Well, things have certainly changed since the last roster projection. Aaron Hernandez is deservedly off the team and out of the NFL. Following an arrest on suspicion of DUI and for refusing a chemical test, there is a possibility that Alfonzo Dennard joins him on the list of former Patriots.
But the news isn’t all bad out of Foxboro. Rob Gronkowski has begun rehabbing with team trainers and appears to be progressing nicely.
Meanwhile, the continued infusion of talented youth into the roster is something that cannot be understated. Bringing in players such as Zach Sudfeld, Armon Armstead, Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce to go along with an already impressive collection of young skilled players, sets New England up nicely for the future, and depending on how quickly the new guys can make an impact, the present.
As we try to view the glass as half-full, let’s look at the latest roster projection.
Tom Brady, Ryan Mallet (2)
In the wake of a troublesome offseason – training camp can’t come fast enough for Bill Belichick - roster spots have become even more precious. As a result, the luxury of using a spot on Tim Tebow in order to try and develop him into a serviceable quarterback for the future seems like something that the Patriots can no longer afford.
Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, Leon Washington, Brandon Bolden (4)
The team will rely on the run-game to a degree it hasn’t since “clock-killing” Corey Dillon was here. Ridley rushed for over 1,000 yards last season, while Vereen looks to make similar strides to the ones made by his counterpart in 2012. He also figures to be a key factor in the passing game.
Danny Amendola, Aaron Dobson, Josh Boyce, Julian Edelman, Michael Jenkins, Mark Harrison, Mathew Slater (7)
What is the most intriguing position on the roster for New England will have a large hand in determining the success of the 2013 Patriots.
The X position is a complete unknown. Dobson has had an up-and-down start to his Patriots career, making spectacular catches, dropping balls and being hurt for minicamp. Boyce remains a mystery. Having injured his foot during the pre-draft process, he spent most of OTA’s and minicamp on a stationary bike. He does however possess off the charts athleticism and earned a reputation in college for being a very intelligent player.
It will likely take time for the two to acclimate themselves to the NFL game, but the duo has the ability to make the offense more dynamic, adding new dimensions to a receiving corpse that is currently drawing comparisons to when Reche Caldwell and Jabar Gaffney sat atop the depth chart – it is worth noting that tandem nearly made it to the Super Bowl.
Jenkins doesn’t excel in any particular area but is a reliable veteran target; that dependability is likely enough to earn him a spot on a receiving corpse in question.
At 6"3, 235 lbs., Mark Harrison is an athletic freak. The Rutgers product runs a 4.46 40-yard dash and has a 38.5 inch vertical. At 35 inches, he also has a longer wingspan than any wide receiver from the 2013 draft class. Via The Connecticut Post. If Harrison can learn the Patriots playbook and prove to be productive at the NFL level, his combination of size and speed would be an important addition to the team's receiving core. Reports of Harrison trashing his hotel room during the week of the combine and a fractured fifth metatarsal in his left foot, suffered shortly before Rutgers' pro day, contributed to him going undrafted. The injury also resulted in Harrison failing his physical with the Chicago Bears, whom he had initially signed with after the draft.
Lavelle Hawkins is a speedy veteran, who two years ago, hauled in nearly 50 catches. Youngsters Kamar Aiken and Kembrell Thompkins also have a chance to make the team. The two have performed well heading into training camp and if they can make the most of limited reps in both camp and preseason games, may have a shot to crack the roster.
Rob Gronkowski, Daniel Fells, Jake Ballard, Michael Hoomanawanui, Zach Sudfeld (5)
Sudfeld, is an impressive physical specimen, who has the ability to fulfill both Gronkowski’s and the recently departed Hernandez’s roles. The biggest questions surrounding the undrafted rookie are whether or not he can stay healthy after failing to do so in college and how quickly he can learn the playbook. If Sudfeld is able to keep himself on the field and his talents translate to the NFL level, New England will be able to sustain its two-tight end attack. Giving Fells the chance to redeem himself after a lackluster first season - injuries played a significant factor in this - provides the team with a veteran pass-catching tight end.
Nate Solder, Logan Mankins, Ryan Wendell, Dan Connolly, Sebastian Vollmer, Will Svitek, Marcus Cannon, Markus Zusevics, Nick McDonald (9)
Dante Scarnecchia’s starting line is returning but he will have his work cut out for him with the backups. Svitek is a veteran tackle who should prove to be a capable backup. McDonald is a utility lineman, who can play all across the line. At 6”5, 300 lbs., Zusevics has quite an impressive frame; if Scarnecchia can teach him how to utilize that size, he could prove to be an important depth piece and put himself in line for a bigger role in the future. Cannon, is still trying to adjust to being a tackle and is running out of time to do so as a member of the Patriots. However, allowing Cannon to move back to his natural guard position in order to strengthen the depth on the lines interior, may allow the team to get the most out of him.
Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich, Justin Francis, Michael Buchanan (4)
Everyone is looking at Jones to make a J.J. Watt-esque jump in year two and if he does, it will go a major way towards the Patriots defense returning to what it was during its championship years.
Vince Wilfork, Tommy Kelly, Armon Armstead, Marcus Fortson (4)
The production the Patriots get out of Armstead and Kelly will go a long way towards how successful the passing defense is this season.
Jerod Mayo, Brandon Spikes, Don’t’a Hightower, Jamie Collins, Dane Fletcher (5)
We know what we’re getting with Mayo, the question is what will year two look like for Hightower and what type of season will Spikes have as he looks to cash in when his rookie contract expires at the end of the year?
Aqib Talib, Alfonzo Dennard, Kyle Arrington, Logan Ryan, Ras-I Dowling (5)
If Dennard is gone, Arrington, as well as the rookie Ryan, will have to combine to solidify the spot across from Talib, who is looking to earn a big contract next offseason. Dowling’s health is also a key factor in the success of this group, as he will be leaned on to pace Talib throughout the season. If he once again fails to be healthy, the team will have to bring in outside help.
Devin McCourty, Tavon Wilson, Adrian Wilson, Steve Gregory, Duron Harmon (5)
Another position of mystery. Adrian Wilson is expected to be the rock of this group and the 2013 edition of Rodney Harrison. But after that things become less certain. McCourty has had an entire offseason plus more than enough time during the 2012 season to succeed at the safety position, which he is better suited for. If he fails to produce, it will be a major blow to the back-end of New England’s defense. There isn’t quite the same hype surrounding the year two jump that Tavon Wilson will make, but he could help to make a formidable tandem, splitting reps with the elder Wilson.
Steve Gostkowski, Zoltan Mesko, Danny Aiken (3)
Despite bringing in players to challenge the likes of Gostkowski and Mesko, these two will have another go-around as the Patriots starting kicker and punter this season. Punter Ryan Allen has looked strong to this point and you can bet that the team would like to see him make it through to the practice squad.