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Patriots 53-man roster projection, Version 4.0

08.28.13 at 3:42 pm ET
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With the preseason set to come to a close Thursday night against the Giants — and the final cuts set to come down by Saturday at 6 p.m. — here’s our final stab at a 53-man roster projection for the Patriots. (Feel free to compare and contrast this one with our first, second and third attempts.)

We’ve added one thing this time around. With Thursday’s game looming large for several players who might be on the bubble, after each position we’ve included a category — “guy who could be playing for his job.” In some cases, this is a last chance for a player whose future could depend on his performance against the Giants. In other cases, a good performance plus a corresponding roster move (a move to PUP, IR or the like) also could mean a player sticks on the roster.

OFFENSE ‘€“ 25

Quarterback (3): Tom Brady, Ryan Mallett, Tim Tebow

No changes since the start of camp.

Guy who could be playing for his job: Tebow. It’s my opinion that the third-string quarterback ends up sticking around as a long-term developmental prospect, but right now he’s still the 53rd player on the roster, which means his roster spot is tenuous at best. If something strange happens, he would be the first guy cut loose.

Offensive line (8): Nate Solder, Logan Mankins, Ryan Wendell, Dan Connolly, Sebastian Vollmer, Marcus Cannon, Will Svitek, Chris McDonald

The move of Marcus Zusevics to injured reserve opens up another roster spot. McDonald hasn’t exactly wowed people in camp, but barring some sort of roster move between now and the opener, he might be the most palatable option as a backup interior lineman. (There’s always the chance the Patriots bring back his brother Nick, a sturdy presence who was able to work as a backup at every spot along the line but struggled to stay healthy this summer.)

Guy who could be playing for his job: McDonald. Again, the last offensive line spot has several possibilities, but right now McDonald is fundamentally the last man standing.

Tight end (3): Jake Ballard, Zach Sudfeld, Michael Hoomanawanui (Rob Gronkowski on PUP)

No changes from our last projection.

Guy who could be playing for his job: Daniel Fells. The veteran tight end hasn’t necessarily had a bad camp. It’s just that a combination of his health issues (he’s had problems staying on the field the last two weeks) and the progress of Sudfeld, as well as the steadiness of Hoomanawanui have him as the odd man out. There’s also the possibility that Fells could be a candidate for the Deion Branch plan — that is, the veteran who is cut before the start of the season and then re-signed later in September. It would be a way to keep a solid and dependable veteran on the roster and keep costs down.

Wide receiver (6): Danny Amendola, Julian Edelman, Aaron Dobson, Josh Boyce, Matthew Slater, Kenbrell Thompkins

No changes from our last projection.

Guy who could be playing for his job: None. Unless something crazy happens, these six are locked in.

Running back (5): Stevan Ridley, LeGarrette Blount, Brandon Bolden, Shane Vereen, Leon Washington

No changes from our last projection.

Guy who could be playing for his job: As we have explained previously, if there’s going to be a cut here, chances are good it’s going to come from the Blount/Bolden spot. That’s going to be a spot worth watching Thursday night. One thing to keep in mind — Bolden looked a little dinged up after last week’s loss to the Lions, and so it wouldn’t be a colossal surprise to see Bolden come up with some sort of *cough* injury *cough* in hopes of allowing him to stick around in some form or fashion.

SPECIAL TEAMS — 3

Specialists (3): Zoltan Mesko, Stephen Gostkowski, Danny Aiken

No changes from our last projection.

Guy who could be playing for his job: Mesko has been pushed pretty good this summer by rookie Ryan Allen, and I suppose the Patriots could end up going with the rookie. But barring some sort of catastrophe for Mesko, he looks pretty safe at this point.

DEFENSE — 25

Defensive linemen (9): Vince Wilfork, Tommy Kelly, Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich, Marcus Forston, Justin Francis, Marcus Benard, Michael Buchanan, Joe Vellano

Clarifying the status of Corey Grissom and Armond Armstead goes a long way toward helping guys like Forston and Vellano and their chances to make the roster. Belichick kept 11 guys at this spot coming out of camp last year, so it does feel a little thin. But it’s a good group that has had a pretty good summer. (As we have stated in the past, the two tough cuts here are Jake Bequette and Jermaine Cunningham.)

Guy who could be playing for his job: There are a few guys at this position who can’t afford to be comfortable. That includes the last five guys on the list. If we had to go with one, it would be Vellano — but at the same time, he’s probably been far enough under the radar that he might be a practice squad possibility. Buchanan would be a gamble to get through to the P-squad. And Benard has some positional versatility, but he needs to display some more consistency if he wants to see significant snaps during the regular season.

Linebackers (6): Dont’€™a Hightower, Jerod Mayo, Dane Fletcher, Brandon Spikes, Jamie Collins, Steve Beauharnais

The release of Niko Koutouvides allows us to keep Beauharnais, a dependable presence who can work as a special teamer and take some snaps if needed in New England’s base defense. He has practice squad eligibility, but it’s unlikely they’d be able to sneak him through waivers.

Guy who could be playing for his job: None, at least right now. Barring injury or some sort of colossal setback, these six seem set.

Safeties (5): Devin McCourty, Adrian Wilson, Steve Gregory, Tavon Wilson, Duron Harmon

Since our last rundown, Nate Ebner is the tough cut here, but if there’s someone who seems set up to be Ross Ventrone, Version 2.0, it could be the former teenage rugby star. (For what it’s worth, Belichick has kept just four safeties for three straight years coming out of camp.)

Guy who could be playing for his job: There’s been a lot of talk over the last week about Adrian Wilson’s spot on the roster. I don’t think it’s in doubt, but one thing to keep an eye on Thursday is when he’s playing. In the 2008 preseason finale against the Giants, John Lynch — who was in the midst of a cup of coffee with the Patriots — was playing late in the fourth quarter of that contest. It turned out to be Lynch’s last hurrah. Wilson has been better this summer than Lynch was that year, but the template has been set.

Cornerbacks (5): Aqib Talib, Alfonzo Dennard, Kyle Arrington, Ras-I Dowling, Logan Ryan

The only change from our last projection comes from the fact that Ryan’s emergence as a slot corner has made veteran Marquice Cole expendable. (One thing that could help matters is that last year the Pats kept six corners coming out of camp.)

Guy who could be playing for his job: Dowling has been leading a shaky existence ever since he showed up in Foxboro in 2011 — his first two seasons have ended on injured reserve, and he hasn’t shown a whole lot this summer that would lead you to believe he has a firm grasp on a roster spot. It’s entirely possible the Patriots go with someone else at another position ahead of Dowling.

(EDIT: The Patriots released Dowling just before 5 p.m. on Wednesday, which could potentially open up a spot for Cole, or anyone else who might be on the roster bubble.)

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