With the first preseason game in the rearview mirror, and practices with the Saints in West Virginia ahead, I'm taking my second look at the Patriots roster with my projections for their opening day roster.
With uncertainty surrounding several positions, I indicate players that I consider locks with ( ) around their name. Each position is numbered with a loose depth chart.
I have 54 players currently, but that is solely due to Blount being suspended the first game. Top candidates to be cut once he returns include Travaris Cadet and Jonathan Freeny.
Using the Patriots roster on Patriots.com, here is my projection for the Patriots roster come September:
(Tom Brady) - The Golden Boy will be playing opening night. Barring the justice system failing to deliver justice, or the NFLPA appealing or filing an injunction, Brady should be set to carve up the Steelers secondary on opening kickoff.
(Jimmy Garoppolo) - Prince Ali and future Golden Boy Jimmy G will be holding down the fort for the Patriots should something things go south in the Brady legal battle. So far in camp he has looked good, with his main concern being him holding on to the ball for too long. If asked to start, there is no reason to doubt he can lead the Patriots to victories.
(LeGarrette Blount) - The closest player to a lock out of the backfield for New England. After being held out of practice for failing his conditioning test the first two days, Blount has come out and dominated from the RB position. Clearly the leader and superior back, Blount looks as good as ever, poised to be the lead back this year.
(James White) - Despite an underwhelming season last year, James White is already the frontrunner for the 3rd down back role. His role last year wasn't much different than Shane Vereen's his rookie year. Vereen played in five games, had only 15 rushing attempts and didn't catch a pass. I know many people have been quick to move on from White, but he could be a difference maker this year. He looked wonderful in his first preseason came, specifically in the passing game. His burst and stop-on-a-dime ability makes him lethal in the open field..
Brandon Bolden - I was one of the people who was surprised when the Patriots announced an extension for Bolden last season. While that doesn't guarantee he makes the roster, it does make him seem like a likely candidate. Belichick loves what he brings on special teams, and Bolden has shown he can produce at times when asked to play out of the backfield. Recently he has moved into a contending position for the 3rd down back role.
Jonas Gray, RB - With an impressive first preseason game, and some positive reviews in practice, Gray should make the team and provide the reprieve for Blount and his replacement for week one.
Travaris Cadet - While James White may be poised to be the 3rd down back, not many backs in the NFL are as good at catching passes than Cadet. His impressive 6'1" 210 frame makes for a WR-like build for a guy who can line up in the backfield or the slot. His role may be unique in that regard. If he cannot return soon, he may be on the outside looking in though
James Develin - The FB position is reliant on an offense that uses one. I do believe the Patriots will embrace a more smash mouth approach to their offense, as indicated with the drafting of Tre' Jackson and Shaq Mason, and Develin is about as smash mouth as you get on the Patriots.
(Julian Edelman) - One of the most popular men in Boston right now should look to continue his success of last year. Even if he doesn't reach the numbers he attained this year, Edelman will still be one of the most important cogs in the Patriots machine. So far in camp Edelman has continued to prove that he is one of the best WRs in the NFL, despite missing time with an ankle injury.
(Brandon LaFell) - One of the best surprises of last year was the success of Brandon LaFell. His ability to pick up the playbook and contribute so quickly allowed the Patriots to be safe with Aaron Dobson and maintain a big body that could perform in the slot and outside. Brady trusts him, which is more than enough of a reason to expect to see LaFell around for quite some time. So far he's been kept off the field with a foot injury, but there doesn't seem to much concern for his availability once the season starts. Better to play it safe than sorry with foot injuries.
Danny Amendola - Had Amendola not come on in the playoffs and restructure his contract, he would've been on the cut list at the bottom of this article. We saw against Baltimore and Seattle what Amendola can bring to the table. If he continues that trend, he very well be worth keeping around. So far in camp, Amendola has been the consistent and reliable WR, making his future more and more promising.
Aaron Dobson - Dobson has been making exciting plays all over the field on some of the Patriots best defensive backs. Dobson had also been added to the select group consisting of Gronk and Scott Chandler doing extra work with Tom Brady on the side to build up their chemistry. Even though he missed time with a hamstring issue, he should be back this week for practice. I don't want to jump the gun, but my expectations for Dobson are quite high this season.
Brandon Gibson - Quietly making plays in camp so far, Gibson is fighting Josh Boyce for a roster spot with several receptions each day. With Boyce having an awful first preseason game, and Gibson continuing to prove his skills. Given his experience in McDaniel's offense, I think Gibson could be a regular contributor on offense.
(Rob Gronkowski) - Next season very well could catapult Gronk into the greatest TE of all-time talk. His stats so far are legendary, without a doubt, but give him a full offseason at 100% health, in the prime of his career, with an improving offense around him, and Gronk could be Gronk Spiking constantly next year.
(Scott Chandler) - Finally getting back to more work after missing time with an injury, Chandler has been raved about from coaches and teammates alike. This signing will allow the Pats another impressive weapon to stretch the seams and take attention away from Gronk.
Michael Hoomanawanui - I am reluctant to put him making the roster, but with AJ Derby on IR and no real threat emerging in camp, it looks like Hooman will live to see another snap with the Patriots. I hope he improves upon his abysmal season last year. For being the "blocking TE" he needs to be able to block, and that wasn't the case last year.
(Nate Solder) - Solder struggled at times last season, but after learning that he went through cancer treatment in the offseason, it is fair to say that was understandable. By the end of the season Solder returned to form and displayed his ability to protect Brady's blindside. With his 5th year option currently in effect, Solder remains a possibility for a contract extensions to lower his cap hit.
(Sebastian Vollmer) - Despite his numerous injuries, Vollmer has proven himself as one of the best right tackles in the NFL. This year, Seabass will need to remain healthy in order for his future with the Patriots to continue, but this year he should be suiting up at tackle on opening day. It sounds like he is doing more and more each passing day.
(Bryan Stork) - Another pleasant surprise last year, Bryan Stock entered his first start and helped steady a terrifyingly awful offensive line. Stork should continue his growth at center for the Patriots, potentially captaining that line group for the upcoming season. Without knowing the extent of his injury, it would be reasonable to think he will be just fine.
(Tre' Jackson) - A steal in this year's draft, Jackson could be one of the Patriots starting guards on opening day. His size, experience, and film show that Jackson can be a good NFL guard. With his former linemate Bryan Stork assisting his transition to the Patriots, his expectations are quite high. So far he has seized the starting right tackle position and doesn't look like he's going to give that up anytime soon.
(Shaq Mason) - Considered one of, if not the best run blockers in this year's draft, Shaq Mason is a force from the guard position. With Wendell out so far, Mason has been the starting left guard all of camp. In the preseason opener, he proved on several plays that he will be a wrecking ball in the run game. If Belichick feels confident enough in his pass blocking skills, Mason could be on the fast track to starting opposite of Tre' Jackson by the time the season is over with.
Cameron Fleming - Fleming carved out a role last year as a tackle-eligible in six OL sets. Multiple times he flashed his athleticism and intelligence in that role, giving him some promising chances going forward. Without knowing Fleming's true position yet, it allows Belichick to craft him into whatever he needs him to be, whether it be guard or tackle.
Marcus Cannon - Last year's contract extension came as a surprise to just about everyone at first glance. Cannon was paid a significant amount of money, despite not showing much over the last year. Once free agency came around, the move made more sense. On the market, Cannon would've garnered a much higher salary than what the Patriots gave him, and if the Patriots were put into a situation at the time they wouldn't have been able to match it and would have had to rely on young Cameron Fleming to be the only backup tackle worthy of being on the 53 man roster. By signing him they kept a veteran player who knows their offense, and a player the Patriots coaching staff clearly has confidence in.
Josh Kline - Being the best Patriots backup offensive linemen last year, with the most experience, he would be a safe bet to stick on the roster. Given his ability to play either guard spot and center, his value is high.
(Dominique Easley) - Can a second year player who didn't play much his rookie year become Comeback Player of the Year? If that's possible, Easley could be a prime candidate. With no setbacks to his health, and with a starting role in his grasp, Easley has the potential to turn heads this year. With the influx of talent to the front seven, Easley's pass rush skills should allow him to beat the one on ones and get to the quarterback. His performance against the Packers solid OL was promising. He is consistently the fastest player off the ball on the defensive line.
(Malcom Brown) - Another steal for the Patriots in the draft. I saw Brown as high as 10th on some mock drafts and none of them where he got past the Lions at 28. His youth and athleticism make Brown an extremely promising rookie who has room to grow. Pairing him with the likes of Easley, Siliga and Branch should make for plenty of opportunities for Brown to shine. His ability to move linemen and move down the line of scrimmage was an exciting thing to watch against the Packers.
Sealver Siliga - Had Siliga not been injured last year, the Patriots defense would've looked even better than it had. Siliga continues to subtly improve over his time in New England, and will be asked to do more this year than he has previously. Should he remain healthy, Siliga should maintain his position as a regular contributor on defense.
Alan Branch - Assuming the role as largest man on defense with Wilfork's departure, Branch will look to further his complimentary role from last year. While he may not have shown up in the stat book, his impact was felt by allowing Jamie Collins and Dont'a Hightower to rush the gaps by combining his efforts with Wilfork. His space eating mentality will help try to replace the double teams that Wilfork commanded in the past.
Zach Moore - I originally had him as a DE in the projected roster, but his role in a variety of techniques will make him an extremely useful tool to have. His added weight will make him capable of taking on blocks on the interior of the line and making a push.
(Rob Ninkovich) - The guy everyone hated for taking Mike Vrabel's number has become one of the Patriots most reliable players. With the additions of Flowers and Grissom, Ninkovich should be allowed some plays off during games, keeping him fresh. That in turn could result in him making more of an impact.
(Chandler Jones) - Despite his injury never being fully disclosed, I speculate that he had a torn hip labrum, which isn't an easy thing to play through. Hopefully his recovery has been smooth and he can return to 100%. With the other players around him hopefully commanding more attention, Jones may finally have the opportunities to get after the quarterback. He showed a tad more effort on run plays in his brief playing time in the first preseason game, which was his biggest flaw in previous years.
(Jabaal Sheard) - An outside linebacker/defensive end hybrid will have possibly the greatest impact of any of the free agent signings this offseason. Not only does he excel at getting to the quarterback, recording 23 sacks over the last four years, but he also plays the run exceptionally as well. Without knowing what scheme Matt Patricia and Belichick are thinking of playing, Sheard can still expect to be getting considerable playing time.
(Trey Flowers) - The opening bang of day three of the NFL draft for the Patriots was Flowers. Many saw him as a 2nd or 3rd round pick. His freakish athleticism should allow him to get a good number of snaps in this upcoming season and could result in him getting a handful of sacks and tackles for loss. He flashed his incredible skills by beating the Packers left tackle and pouncing on Aaron Rodgers for a sack. Belichick lauded him in the last few days, but it is unknown as to what injury he sustained in the game.
(Geneo Grissom) - I list him as a defensive end despite his potential as an outside linebacker and as a defensive tackle solely because I think its completely fluid and the Patriots official roster lists him as a defensive lineman. Grissom will be used all over the place most likely given his broad range of talents and his good athleticism. He showed his power by disrupting several plays last Thursday.
(Dont'a Hightower) - One of the most important players on the roster, Dont'a Hightower has proven himself time and again. Last postseason showed that he can be a franchise linebacker for this team for years to come. With him shedding the red no contact jersey this week, it looks like not only a healthy Hightower for opening kickoff, but one who is completely healthy and able to participate in preseason games.
(Jamie Collins)- A young superstar, Jamie Collins can do just about everything on defense. Whether it is covering a running back out of the backfield, stopping the run, or getting after the quarterback, there are no limits to what he can do. Hopefully another year in the league elevates him game to another level, if there is one. In camp he has shown he can do everything from pass coverage to getting after the quarterback.
(Jerod Mayo) - Arguably the best linebacker on the Patriots before his injury, Mayo is now the true veteran leader on defense. Should he return to his former self, he will captain a Patriots linebacking corps that could claim its place as the best in the NFL. With him being cleared to tackle and doing so with some force in camp, Mayo looks to be 100% long before the Patriots play the Steelers.
James Morris - Morris was destined for the 53 man roster last year, and given his excess of snaps in OTAs and camp, he looks to be on that course once again. Coaches raved about his intelligence and his leadership. Look for Morris to be around for some time if he continues to develop.
Eric Martin, LB - A three year veteran who has been sticking around in New England, but he has finally caught the coaches' eyes and has been performing well at camp. As one of the few LBs that can actually play in the base defense, his stance is much improved over Freeny at this point in time.
Jonathan Freeny - Almost purely a special teams LB, Freeny will likely take part on all four special teams units. He may see time on passing downs, but I don't think that will be often.
(Malcolm Butler) - Butler continues his ascension to stardom with good news daily from him. Butler should be a starter this season as the Patriots #1 CB and make plays. Given the broad range of size and skill sets for the Patriots corners, I expect a matchup based secondary, with corners being played accordingly to the opponents receivers. Butler may be an exception to that though, given his success against such a variety of receivers.
(Logan Ryan) - So far, Logan Ryan has been doing work in camp, but struggled against the Packers on several plays. One thing Logan seems to be struggling with is the confidence in what he's doing. On the TD he gave up, he froze and forgot to punch and jam the receiver at the line of scrimmage, allowing him a free release. Ryan has the ability to be the second cornerback across from Butler, but he needs to limit his errors.
(Tarell Brown) - The Patriots talked to him right out of the gate when free agency opened, and waited for him to get healthy before signing him. Brown has been showing his skills in camp as he returns to 100%, and has even been experimented with in the slot.
Bradley Fletcher - Last year's struggles were a result of a flawed defensive scheme and awful safeties in a division filled with elite receivers. If Fletcher can gel in Belichick's defense, he may very well end up as the #3 cornerback. Before last year, Fletcher was a very good player. Hopefully a change of scenery, an improved coaching staff, and a better team around him will elevate his play.
Darryl Roberts - Some draft analysts claim Darryl Roberts was the steal of day three. Some had him with a second round grade. His size, athleticism, and style make for him to be a good press man corner. Before getting injured in the preseason game, he was working with the first team defense, showing the Belichick wants him to become a regular contributor on defense. Hopefully he can return soon and seize that opportunity.
Robert McClain - Kyle Arrington's replace will be used in the same role. His smaller stature and quickness allows him to be a slot corner that can double as a safety. Reports are that he has been doing the right things in meetings and at practice and that he is fully embracing the Patriot Way. In the preseason game, he showed that he can be a force in coverage and against the run, earning praise from Belichick for his work on and off the field.
(Devin McCourty) - McCourty re-signed with New England solidifying his future with the Patriots. With the exodus of veterans during free agency, McCourty will need to assist the newcomers and rookies in their transition to the Patriots defense. Recently, McCourty has taken some snaps at CB with other safeties behind him. This is likely a situational occurrence that won't be the norm.
(Jordan Richards) - The Patriots training camp leader in interceptions, and lauded rookie, Richards has done almost everything right in his short time in New England so far. With McCourty taking snaps at CB, it could mean that Belichick has confidence in Richards and Harmon to play a two high safety scheme in certain situations.
(Duron Harmon) - My candidate to earn more playing time this year and eventually replace some of Chung's snaps. Harmon was placed in key situations last year and made plays when he needed to. One such play was his game sealing interception of Joe Flacco in the divisional round. Harmon has shown improvement over the last two years and should continue that trend.
Patrick Chung - After leaving for Philadelphia several years ago, Chung returned and provided a pleasant surprise. While he was nowhere near elite, his play improved and he provided some hard hits from the safety position. His use on special teams will also keep him around, especially after his contract extension last year.
(Stephen Gostkowski) - With a new deal, and no competition in camp, Gostkowski is one of the best kickers in the NFL, if not the very best.
(Ryan Allen) - The lefty had an okay season last year after impressing as a rookie. After the contract extension, the Patriots have locked up their core special teamers for the near future.
Joe Cardona - After receiving his temporary Navy service waiver, Cardona very well could become the best long snapper in the NFL. Hopefully his success will allow him to continue to put off his service and remain with the Patriots for the foreseeable future.
(Matthew Slater) - Listed as a WR, Slater is the captain the Patriots need and is arguably the best special teams player in the NFL.
Xzavier Dickson, LB/DE - The 7th round pick falls to the practice squad due to a plethora of other players at his position. His potential is enough to keep him around.
Ryan Groy, OL - The Patriots traded for Groy, who at this point in time is a project. Given the lack of OL on the team he may work out on the practice squad
David Andrews, C - The Patriots paid Andrews the most money allowable for an UDFA. Given that information, he was highly thought of by Belichick and will likely stick around unless he disappoints.
Jimmy Jean, CB - His size alone is enough to intrigue coaches at 6'3". Excelled at UAB and could use further coaching and a season to bulk up to potentially factor in for a role in 2016. Possible he is an emergency special teamer if someone goes down.
Darius Fleming, LB - With Dane Fletcher returning and James Morris being healthy Fleming becomes dispensable on the 53 man roster, but his experience will come in handy should the Patriots need a linebacker.
Rufus Johnson, OLB/DE - A large linebacker (6'5" 272 lbs) who can play both OLB and DE which provides the Patriots with more uses for him on the practice squad. He flashed his skills in the preseason game, and could fight for a final roster spot.
Brian Tyms, WR - Drops and a limited route tree make Tyms too unreliable to be on the 53 man roster. The practice squad is the ideal place for Tyms who could contribute if LaFell or Dobson get injured.
Jake Bequette, TE/DE - His place on the roster relies solely on his potential to play tight end successfully. The fact that he has outlasted a
Ryan Lindley, QB - With Matt Flynn joining the Jets, the Patriots will need to have an extra arm in practice for the scout offense. Unless he is replaced by another QB, I could see this being his destination.
Casey Walker, DT - The last time Walker was on the team the Patriots wanted him to remain on the practice squad, but the Ravens claimed him. Hopefully this time he can stick around.
Tyler Gaffney, RB - I had hopes that he would make the roster, but yet again his season is cut short by injury. No one knows what the injury is for certain, but the last time we saw Gaffney playing was him getting popped hard and taken to the ground by Sealver Siliga. The next time we heard of him he was being placed on IR.
AJ Derby, TE - After being a favorite of several draft analysts, Derby was placed on IR for an undisclosed injury. This will be a redshirt year for Derby, who will have a chance to make the roster next year, when Hooman's contract is over.
Physically Unable to Perform
Dane Fletcher - A return back home brings Dane Fletcher back into the fold with New England. A year of contributing quite a bit in Tampa Bay gave Fletcher more experience as a base defender which gives him more value than as a pure special teamer. Rumors have been that he will begin the season on the PUP list, opening up another roster spot for the time being.
Chris Jones, DL - Despite giving the Patriots a capable DT for the past two years, Chris Jones will be supplanted by the likes of Malcom Brown. With the Patriots investing in Casey Walker, and no sign of Jones at camp, it may allow the Patriots to leave him on the PUP list until they have to make a decision on him.
Ryan Wendell - Should Shaq Mason or Cameron Fleming prove themselves a superior option than Wendell in camp, he may be looking for a new job. That said, as one of the senior-most players on the offensive line, Wendell is a needed commodity to have until a younger player is capable of starting. His ability to play guard and center also make Wendell a valuable player to have in case of an injury to Stork. The PUP list is his best shot
Tavon Wilson, DB - Wilson has come on the last few days in camp, and has shown what he can do. Unfortunately for him, it may be too little too late. Could very well get a roster spot over someone like Jonathan Freeny, but at this point I'm not convinced.
Antonio Johnson, DL - A veteran with eight years of experience has an uphill battle to get a roster spot with the talented youth at his position. His showing during camp will keep him around until the last cuts, but the youth at the position is his downfall.
Jimmay Mundine, TE - An athletic weapon that could be used as an H-Back. His college highlights are impressive, but a quiet camp leads to him being cut.
Asante Cleveland, TE - The man responsible for freeing us of Jordan Devey has a shot at a special teams role, but his limited experience and lack of blocking skills make him replaceable.
Brandon King, DB - An UDFA who faces a tough road to making it on either the roster or practice squad. He's been working at LB
Mark Asper, OL - A camp body for the depleted offensive line.
Chris Barker, OL - The following three offensive linemen all have potential to become members of the practice squad, but with the depth the line now has with their rookies, players like Barker will be forced off the roster.
Chris Martin, OL - After being claimed off of waivers from the Dolphins, former Patriot Chris Martin is another plug and play OL for the depleted Patriots line.
Caylin Hauptmann, OL - One of the few players that has been highly spoken of from the past few months out of the linemen. Hopefully he surprises people and makes the practice squad.
Dion Lewis, RB- Despite a promising offseason so far, Dion Lewis will need to beat out the likes of James White and Travaris Cadet to make the roster, and I wouldn't count on that happening.
Eric Kettani, FB - The former Patriot will yet again be cut from the team. His purpose is to provide some competition with Develin and provide some special teams depth.
Joe Vellano, DL - With the youth and talent at DT make Vellano replaceable. Sad to know we won't see him being pushed five yards off the line of scrimmage this year.
Josh Boyce, WR - If he cannot stay healthy this summer, he will be shown the door quickly. A once promising player has been hurt more than he has been healthy. Potentially a practice squad candidate, but his struggles so far this summer make that unlikely.
Chris Harper, WR - An UDFA who fits in as a slot receiver in the offense. Could make the practice squad if he nails down the playbook, but it is a long road ahead for him.
Jonathan Krause, WR - Another slot WR who will potentially battle for a practice squad spot.
A.J. Pataiali’l, DL - A camp body at DT who is currently filling in for Chris Jones and Joe Vellano.
Tony Creecy, RB - Camp body to fill in for the loss of Gaffney and with Dion Lewis and Travaris Cadet banged up.
Dekoda Watson, LB - A relatively quiet summer so far leads him off the roster for players like Eric Martin and James Morris who have higher upside.
Dax Swanson, CB - With the current depth, it seems unlikely that the Pats will keep more than one or two CBs on the practice squad, leading to his release.
Cameron Gordon, LB - Was the highest paid UDFA last year for the Patriots, but then was placed on IR. So far he has looked far from impressive in his time in New England.
Zach D'Orazio, WR - On and off the roster this offseason, he has a chance to make the practice squad, but it looks like Chris Harper and Tyms have a leg up on him.
Nate Ebner, DB - After several years as a special teams ace, with his contract set to expire and other players capable of filling his role with defensive upside, it is time for Ebner to move on.
Here is a visual look at the potential starting offense and defense for the Patriots. Please note this is in a simple base 12 personnel offense and 4-3 defense. Several players not shown will see significant snaps. These players include Logan Ryan, Duron Harmon, Jabaal Sheard, Jordan Richards, Bradley Fletcher, Darryl Roberts, Dominique Easley, Alan Branch, Robert McClain on defense, and Aaron Dobson, Michael Hoomanawanui, James White, James Develin, Brandon Gibson, and Brandon Bolden, among others.