(Continuing a month-long series analyzing players who are on the roster bubble and where they may potentially fit in 2013.)
NAME: Jermaine Cunningham
POSITION: Defensive end
2012 STATS: 12 games (3 starts), 24 tackles, 2.5 sacks
INJURY STATUS: No known injuries.
CHANCE OF MAKING 53-MAN ROSTER: 70%
WHY HE SHOULD MAKE IT: After a dismal 2011 season, Cunningham bounced back through the first half of last season, seeing an increased role as an interior rusher in a retooled Patriots defense. However, he was suspended for four games in December and his playing time dipped upon his return. Entering the final season of his rookie contract, Cunningham's back is to the wall, and he could benefit from the lack of depth at interior pass rusher. If CFL import Armond Armstead doesn't pan out, Cunningham will stand a stronger chance of making the roster because of his versatility.
WHY HE SHOULD NOT MAKE IT: Even after spending a second-round pick on Cunningham in 2010, the Patriots devoted first- and third-round selections to defensive ends (Chandler Jones and Jake Bequette, respectively) in the 2012 draft, and further bolstered the position by picking up Michael Buchanan in the seventh round this April. With undrafted free agent Justin Francis also emerging last season, Cunningham's chances to break out are quickly dwindling. If newcomers Buchanan and Armstead both make a case to stick, this could be Cunningham's last summer in New England.
CLOSEST COMPETITION: DT Armond Armstead, DE Michael Buchanan, DE/DT Justin Francis