Projecting the Patriots' 53-man roster before the first preseason game

Steven Senne / AP Photo

The Patriots have until September 3 to trim their roster down to 53, but two weeks into training camp there's already a solid sense of who the last men standing will be. Ahead of the first preseason game Thursday night, let's take a look and try to forecast the shape of the final roster:

Quarterbacks (3): Tom Brady, Jimmy Garoppolo, Jacoby Brissett
No surprises here. Brissett has struggled at points in camp, but he should still be a lock to make the roster.

Running Backs (6): Mike Gillislee, Rex Burkhead, Dion Lewis, James White, James Develin, Brandon Bolden
Six backs may seem like a lot, but the number shrinks when considering Develin and Bolden--the former is a fullback, while the latter plays almost exclusively on special teams. Considering they both just signed extensions, they will most likely make the roster along with the four locks.

Wide Receivers (6): Brandin Cooks, Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell, Matthew Slater
Once again, no surprises. Out of the six, only Amendola could be in some jeopardy, and he just took a pay cut to remain with the team. Expect them all to make the squad, with young talents like Devin Lucien and Austin Carr sliding down to the practice squad.

Tight Ends (3): Rob Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen, Jacob Hollister
Not too surprising, although I think the undrafted rookie Hollister will beat out Matt Lengel and James O'Shaughnessy for the final spot. While Lengel was serviceable (if unspectacular) in action last year and the Pats traded with the Chiefs to get O'Shaugnessy, Hollister offers big-play potential the others don't. And at the third tight end spot, explosiveness might just outrank experience.

Offensive Line (7): Nate Solder, Marcus Cannon, Shaq Mason, Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Tony Garcia, Ted Karras
It was a tough call deciding between Karras and Stanford product Cameron Fleming, but I think Karras wins because of his versatility. Fleming has been a solid swing tackle in the run game, but Karras can play across the interior line and has taken snaps at center before. While it's within striking distance for Fleming, that flexibility should help the former Illinois man seal up the seventh O-lineman spot.

Defensive Line (8): Malcolm Brown, Trey Flowers, Alan Branch, Derek Rivers, Deatrich Wise Jr., Lawrence Guy, Vincent Valentine, Kony Ealy
While people like Mike Dussault of PatsPropaganda have said that Ealy could be on the roster bubble, I think he slips by and makes the team. His issue has always been effort, not talent--if he can flash brilliance like he did in Super Bowl 50, he should have no trouble beating out the likes of Woodrow Hamilton and Geneo Grissom for a spot. Speaking of Grissom, the clock may have finally run out for the former third-rounder. He's played on special teams, but has never been able to make an impact on the regular unit. And after starting out camp working with starters, he's fallen down to the second string for the majority of his work. Unless he wows observers in the preseason games, expect him to be in another city by September.

Linebackers (5): Dont'a Hightower, Shea McClellin, David Harris, Elandon Roberts, Kyle Van Noy, Harvy Langi
The Patriots gave BYU senior Harvey Langi a whopping $125k as an undrafted free agent--Bill Belichick even reportedly said that, had Langi declared for the draft as a junior, he would have drafted him in the first round. And after Jonathan Freeny missed all of last season with a shoulder injury, there's a clear opening for a depth linebacker towards the bottom of the roster. Do the math. Other than that, the top five should stay entrenched in their spots.

Secondary (12): Stephon Gilmore, Malcolm Butler, Patrick Chung, Devin McCourty, Justin Coleman, Jonathan Jones, Cyrus Jones, Nate Ebner, Brandon King, Duron Harmon, Jordan Richards, Eric Rowe
This will be where the Pats allocate the meat of their roster space. The starting tier is clear with Butler, Gilmore, Chung, and McCourty, but beyond that there's some considerable room for speculation. Eric Rowe has managed to hang on to the slot corner job, but second-year man Jonathan Jones is rising fast, and could see significant playing time against smaller, quicker wideouts. Coleman has saved his stock with a solid camp, and Harmon won't be going anywhere after signing an extension in the offseason. While Cyrus Jones and Richards have underachieved relative to their status as second-round picks, they'll most likely get one more year in Foxborough thanks to their high draft slot. Finally, King and Ebner are core special-teamers.

Specialists (3): Stephen Gostkowski, Ryan Allen, Joe Cardona
Rounding out the roster are the kicker, punter, and long snapper. Despite his struggles last year, Gostkowski will be back for another season with the Pats. Allen helped the Pats place inside the league's top 10 in net punting average last year, and Cardona hasn't disappointed yet after being drafted in the fifth round a year ago.

It will certainly be a wild ride slimming down the roster. The road to 53 begins Thursday night when the Patriots take on the Jaguars at 7:30 Eastern.

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