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Rating the Roster, Training Camp Edition (Part 5)

07.27.10 at 1:32 pm ET
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Here’€™s part five of our training camp edition of ‘€œRating the Roster,’€ which looks at the 31st through the 40th spots spots on the roster. (Nos. 41 through 50 is here and Nos. 51 through 60 can be found here. In addition, No. 61 through 70 is here and No. 71 through No. 82 is here.)

As we previously explained, we settled on these rankings by considering a combination of factors, including overall ability, positional versatility, expectations, contract situation and place on the depth chart. We also looked at what might be best described as intangibles ‘€” loosely defined as a mixture of clubhouse character and willingness to work. In all, it helped us determine the overall value of each player within the Patriots system.

In this section, some of the younger, higher draft picks come into focus. Almost all of them will be asked to step forward and make an impact on this team ‘€” will they be able to contribute?

40. Tight end Aaron Hernandez: The Florida product was moved around like a chess piece through spring practices ‘€” he spent almost as much time split out as he did lined up alongside a tackle. He had some usual rookie stumbles, but he spent a sizable chunk of time with first offense, and based on how he looked this spring, the 6-foot-1, 245-pounder could get the bulks of the reps with the first team offense this summer. As long as he (and for his part, Rob Gronkowski) can show he can get separation, it just might signal the return of the tight end as a regular part of the New England passing game. (That is, as long as he remembers what Christian Fauria told me about how to survive as a tight end in the New England offense: ‘€œThe more plays you make, the more touches you’€™re going to see,’€ Fauria said. ‘€œThe more plays you make, the more consistent you are, the more they will get you the ball. Are you a guy they can count on? They’€™ll figure it out quickly, and if you aren’€™t, they’€™ll get rid of you.’€)

39. Tight end Rob Gronkowski: While Hernandez appeared to be more of a pass-catcher and Alge Crumpler was clearly imported for his blocking services, Gronkowski looks to be more of a hybrid, someone who can do a little of both. (That’€™s why I have him as the highest-rated tight end in camp.) At 6-foot-6 and 265 pounds, he’€™s a surprisingly big body ‘€” I believe fans will be shocked to see just how big he is when he sidles up to the rope line for autographs during training camp ‘€” and if he does flash good hands (like he did this spring) and put a spate of collegiate injuries behind him, he will contribute to the Patriots’€™ offense.

38. Safety Brandon McGowan: McGowan had a thunderous start in 2009, working as the designated tight-end stopper through the early stages of the season. The 5-foot-11, 210-pounder was particularly effective in making all-world Tony Gonzalez disappear in an early-season matchup between the Patriots and Falcons. He also had impressive outings against the Jets and Broncos. (He also had an uncanny knack for finding the football.) The strong start allowed him to take away the starting job from veteran James Sanders, but McGowan struggled with the pass as the season continued, and eventually, the Patriots turned back to Sanders. He’€™ll likely be battling Pat Chung for the job opposite Brandon Merwieather this summer ‘€” the worst possible scenario for McGowan is that he’€™s a situational defensive back.

37. Quarterback Brian Hoyer: Hoyer had a great spring, solidifying his spot as the No. 2 quarterback. Doesn’€™t mean that the Patriots won’€™t bring in an available veteran if they can shake one off the free agent tree, but there’€™s certainly no reason to think the 6-foot-2, 215-pound Michigan State product won’€™t be back for another season with New England.

36. Safety James Sanders: Sanders was the starter last season, but was eventually displaced by McGowan. Despite losing his starting job, the 5-foot-10, 210-pound Fresno Stater remained professional throughout the process, and when the Patriots altered their defensive approach toward the end of the season, Sanders started to see more and more time again. Not the most talented safety on the roster, Sanders remains a stabilizing veteran in a group of safeties that still goes for the big hit and swings and misses too often. Sanders will likely remain a presence at safety throughout the 2010 season, and depending on injuries, could see an increase in playing time at a moments notice.

35. Defensive end Gerard Warren: Like Damione Lewis, the 6-foot-4, 325-pound Warren is a veteran defensive lineman in his first year with the Patriots, which means he has the potential to slide up or down this list depending on how things go this summer. At the start, Warren figures to slide into the end position the Patriots worked hard to fill last season after the trade of Richard Seymour.

34. Linebacker Jermaine Cunningham: The 6-foot-3, 260-pound Florida defender was an end with the Gators, but figures to transition nicely into the outside linebacker spot in his first year with the Patriots. While Derrick Burgess is likely still the No. 1 option at the outside spot opposite Tully Banta-Cain, Tuesday’€™s news that Shawn Crable was placed on PUP could open up more reps for Cunningham ‘€” if Crable is out for an extended stretch and Cunningham can take advantage, he could be a presence sooner rather than later.

33. Linebacker Brandon Spikes: Like we tied the two young tight ends together at Nos. 40 and 39, we’€™ll do the same thing here with the two young Florida linebackers. The 6-foot-2, 250-pound Spikes was extremely impressive this spring, and with a strong camp this summer, he will almost certainly push Gary Guyton for the spot opposite Jerod Mayo inside (a battle that will include Tyrone McKenzie). (‘€œBrandon Spikes is pretty much the middle of our defense like Tim Tebow was the center of our offense,’€ Spikes’€™ college teammate Jermaine Cunningham said of the linebacker. ‘€œHe was the center of our defense. He goes out there, he’€™s quick and he holds the defense together.’€) Guyton is still the presumptive starter for several reasons ‘€” not the least of which includes the fact that he and Mayo are closer than almost any other pair of teammates on the roster. But Spikes will make Guyton sweat.

32. Wide receiver Torry Holt: The one thing I took away from watching the 6-foot-, 200-pound Holt this spring ‘€” other than that freaky finger of his ‘€” is the fact that he never stopped moving. When the veteran wasn’€™t on the field catching passes, he always doing something ‘€” running in place, laying a mock karate kick on a teammate, pushups or taking a younger receiver aside for (presumably) a few words of wisdom. That sort of energy can’€™t be faked. Holt is clearly geeked about being a Patriot, and right now, remains the presumptive No. 2 receiver when New England moves into three-receiver set. But fairly or unfairly, the spirit of Joey Galloway is always looming. To that end, here’€™s what wide receivers coach Chad O’€™Shea said when he was asked about possible comparisons between Holt and Galloway: ‘€œTorry Holt has come in and been a great veteran leader for us. He’€™s a guy that brings a wealth of experience to the playing field,’€ O’€™Shea said. ‘€œHe definitely has a certain skill set that the other guys can learn from. He’€™s come out and worked very hard in his role and done everything we’€™ve asked him to do.’€ Not a ringing endorsement, but still an indication the franchise believes Holt isn’€™t going to replicate Galloway’€™s performance.

31: Running back Fred Taylor: The 6-foot-1, 228-pound Taylor is the consummate professional and a great locker room presence, especially for Laurence Maroney. He had an impressive start to the 2009 season before being hobbled by injury. There is some question as to how much he might have left ‘€” running backs do age in dog years ‘€” so he is one player worth keeping a close eye on this summer. But if he can still show he still has something, he will get more than his share of carries.

Read More: 2010 training camp, Rating the Roster,
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