91st pick from the NFL 2013 Draft… From yes you guessed it Rutgers! For someone not many people had heard of Harmon seems to be good value for a third round selection and will have a chance to prove himself in 2013. Adrian Wilson has been signed from Arizona will Bill Belichick hoping he has the same effect as Rodney Harrison did. If so the Adrian Wilson signing could well inspire a Super Bowl win as they need a talented and experienced leader to be the rock of this group to help improve their woes in the secondary. Adrian Wilson’s namesake Tavon doesn’t have much hype around him but the second year safety has the chance to learn from Adrian and improve his game.
Devin McCourty did very well in his transition to safety and it is clear to see he is better suited to the position but now New England will hope he can build on the 2012 season by producing the goods in 2013.It wouldn’t be right if I didn’t go for one risky selection throughout this projection and it will be in the shape of Nate Ebner as I think he has the potential to beat out Steve Gregory but in reality that maybe is a bit of a longshot.
Special Teams: Steve Gostkowski, Zoltan Mesko, Danny Aiken (3)
Rookie punter Ryan Allen has given Mesko a run for his money up until now but with Mesko being a very reliable punter as well as arguably one of the best in the league he will make the team. Gotskowski had a challenger brought in as well but despite a rocky 2012 he has the ability to bounce back in 2013. Danny Aiken continues his role as long snapper.