Patriots and in-house roster development

INDIANAPOLIS -- One of the prevailing themes from listening to head coach and general manager news conferences here at the NFL combine is that while the draft and free agency are critical avenues toward improving your roster, the process begins with evaluating the players already “on campus,” as Browns head coach Mike Pettine called it.

So while the Patriots will undoubtedly add players through the draft and free agency to beef up perceived areas of weakness, they’ll also count on player development.

With that in mind, we wanted to look at three “under the radar” players at three positions that many are regarding as areas of need.

Wide receiver Josh Boyce. A rookie last season, Boyce had just nine catches before landing on injured reserve. The Patriots liked his speed and polish coming out of Texas Christian, though Boyce was unable to develop a consistent offensive role in Year 1. With Julian Edelman scheduled to hit free agency, Boyce -- who has very good short-area quickness to complement his speed -- is one of the young wideouts the Patriots would look to if Edelman departs.

Defensive tackle Armond Armstead. A highly touted addition last offseason, Armstead underwent surgery to take care of an infection before training camp. The first hurdle for Armstead in his NFL journey is getting healthy. If that takes place this offseason and he’s ready for either OTA’s or training camp, the Patriots will be able to evaluate him as a potential companion along the line with Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly. The Patriots had mighty struggles against the run last season, but simply getting healthy (Wilfork and Kelly included) will alleviate some of those woes.

Guard Chris Barker. We know very little about Barker as a player, as he was claimed off of waivers from Miami just before the season and hardly played in 2013. But the fact that the Patriots kept him on the active roster, rather than trying to land him on the practice squad, speaks to the idea that the Patriots see some developmental value in him. Dan Connolly has a big cap number for next season (north of $4 million) and Ryan Wendell is a free agent. If one or both isn’t back next season, Barker could step into a larger role.