by Chris Warner, Patriots Daily Staff
Unlike past seasons where NFL teams could bring in rookie free agents, hold camps, and give their fans a general idea of what they might think of their personnel, 2011 has provided a unique opportunity for roster rationalists.
Below, we give our rundown of where we think New England’s lineup should reside come September.
RUNNING BACKS (4) – Benjarvus Green-Ellis, Danny Woodhead, Shane Vereen, Stevan Ridley
What’s new: Bill Belichick makes more cold calculations than an Arctic physicist, and this practice causes him to cut veteran Kevin Faulk. Fresh faces Vereen and Ridley replace old-timey vets Fred Taylor and Sammy Morris.
Rookie free agent worth looking at: Robert Hughes (FB), Notre Dame.
WIDE RECEIVERS (6) – Wes Welker, Deion Branch, Julian Edelman, Brandon Tate, Taylor Price, Matthew Slater
What’s new: Not much, to the chagrin of most Patriots fans looking to draft a speedy downfield threat. We’d like to take Slater off this list, mostly because in three seasons he has exactly as many NFL receptions as I do (i.e., zip). Still, special teams work keeps him here.
With his age and injury history, Branch seems most likely to get replaced by a free agent pickup.
Rookie free agent worth looking at: Jeremy Ross, Cal.
OFFENSIVE LINE (9) – Dan Koppen, Sebastian Vollmer, Logan Mankins, Nate Solder, Mark LeVoir, Dan Connolly, Ryan Wendell, Nick Kaczur, Quinn Ojinnaka
What’s new: More youth! Stephen Neal retired. In our most noteworthy move so far, we’re letting go of Matt Light. This puts a lot of pressure on the rookie Solder, but giving him experience at left tackle gets the team primed for the playoffs. Kaczur’s experience inside and out gives him value. Rookie guard Marcus Cannon starts the season on the PUP list.
Rookie free agent worth looking at: Jake Kirkpatrick, TCU.
TIGHT ENDS (4) – Rob Gronkowski, Alge Crumpler, Aaron Hernandez, Lee Smith
What’s new: The rookie Smith bolsters a crew that probably didn’t need a lot of bolstering, but 2010’s offense can maintain its formidable versatility through the tight ends. Crumpler stays as the veteran wrangler of the baby TEs.
Rookie free agent worth looking at: Schuylar Oordt, Northern Iowa
QUARTERBACKS (3) – Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer, Ryan Mallett
What’s new: Bill Belichick has kept only two QBs for too long; the rookie/perceived nitwit Mallett comes on as a future starter-in-training. No new player will get more closely analyzed this preseason – and no one else will deserve that scrutiny more.
Rookie free agent worth looking at: Jerrod Johnson, Texas A&M
Total Offense: 26
DEFENSIVE LINE (8) – Vince Wilfork, Ty Warren, Marcus Stroud, Eric Moore, Brandon Deaderick, Kyle Love, Ron Brace, Mike Wright
What’s new: We considered starting Mike Wright on the PUP list, only because his inability to recover from a head injury last season scares the bejeebus out of us. Saying hello to veteran Stroud makes us say goodbye to Gerard Warren. We’re hoping for continued improvement from Deaderick and Brace while also hoping that Moore’s production continues beyond one-year-wonder status.
Rookie free agent worth looking at: Elisha Joseph, Temple.
OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS (4) – Tully Banta-Cain, Rob Ninkovich, Jermaine Cunningham, Markell Carter
What’s new: If rookie Carter provides anything remotely resembling a pass rush, fans will have to feel pleased with the sixth-rounder. Meanwhile, the much-publicized, much-hoped-for Year Two Bump needs to happen for Cunningham. Moore can also put in some work here.
Rookie free agent worth looking at: Marc Schiechl, Colorado School of Mines
INSIDE LINEBACKERS (4) – Jerod Mayo, Brandon Spikes, Gary Guyton, Dane Fletcher
What’s new: Nothing, which looks fine to us. We liked the addition of Fletcher’s athleticism in 2010. If Spikes can avoid the banned pharmaceuticals (not what most of us thought), this crew should have a hell of a year.
Rookie free agent worth looking at: Mark Herzlich, Boston College
CORNERBACKS (5) – Leigh Bodden, Devin McCourty, Kyle Arrington, Darius Butler, Ras-I Dowling
What’s new: The Jonathan Wilhite experience ends as the rookie Dowling comes in for playing time, relegating Arrington and Butler to backup/rotational duty. Not too shabby.
Rookie free agent worth looking at: Darrin Walls, Notre Dame
SAFETIES (3) – Patrick Chung, James Sanders, Jarrad Page
What’s new: The Pro Bowl pedigree might not keep Brandon Meriweather around, so here’s hoping Chung and Sanders are up to the task. Page stays over Sergio Brown for his special teams prowess. We see rookie Malcolm Williams starting the season on the practice squad.
Rookie free agent worth looking at: Jeron Johnson, Boise State
Total Defense: 24
SPECIAL TEAMS (3) – Stephen Gostkowski (K), Zoltan Mesko (P), Matt Katula (LS)
What’s new: Gostkowski’s back and as good as ever, we hope. We don’t remember calling Katula’s name last year, which is all we ask. Mesko’s around for the foreseeable future, to the joy of his fan club.
Rookie free agent worth looking at: Tom Mante, punter and kickoff specialist, Yale
Questions, comments, tirades? Let us know in the comment space below.
Email Chris Warner at email@example.com
I think you mean Marcus Cannon, not Macus Webb.
Do you think really Meriweather gets cut? The guy’s a knucklehead but I’d be very surprised.
Can’t wait for football in 2015!!!
Good catch, CBK. That’s been edited. In terms of Meriweather, I focused on the “knucklehead” aspect of which you speak. I’d be surprised, too, but maybe not as much?
Good analysis Chris…..when I read my email I too said “who’s Macus Webb”…but figured it out quickly.
Do you really think Slater stays as he is only usefull on ST’s? Maybe one of Vereen or Ridley could fill his spot and be multi purpose to save a spot somewhere else.
We all know how BB loves multi-positional players….
Lets hope the owners and players can get this CBA done soon….the fans demand it !
Dear BT, the coaches love Slater. Not sure I get it either, although he is one of their best ST players. One or both of the new RBs will join him on special teams, I’m sure.
If the CBA doesn’t get done, I’ll become a Hartford Colonials fan. Join me!
I respectfully disagree with you regarding your Safeties roster. Even as a knucklehead, Meriweather stays. (For his spot, maybe they go with 8 Offensive linemen? No Ojinnaka?).
Also, for some reason, I don’t think Sergio Brown is gone either. Maybe if he contributes with special teams, he could compete for Slater’s spot…
Here’s supwithme: you make some good points. If Slater were listed as a DB, I think this roster would look different. Would like to see Brown make it, just not sure how.
I’m with you, sup.
Meriweather has been pretty durable, although with how one feels about his play that may not be a good thing. BB seems to like Brandon Meriweather, we need safeties on Special Teams, and Meriweather isn’t going to be one of them.
History shows that usually one or two unexpected players goes down (ala Ty Warren) leaving a roster spot unexpectedly open.
slater has that spot on lock, no argument, come on now…
No love for Myron Pryor? He put Brett Favre out of the League.
Paul, if I had a do-over, I’d add Pryor and take away an OL. Even without the Favre hit.
You better check your math….because there are only 45 players allowed on the active roster and 8 practice squad sports for a total roster of 53 under current NFL rules. Are you suggestiing the active roster will expand to 53 (26 OF + 24 DF + 3 ST) under a new CBA?
Mel, I believe you’re confusing the game day roster with the active roster. An active roster has 53 players; only 45 of those players are eligible to play on game day (as well as a third QB, who can’t play before the 4th quarter or the top 2 QBs then become ineligible for that game).
The 8 players on practice squad are not eligible to play unless they get put on the active 53-man roster. Other teams can also pluck players off of an opponent’s practice squads, but they must put those players onto their active rosters immediately.
That’s spots not sports. Sorry for the typo.