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New England Patriot Roster Projection-Defense

Moving on to the defense…while being thankful the roster apparently has not changed in the last couple of days.  Cuz, you know, Bill likes to consistently churn the back-end of the roster and mess us all up.  Wait, I may be the only one who cares about the bottom of the roster.  Anyway, here goes:

DE (5):

Locks:  Trey Flowers, Kony Ealy, Derek Rivers, Deatrich Wise

In:  Geneo Grissom

Out:  None

Way Out:  Caleb Kidder, Rob Ninkovich (retired)

Comments:  This is what I wrote in the first roster projection last year:  “Flowers and Grissom don’t appear to be stars in the making.”  Oops.  At least on Flowers.  Welp, I’ve been completely off before.  And most assuredly will be again.  Truth be told though, most people thought Flowers was on the fringe of the roster before the 2016 season.  Now he is the unquestioned top defensive end on the team.  So I wasn’t the only one.  There have been plenty of whispers about Ealy early in camp.  His attitude.  His fit on the team.  His “coachability”.  And he has been on the sidelines quite a bit, from all reports.  But the key phrase here is, “early in camp”.  I’m not taking him off the lock list…yet.  Rivers and Wise were two of their four draft picks.  Not likely to go anywhere.  And I am hearing Wise is running with the starters at this point.  Grissom takes Ninkovich’s spot.  It helps that he is a factor on special teams as well.  Most were surprised at Nink’s sudden retirement.  But maybe we shouldn’t have been.  He’s getting up there in age and also wasn’t the same difference maker last year as in previous years…you know, before the PED suspension.  Yup…

DT (4):

Locks:  Alan Branch, Malcom Brown, Lawrence Guy, Vincent Valentine

In:  None

Out: Woodrow Hamilton, Darius Kilgo

Way Out:  Josh Augusta, Adam Butler

Comments:  Pretty much cut and dried here.  Branch re-signed on a nice deal.  Guy was signed to a fat deal himself, kind of out of nowhere.  May be a little push for Brown in his third year.  But the Pats like to rotate their big guys anyway.  Valentine showed enough last year to be locked in this year.  Hamilton and Kilgo may find themselves on the practice squad and therefore may surface on the active roster at some point this season.  And Augusta and Butler are “Way Out” for the simple reason that I’ve never heard of them.  Good enough for me.

LB (6):

Locks:  Dont’a Hightower, David Harris

In:  Shea McClellin, Elandon Roberts, Kyle Van Noy, Harvey Langhi

Out:  Jonathan Freeny, Trevor Bates

Way Out:  Brooks Ellis

Comments:  When I started putting together this column last week, I actually had Harris as only “In” and not a lock.  Thought he may be that typical veteran who was a star elsewhere and then couldn’t adapt to the Patriots system/culture/etc.  Seemed to be a prime candidate for that.  Then I saw they gave him the green dot like 2 days into camp, leading the communication on the defense.  I know, that is “early in camp” too.  But I look at this development a little differently, right or wrong.  McClellin, Roberts and Van Noy all bring different skills to the table so I figured they all stick for now.  Langhi gets a nod here, simply because almost every year an undrafted free agent makes the squad out of the gate…and usually contributes.  He is the early pick simply because they gave him the most dough.  Freeny gets squeezed here, but wouldn’t shock me if he makes it, primarily for his special teams ability.  Bates is from Maine and that’s nice.  Ellis?  Yup, no idea who he is.

CB (5):

Locks:  Stephon Gilmore, Malcolm Butler, Eric Rowe, Jonathan Jones

In:  Cyrus Jones

Out:  Justin Coleman, D.J. Killings

Way Out:  William Likely, Dwayne Thomas

Comments:  Here’s another thing I wrote in the first roster projection last year:  “Cyrus Jones HAS to be better than any of the teams’ third cornerbacks last year, doesn’t he?”  And I had Jonathan Jones as “Way Out”.  Oops.  And.  Oops.  But I can’t see them giving up on Cyrus after only one year.  Wouldn’t be unprecedented though.  Jonathan has been apparently playing the slot in camp.  Add in the fact he is, yup, a special teamer…that makes him a lock.  Seems to me they like Rowe a lot too.

As for Gilmore and Butler, that whole scenario in the spring still baffles me.  Butler has done everything the team asked since he came out of nowhere 3 seasons ago.  Played at an All-Pro level the last two years, playing for peanuts and didn’t utter much of a peep about that.  I mean, he knows how this organization operates.  But still.  Then New England gives Gilmore a huge deal right out of the gate as free agency opened.  Not typical Patriot behavior.  Don’t blame Butler at all from being pissed.  Wasn’t surprised there was the stuff about him working out a contract with the New Orleans Saints and hoping the Pats worked out a deal with them.  Nothing materialized with the Saints (or any other team, for that matter) and Butler is still here without a long-term deal.  And even since then, you haven’t heard much from him regarding all of it.  And now I think most expect Butler to play with a chip on his shoulder and help himself in free agency next year.  That will also benefit the Patriots of course.  But did the team play this out right?  Time will tell.  But hope Gilmore ain’t a colossal bust…

Coleman could I suppose be a back-end guy, but there’s no room.  Killings was I believe the 2nd highest paid undrafted free agent in the Pats pool, so maybe he gets on the practice squad and gets elevated at some point.  Likely & Thomas?  Maybe I should watch more college football, so I can know who some of these camp bodies are.

S (3):

Locks:  Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon

In:  None

Out:  Jordan Richards

Way Out:  Jason Thompson, Damarius Travis, David Jones, Kenny Moore

Comments:  Richards probably actually gets one more chance behind the three no-doubters and makes the squad when they break camp.  Three safeties is kind of thin.  But the other guys?  You know what I am going to say.

Specialists (6):

Locks:  Stephen Gostkowski (K), Ryan Allen (P), Joe Cardona (LS), Matthew Slater (ST), Nate Ebner (ST), Brandon King (ST)

In:  None

Out:  None

Way Out:  None

Comments:  Nothing really to say here.  Some are surprised Belichick did not bring another kicker to camp due to Gostkowski’s uneven year last year.  I’m not.  There are plenty of kickers “kicking” around (haha) and I’m sure Bill has one or two or three in mind if last year’s issues move forward into this year.  No sense in wasting another camp spot on a kicker.  Other than that, the six here are pretty obvious.

That’s about the size of it.  I’ll wait until later in camp to project the practice squad and IR/PUP/NFI and other lists.  Actually, I’d say no one actually starts on the PUP list this year.  Only Hightower and Branch are currently on the preseason PUP list.  Hard to believe they will miss the first six weeks of the season, but I suppose you never know…

Roster projection…already? Part Two…

I told you yesterday the roster would be in flux.  The Patriots are clearly playing games with the Blowhard.  Shortly after I posted the first part of this projection, Danny Amendola did indeed restructure his contract (which now makes him a “lock”) and Joey Iosefa was released (he was “out” anyway).  Plus, they signed 8 undrafted free agents…where the original list was 9.  And one of the eight is TE Bryce Williams (“way out”, for completeness), who was not on the original list of 9.  It appears that they also did NOT sign an apparent “Blowhard” favorite, D’Runnya Wilson, either.  Oh well.  Let’s just blow through the rest of this before the roster changes again.

Onto the defense:

DE (4):

Locks:  Chris Long, Rob Ninkovich, Jabaal Sheard

In:  Geneo Grissom

Out:  Trey Flowers, Frank Kearse

Way Out:  None

Comments:  I’m assuming Long has something left.  This may be a bad assumption.  We’ve seen the “high-profile player on the downside of his career come to New England and not even make the team” guy here before.  The team did not exactly extend for him and he isn’t as old as some of the guys that fell into this category in prior years.  So I’m thinking he’s pretty safe…for now.  Nink and Sheard are no-brainers.  You could go in any direction for the 4th spot.  Flowers didn’t even come close to the field for the most part last year.  Grissom played some, and also some on special teams…but on one occasion let someone blow by him to get a punt blocked…so I am not sure that even matters.  Kearse is a 5 year veteran, who if I remember correctly, played like 79 snaps last YEAR.  Maybe it’s someone else by the onset of the season.  Maybe they keep more DT’s or LB’s and use them as ends.  I just went with Grissom at this point.

One thing I did notice is that Long, Ninkovich, Sheard and Kearse appear to be only signed through the end of this year.  Flowers and Grissom don’t appear to be stars in the making.  Chandler Jones is gone.  Not that we care too much…yet.  But 2017…yikes!!

DT (4):

Locks:  Alan Branch, Malcolm Brown, Terrance Knighton, Vincent Valentine

In:  None

Out:  Joe Vellano, Marcus Kuhn

Way Out:  Woodrow Hamilton

Comments:  Looks pretty set in stone here with what they have now.  Not as many bodies as last year, seems a little thin to me.  Sealver Siliga, Dominique Easley and Akiem Hicks are gone.  Vince Wilfork didn’t come back through that door.  Though Terrance “Pot Roast” Knighton may be a reasonable facsimile…as long as he doesn’t come in at 5 bills.  Would’ve liked to have seen them keep Hicks, who seemed to thrive last year once he arrived.  It’s not like the Chicago Bears wildly overpaid him.  Still not sure what the deal is with Easley, but he is still a free agent, so maybe the team was right.  Valentine may have been a questionable pick according to the experts…but they kind of need him.  Vellano always seems to be on the fringe, like the Chris Barker of the D.  He may always be an option in-season.  Maybe they keep a Kuhn here because of the lack of bodies.

LB (5):

Locks:  Jamie Collins, Dont’a Hightower, Shea McLellin

In:  Jonathan Freeny, Ramon Humber

Out:  Rufus Johnson, Jon Bostic, Tony Steward, Kamu Grugier-Hill, Elandon Roberts, Kevin Snyder

Way Out:  C.J. Johnson

Comments:  Freeny is probably a lock with the first three.  Bill and the staff seems to have a lot of confidence in him, based on how much he played last year.  And of course the special team abilities!  That’s what made me put Humber on over the rest.  Maybe Bostic developed in the time he has been here…adding in the full offseason.  After all, he was drafted 2 spots ahead of Collins in 2013, if that means anything to ya.  How many times did you hear that last year??  Johnson was a nice story early last season, but once he got that “illness”, they didn’t waste any time putting him on IR.  That should tell you something.  Steward was a 6th rounder on the Buffalo Bills last year, Grugier-Hill and Roberts were 6th rounders this year.  Snyder was signed in the playoffs last year after going undrafted before the season.  Seems like one of them would really have to stand out to make it beyond the practice squad this year.  Though Snyder went to Rutgers, so all bets are off there with the way Bill loves his Rutgers guys.

And…the hype-train may have already started with Grugier-Hill.  To wit, I borrow (steal?) the following quote from an article by Doug Kyed on NESN yesterday, “Kamu Grugier-Hill looks like a safety, plays like a linebacker and has the athleticism of a slot cornerback.  So, where will the sixth-round pick play for the New England Patriots?  The NFL needs to decide on a name for the position made popular by Arizona Cardinals safety/linebacker hybrid Deone Bucannon, whether that be “moneybacker,” “rover” or something else. The hybrid role is becoming more and more popular in the NFL, and Grugier-Hill seems to fit the bill perfectly.  For now, he’s listed as a linebacker on the Patriots’ roster.”  Fits the bill perfectly…of course!!!  I’m not blaming Kyed, by any means.  I’m sure he’s pumped to be quoted in the Blowhard.  I have heard this stuff elsewhere plenty of times since the draft, so I am sure he has too.  “Moneybacker.”  Sheeeesh.

CB (4):

Locks:  Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan, Cyrus Jones

In:  Justin Coleman

Out:  Darryl Roberts, E.J. Biggers

Way Out:  V’Angelo Bentley, Jonathan Jones, Cre’Von LeBlanc

Comments:  Cyrus Jones HAS to be better than any of the teams’ third cornerbacks last year, doesn’t he?  Tarell Brown, Bradley Fletcher, Coleman, Doug Johnson, Rashaan Melvin…I feel like I’m missing others, but you get the point.  I’m just hoping that Logan Ryan doesn’t remember that he is…Logan Ryan…and builds off his pretty good year last year.  I still wouldn’t pay him when he is a free agent after this year, but that’s me.

The Pats went with three corners in many games last year, so they could start this year the same way.  I don’t see it though.  Coleman did make a few plays, so we will see.  I keep hearing Roberts “flashed” in training camp last year from various writers.  But “flashing” in training camp does nothing for me.  Biggers is a long-time vet that is another special teamer, so we can’t rule him out.  I suppose we can’t rule any of the undrafted guys out here because of Butler’s rise.  But since I have no idea who they are, I will dismiss them at this point…until one of them “flashes” in camp, that is…

S (4):

Locks:  Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon, Jordan Richards

In:  None

Out:  Brock Vereen

Way Out:  Devonta Burns, Cedric Thompson

Comments:  Seems pretty cut and dried here too.  A couple of the specialists can play a little safety in a pinch.  Hopefully that doesn’t need to happen though.  Vereen and Thompson are mid-rounders that may be practice squad-types.  It appears that they never even signed the undrafted Burns, as I noted with the difference between initial reports and actual signings above.  But I am leaving him here anyway.  Because again, with the roster shuffling, he may actually be here next week.  Never can tell.

Specialists (6):

Locks:  Stephen Gostkowski (K), Ryan Allen (P), Joe Cardona (LS), Matthew Slater (ST), Nate Ebner (ST), Brandon King (ST)

In:  None

Out:  None

Way Out:  Christian Yount (LS)

Comments:  I’ve expanded the specialist section even more this year.  Just had the first four last year.  Added Ebner and King.  These guys simply do not play defense at all.  If they do, many other options have been exhausted.  So that’s what these guys are, simply specialists.  You may even be able to put a guy like Humber here too.  Because if the linebackers stay healthy, he won’t play there.  But since the Pats’ linebackers never stay healthy, I left him at that position.

The only wild card here is if Cardona has Navy obligations which take him out of the region.  He had Navy obligations last year, but was able to play in all the games as he fulfilled them locally.  From what I have seen and heard, that may not be the case for the upcoming season.  I’m not convinced Yount would be the guy to actually replace him.  But he will be the guy getting the reps for now.  Since, you know, he is the only one actually here.

I suppose another wild card is if Ebner gets hurt playing for the U.S. Rugby team this spring/summer.  I have no issues with him playing.  He is a good special teamer, but not necessarily integral to the success of the 2016-17 team.  I just hope he doesn’t come back with more ideas and options for more “rugby kicks” for Bill.  I still blame those needless kicks turning the tide for the “ready to quit” Philadelphia Eagles team and the Chris Harper fumbled punt against Denver for preventing the Pats from getting home-field advantage in the playoffs and probably (definitely?) playing in another Super Bowl.  I’m not really that bitter though…no…not at all.

Anyway, that’s about it.  I’ll wait until August to project the practice squad and IR/PUP/NFI and other lists.  As hinted at earlier and in the titles, projecting the 53-man roster at this point is really kind of silly.  But I did enjoy putting it together, I have to admit.  As pathetic as that may sound to some…

Patriot’s roster projection, v1…the rest…

Defense:

DE (4):

Locks:  Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich, Jabaal Sheard, Trey Flowers

In:  None

Out:  None

Way Out:  None

I wanted to split out the defensive ends and defensive tackles, but with the way the Patriots kind of shuffle these guys around, maybe that wasn’t such a smart idea.  In any event, it looks as if the team has more DL types than pure DE types as of right this second.  The possibility also exists that if Jamie Collins, Don’t’a Hightower and Jerod Mayo are all healthy, either Collins or Hightower will rush the passer more from this position.  So I went with all 4 pure DE types being locks.  Obviously changes if Flowers’ injury from the exhibition opener is serious.

DL (5):

Locks:  Dominique Easley, Malcolm Brown, Sealver Siliga, Geneo Grissom

In:  Zach Moore

Out:  Alan Branch, Joe Vellano, Casey Walker, Antonio Johnson

Way Out:  A.J. Pataiali’l

Not many people loved the Grissom pick…where it happened in the 3rd round anyway.  So regardless of how well he does now, it’s unlikely he won’t make the squad.  Moore seemed to have some potential last year and I wouldn’t think he would be cut either.  Though I do wonder why they moved him inside this year.  But he would seemingly be DE depth as well.  Branch is the vet on D that I could see them moving on from kind of unexpectedly.  I don’t think the salary is prohibitive.  But if they wanted to keep all of these younger bodies in tow it may be a move that has to be made.  The other vets are fringe guys anyway.  And A.J. Pahkjnafanjknj…I admittedly know nothing about.

LB (5):

Locks:  Jamie Collins, Dont’a Hightower, Jerod Mayo

In:  Jonathan Freeny, James Morris

Out:  Darius Fleming, Cameron Gordon, Dekoda Watson, Rufus Johnson

Way Out:  Xzavier Dickson, L.J. Fort, Eric Martin

Can’t get any more solid than the locks above.  Yet again though, the backup LBs are a weak group.  Belichick seems to basically use his backup LBs as special team linchpins every year.  Even the 4 “outs” are probably known more as special team guys.  Anyway, didn’t think much of Freeny until they played him a ton in the first game and he was lauded by Bill this past week.  Morris was kept on IR all of last year and I’ve heard whispers that they seem to like him.  In any event, don’t be surprised to see Chris White back here once his injury heals.  I know, L.J. Fort was already released today.  But since I had the bulk of this written before I found out, I’m leaving him here.  Proves I got one thing right anyway.  Well, maybe it proves nothing, but…

CB (5):

Locks:  Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan

In:  Tarell Brown, Robert McClain, Darryl Roberts

Out:  Bradley Fletcher, Dax Swanson

Way Out:  Jimmy Jean, Brandon King

Letting go of arguably their 4 top cornerbacks on paper this offseason (Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner, Kyle Arrington, Alfonzo Dennard…ok, you can fight me on Fonzie) seemed to be a dicey proposition.  That hasn’t changed for me, sorry.  Butler goes from 5th or 6th CB to Super Bowl hero to now top CB…just like that?  Ryan played ok as a rookie, not so much in his sophomore year.  Brown and McClain are veterans who don’t seem to be special.  Roberts is a 7th round rookie.  If you want to add Fletcher here, throw him in the same category as Brown and McClain.  I have Bradley out since I’ve heard nothing from him since the start of camp.  He may still make it, especially if they stash Roberts on IR after his injury in the opener.  But you can’t tell me that you have any comfort with this group at all.  Scary.

S (5):

Locks:  Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon, Jordan Richards

In:  Tavon Wilson

Out:  Nate Ebner

Way Out:  None

Same goes for the safeties.  McCourty is a good one, but one of the highest paid?  Not so sure.  Richards was a reach in the 2nd round, according to everyone (nice reminder of how well Tavon Wilson has worked out as an unheard of 2nd rounder…oops).  The other guys?  Unexciting.  That may be the kindest word to describe them.  These DB’s scare the bejesus out of me.  That about sums it up.

Physically Unable to Perform (2):  Chris Jones, Dane Fletcher

There are 4 dudes on the preseason PUP list.  Keeping these 2 on for the regular season.  LaFell and Wendell tentatively break camp with the team.  Since no one really knows how their injuries are progressing, this could obviously change.

Injured Reserve (2):  A.J. Derby, Tyler Gaffney

At least we know these 2 guys are here.  Already on the list going forward.  And so much for the Gaffney Hall of Fame push.  All I heard was that Tyler was going to be a major cog in the backfield this year once healthy.  That they stole him from Carolina last year.  Listen, if Carolina absolutely wanted to hang onto the guy, they wouldn’t have exposed him to waivers at the time that they did.  They would have carried him and then put him on IR when they didn’t have to expose him to waivers.  They took a chance that no one would claim him.  They were wrong, but if he was that invaluable, he wouldn’t be here in the first place.  Plus, he wouldn’t have been a 6th round pick either.  But what do I know?

Non-Football Injury (1):  Caylin Hauptmann

I think this guy is still on the NFI list and I don’t even know what for.  Nor do I care.  The Pats did care enough about him to carry him on the practice squad for however long last year.  But I’m not expecting him to be a factor at any point, no offense to him or his family.

Practice squad (10):

Andrews

Barker

Bequette

Boyce

Gordon

Jean

Rufus Johnson

Krause

Mundine

Swanson

Total shots in the dark here, as obviously it is early in the preseason.  But also because of the eligibility rules.  I am not going to pretend I know who exactly is eligible for the practice squad and who is not.  Sure, I could do all the research.  But, ummmmm…no thanks.  Not for this projection anyway.  I did just briefly look at the eligibility rules though, for the record.  All sorts of stuff about accrued seasons and 46 man game day rosters and third practice squad seasons and changes for 2014 & 2015 that will revert back to 2013 rules for 2016 if there is no extension and blah blah blah.  For this exercise, I will just assume anyone with less than 3 year’s experience is eligible.  Thank you so much for your understanding…

That’s about it…along with Fort being released there was a trade today and some more roster moves.  So I guess I won’t be perfect…

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