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:
Locks: Trey Flowers, Kony Ealy, Derek Rivers, Deatrich Wise
In: Geneo Grissom
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…
Locks: Alan Branch, Malcom Brown, Lawrence Guy, Vincent Valentine
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.
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.
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.
Locks: Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon
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.
Locks: Stephen Gostkowski (K), Ryan Allen (P), Joe Cardona (LS), Matthew Slater (ST), Nate Ebner (ST), Brandon King (ST)
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…
…since everyone else is doing it. Kinda early for me though really. Since I haven’t seen any practices or any preseason games (yes, I watch them!), I don’t know the difference between Cameron Fleming and Darius Fleming or who the hell guys like Wilson Van Hooser or L.T. Tuipulotu are. Plus there are always are a couple of undrafted guys that come out of nowhere (see Kenbrell Thompkins), guys that are highly touted for what they do on the practice field but are stiffs (see Zach Sudfeld) or guys that get cut from other teams at the end of camp being added (perhaps Benjarvus Green-Ellis coming back this year?). Among other circumstances, including 4 games worth of injuries to factor into. But here goes anyway…the players marked with (L) I would consider a lock at this point:
QB: Tom Brady (L), Jimmy Garoppolo (L), Ryan Mallett:
Billy B has cut high picks before, but as bad as the reports about Jimmy have been, doubtful it will be him this year. I’m hesitant to make Mallett a lock for a couple of reasons. First, the Patriots rarely carry 3 QB’s. Second, I still feel like they could make a trade involving him at some point during the preseason…if he shows well.
RB: Stevan Ridley (L), Shane Vereen (L), James White (L), Brandon Bolden:
People that think Ridley is going to get cut are delusional. He still can’t catch, but he remains the best back on the roster. If he doesn’t fumble (BIG “if”, I know), he could have another year like 2012. There is no “big” back likely to make the roster either. Maybe Bolden, but he is not a threat for main back duties. Bolden makes it here because of special teams and he has some RB ability. But if someone like Green-Ellis becomes available, I wonder if Bolden is gone. Also if one of the undrafted kids (Roy Finch, Stephen Houston or 1st year player Jonas Gray) shows well. There is a lot of love for James White, but I am not going to get too excited yet. We’ve been there before. Vereen will play a ton, but he will also get hurt. You can pretty much count on that.
WR: Julian Edelman (L), Danny Amendola (L), Kenbrell Thompkins (L), Josh Boyce (L), Matthew Slater (L), Brandon LaFell, Aaron Dobson:
Yup, there is room for all 7. Especially since Slater doesn’t really count. Have to put him somewhere though. Don’t have Dobson as a lock for the simple reason that I would not be shocked to see him start the year on the PUP list. Would allow them some more room for another body. Plus, if I’m not mistaken, he had his surgery later than expected and would give him more recovery time. Amendola will get one more chance to prove dependable. I believe he can be cut after this season with no salary cap implications, so this is kind of make or break for him. One of the reasons Boyce sticks too. Hard to believe they would axe him after a year too. Don’t know which way to go on LaFell. They gave him a big bonus, but you have to wonder why a team with no WRs (Carolina) would let him walk. Jeremy Gallon was drafted, but he likely ends up staying on PUP or the practice squad.
TE: Rob Gronkowski (L), Michael Hoomanawanui (L), James Develin:
Hoo-man is dinged up I guess, but he really is the only other suitable choice behind Gronk. Feel like Develin makes it as TE/FB combo. But there are a couple of young TE’s in Asa Watson and Justin Jones that have some promise…they say anyway. If the Pats feel like they cannot sneak these guys onto the practice squad, maybe one of them takes Develin’s spot. DJ Williams is also lurking, but feel like they could re-sign him quickly if needed. Hasn’t been a lot of demand for his services.
OL: Nate Solder (L), Logan Mankins (L), Ryan Wendell (L), Dan Connolly (L), Sebastian Vollmer (L), Marcus Cannon (L), Cameron Fleming (L), Jon Halapio (L), Joe Kline (L), Bryan Stork (L):
Again, room for all 10 exists. No one knows what’s wrong with Stork, but he is injured and has missed some practices. People are quick to write off Wendell and Connolly, but these guys have been around and have positional flexibility. There is room under the cap for them. The 3 draftees (Stork, Fleming, Halapio) may have promise, but probably aren’t ready. Cannon has impressed at times and Kline showed well last year. But I feel like Wendell and Connolly both stick, especially now that Stork is “behind”. Chris Barker was carried for all 16 games last year and if they want to make a spot for him, then maybe one of them goes. But my sense is that if Barker showed them anything last year, they wouldn’t have drafted 3 linemen this year. With injuries though, all 11 could stick somehow.
Defense and specialists to follow…