Too many blown coverages unfortunately will cost Justin Coleman a roster spot (photo source: blog.masslive.com)
The preseason is now in the books for the 2016-7 season. By the end of the day tomorrow, several NFL-caliber players will be released by the Patriots. It's impossible to predict the final roster because the Patriots will surely make roster moves after players released by other teams hit the open market. Even after those moves are made, Bill Belichick almost always tinkers with the roster until the final moment leading up to the team's trip to Glendale in 9 days.
Based on last night's action and what we know today, here is what I believe will consist of the final roster.
QUARTERBACK (2): Jimmy Garoppolo, Jacoby Brissett. Tom Brady will serve his four-game suspension and then Brissett will have an unfortunate " undisclosed injury" in practice that will put him on IR.
RUNNING BACK (5): LeGarrette Blount, James Develin, James White, Brandon Bolden, D.J. Foster. Seeing Foster field punts and kicks last night gives us a hint about his initial role on special teams, while also serving as a potential-change-up back if the running game starts slow in the opening weeks. The injury to Tyler Gaffney may be a blessing in disguise as opposing teams will be hesitant to sign him after the Patriots release him and put him on the practice squad. If/when Dion Lewis comes off the PUP, the team will have a very difficult decision to make with this group.
WIDE RECEIVER (4): Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Keshawn Martin, Malcolm Mitchell. I cannot imagine the team carrying five wideouts when they likely will play a more conservative offense in the first four weeks. Aaron Dobson being Aaron Dobson sealed his fate when he failed to run a crisp route and come back to the ball, which led to the Brady INT on Thursday. Too many of these Dobsonisms happened in the preseason and in his whole career. Danny Amendola starts on the PUP even if he doesn't need all that time. The team needs him in December-January, not September-October. Martin's ability to return punts and his overall toughness, grabs him the last spot in this group.
TIGHT END (3): Rob Gronkowski, Martellus Bennett, A.J. Derby. Derby beats out Clay Harbor for the final spot. It really wasn't that close at the end.
OFFENSIVE LINE (9, initially): Nate Solder, Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Marcus Cannon, LaAdrian Waddle, Ted Karras, Jonathan Cooper, Cameron Fleming. Fleming gets a job for the first four weeks as both insurance for the Solder injury, as well as to serve as an extra tight end for their big packages. After that, he probably gets cut to fill another need after regular season injuries mount. Keeping Chris Barker over Josh Kline will save the team nearly $1 million in cap space. Seeing Barker line up with the first unit at times the past 2 games shows the coaching staff's growing confidence in him. Seeing Kline on the field in the 4th quarter Thursday was not a good sign for the veteran. Cooper's nearly $4 million in dead money makes cutting him almost impossible considering the team hasn't had a chance to explore his potential due to his preseason injury. When Tre Jackson returns from the PUP he will compete with Karras or Cooper for a job, but the team may decide they're better off stashing Jackson on IR. This is a deep but unspectacular group. Let's hope Sebastian Vollmer can get on the field this season.
DEFENSIVE LINE (9): Alan Branch, Malcolm Brown, Chris Long, Jabaal Sheard, Trey Flowers, Anthony Johnson, Vincent Valentine, Geneo Grissom, Markus Kuhn. Today's suspension of Rob Ninkovich for the first 4 games allows the coaching staff to keep Kuhn for the final spot. The tough cut is Rufus Johnson, who has the unfortunate skill set and body type of other players ahead of him on the depth chart.
LINEBACKER (8): Jamie Collins, Dont'a Hightower, Jonathan Freeny, Shea McClellin, Barkevious Mingo, Brandon King, Elandon Roberts, Kamu Grugier-Hill. A deeper group than normal, King and Grugier-Hill will serve mostly as special teamers. Roberts showed a lot of heart fighting through an injury on Thursday and proving to the coaching staff that he wanted to be on this team. He's also a good insurance policy as a run stopper if Collins or Hightower gets injured, but in the meantime Roberts will also participate on 4th down. It would cost the team over $1.4 million to cut McClellin so he earns a spot based on economics. Mingo exceeded all expectations in his debut Thursday and could be an X factor for the defense this season.
CORNERBACK (4): Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan, Cyrus Jones, Cre'Von LeBlanc. A less than impressive preseason earns Justin Coleman a pink slip. Jonathan Jones and Darryl Roberts should be safe to hide on the practice squad due to their blank-regular season resumes and up-and-down-preseason performances.
SAFETY (5): Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Duane Harmon, Nate Ebner, Jordan Richards. After a rough camp defending the pass, Richards bounced back after giving up a long reception Thursday with a nice INT and a great special teams tackle.
SPECIALISTS (4): Stephen Gostkowski, Ryan Allen, Joe Cardona, Matt Slater. No surprises or competition here.
ANALYSIS: The last player to make the team was Kuhn, who is the choice over the last-cut Coleman. After 3+ years of frustration, the Aaron Dobson era is over in New England.
PREDICTION: Rex Ryan signs Dobson so that he can tell him the Patriots' secrets. Unfortunately, Dobson never learned the playbook so Rex wastes a roster spot on him for the October 2nd frustrating loss.