An early look at how Patriots’ 2013 roster might shape up
|06.28.13 at 8:00 am ET|
Based on the most recent round of spring practice sessions, as well as the newfound uncertainty the team now faces at tight end, here’s an absurdly early look at how the Patriots’ 53-man roster might look when the 2013 regular season opens in September.
Quarterback: (3) Tom Brady, Ryan Mallett, Tim Tebow. The only real question here is whether or not the Patriots believe that there’s more value in carrying a third quarterback instead of an extra defensive back or wide receiver. For now, we’ll add Tebow to the mix here, but he’s not a sure thing by any stretch. Things can change at the back end of the roster depending on what happens in camp.
Offensive line: (7) Nate Solder, Logan Mankins, Ryan Wendell, Dan Connolly, Sebastian Vollmer, Marcus Cannon, Nick McDonald. All returnees from last year, and each one of them earned the right to return based on the level of play they demonstrated as a group. Honestly, when we were listing reasons for people to feel optimistic about the state of the team, we should have included the offensive line. Many people believe that it’s the best in football right now, and when healthy, we agree. Veteran Will Svitek could also be a part of this group.
Tight end: (3) Jake Ballard, Zach Sudfeld, Michael Hoomanawanui (PUP: Rob Gronkowski). We go from a rock solid group at o-line to a position in tremendous upheaval. The release of Aaron Hernandez and uncertainty around Gronkowski’s health opens a spot for rookie Zach Sudfeld. Daniel Fells is on the outs at this point, but either Fells or another veteran (Dallas Clark?) could figure into the mix if the Patriots feel they need more depth.
Wide receiver: (7) Danny Amendola, Julian Edelman, Donald Jones, Mike Jenkins, Aaron Dobson, Josh Boyce, Matthew Slater. Lots of new faces here, and while it’s not as fluid a situation as the one at tight end, there is some possibility of changes between now and the start of the season based on what happens in camp. Jenkins and Amendola displayed a good chemistry with Brady this spring, and Edelman’s knowledge of the system gives him a leg up. In addition, the rookies will certainly get their opportunity. Right now, Lavelle Hawkins is on the outside looking in, but if Jenkins or Jones stumbles, that could open up the door for him. Deion Branch also remains a possibility if the Patriots want to add a familiar face. Slater is a wide receiver in name only, but has done more than enough as a special teamer to earn a spot.
Running back: (5) Stevan Ridley, LeGarrette Blount, Shane Vereen, Brandon Bolden, Leon Washington. Ridley is the lead back here, and will attempt to be the first running back Bill Belichick has ever had to rush for 1,000 yards in back-to-back seasons. We are still not 100 percent sold on Blount, but we’ll add him to the mix here based on the fact that we fully expect the Patriots to be a run-heavy team, at least through the early stages of the season. Vereen and Washington will work as third-down options as the Patriots look to replace Danny Woodhead. Washington also figures to bring real special teams value as a returner.
Specialists: (3) Zoltan Mesko, Stephen Gostkowski, Danny Aiken. No surprises here, although Mesko will be in for a fight against Ryan Allen, who was the best punter in college football last year.
Defensive linemen: (8) Vince Wilfork, Tommy Kelly, Jake Bequette, Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich, Armond Armstead, Justin Francis, Jermaine Cunningham. There are some changes up front, as Brandon Deaderick and Kyle Love are out and Tommy Kelly and Armond Armstead are in. Look for Jones and Ninkovich on the outside, backed up by Bequette and Francis, at least at this point. We’ve already indicated that Cunningham is a bubble candidate — he needs to have a good summer or he could be pushed by Jason Vega. (In my opinion, Vega finds a way to stick around, either on the 53-man roster or the practice squad.)
Linebackers: (5) Dont’a Hightower, Jerod Mayo, Dane Fletcher, Brandon Spikes, Jamie Collins. Hightower and Mayo will form the nucleus at linebacker. After a year on the shelf because of a knee injury, the return of Fletcher will add an interesting dynamic to the linebacking corps, as he could push Spikes for snaps on passing downs. Belichick has hinted at the fact that they will be looking at Collins in much the same way they did Hightower last year — put the versatile young defender on the field and let him find a spot where he can excel. (For what it’s worth, linebacker Niko Koutouvides could be the 54th guy on the roster. It’s a good bet that if the veteran can still play — particularly as a special teamer — the Patriots will find a spot for him somewhere.)
Safeties: (5) Devin McCourty, Adrian Wilson, Steve Gregory, Nate Ebner, Tavon Wilson. We’ll list Adrian Wilson as a safety here for positional reasons, but it’s clear his size brings an added dimension to the New England defense, and as a result, expect him to be utilized like a linebacker on occasion. (Maybe Wilson is the pass-coverage linebacker this team was lacking last year?) A combination of McCourty, Adrian Wilson and Gregory in nickel situations would make a lot of sense with this team. Ebner is part of the special teams core grouping, a collection of players that includes Slater and Marquice Cole.
Cornerbacks: (7) Aqib Talib, Alfonzo Dennard, Ras-I Dowling, Marquice Cole, Logan Ryan, Duron Harmon, Kyle Arrington. This feels like too many corners, but Cole, Harmon and Ryan will likely be more special teamers than defensive backs. The addition of rookies Ryan and Harmon round out a grouping, led by Talib, that did well down the stretch. Dowling needs to have a good summer to prove that he can stay on the field consistently.
Practice squad: (8) Defensive end Michael Buchanan; cornerback Stephon Morris, wide receivers Mark Harrison, Kenbrell Thompkins and Kamar Aiken; offensive linemen Matt Stankiewitch and Chris McDonald; linebacker Steve Beauharnais. A fairly decent cross-section of young players, although based on the way he played this spring, if he continues trending in the proper direction, Thompkins might be tough to get through waivers. Two other guys to watch for as possible practice-squad additions are running back George Winn and lineman Jason Vega.