<
>

Patriots' roster projection leaves opening for possible addition at RB

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots must cut their roster to 75 by 4 p.m. ET Tuesday and to 53 by 4 p.m. ET Saturday. Here's a final 53-man roster projection:

QUARTERBACKS (2): Tom Brady*, Jimmy Garoppolo, Jacoby Brissett

Brady won't count against the 53-man roster during the time he serves a four-game suspension, but he's obviously a part of the big-picture planning of the season. The only question is whether the team will add a third quarterback for the opening of the season, as coach Bill Belichick previously said that the club has discussed it but the options aren't plentiful. Perhaps that changes when teams around the NFL start trimming rosters, but I think a greater possibility is a signal-caller on the practice squad as insurance.

RUNNING BACKS (3): LeGarrette Blount, James White, Brandon Bolden

Tyler Gaffney and D.J. Foster are practice squad eligible, so while they don't land on this 53-man projection, they still could be part of the club when practice squads are formed. Going with just three running backs is light (Dion Lewis opens on the PUP list) and projects that the team will add another via waivers or trade.

FULLBACKS (1): James Develin

The club went without a pure fullback in 2015 after Develin broke his leg in the third preseason game. His return is welcomed this season with some hard-charging lead blocking out of two-back sets and a presence as part of the kickoff return unit.

WIDE RECEIVERS (5): Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Danny Amendola, Malcolm Mitchell, Aaron Dobson

The biggest question is whether Amendola, who remains on the PUP list, will be ready at any point before the first six games or if he'll open the season on the PUP list. My hunch is that he'll be on the roster, but if it turns out to be the latter option, Keshawn Martin could stick in his place until his return. There probably isn't room for Martin otherwise, as Dobson offers more value at the "X" spot.

TIGHT ENDS (3): Rob Gronkowski, Martellus Bennett, AJ Derby

Outside of a bad drop in Friday night's win over the Carolina Panthers, Derby has outperformed seven-year veteran Clay Harbor offensively in the battle for the No. 3 role. Derby also has more future upside, although based on the present snapshot, the coaching staff might view Harbor as an upgrade on special teams. Neither is a huge factor as a blocker.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (9): Nate Solder, Marcus Cannon, Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Jonathan Cooper, Shaq Mason, Josh Kline, Ted Karras, LaAdrian Waddle

It was notable that second-year guard Chris Barker received early-game reps on Friday (could he sneak on roster?), as Mason is recovering from a broken right hand. Players have braced themselves to be without starting right tackle Sebastian Vollmer, who because of a nagging hip injury is probably headed to injured reserve, according to the Boston Globe. Because of that, Waddle sneaks on the roster as a swing tackle, although one figures the club will scour the waiver wire for a possible upgrade.

DEFENSIVE TACKLES (4): Malcom Brown, Alan Branch, Vincent Valentine, Anthony Johnson

Terrance Knighton didn't play a snap on defense on Friday, which is ominous for him. Johnson has shown explosion as an interior sub rusher. But has he truly done enough to stick? That's a tough call. As is what to do with five-year veteran Markus Kuhn, whose playing strength has value as the fourth option in a big-bodied defensive tackle rotation.

DEFENSIVE ENDS (7): Rob Ninkovich, Jabaal Sheard, Chris Long, Shea McClellin, Barkevious Mingo, Trey Flowers, Geneo Grissom

This position is deeper than the norm, but when considering that Ninkovich, McClellin and Mingo could just as easily be in the linebacker category as hybrid players, it adds context to the number. Grissom is a core special-teams player, which helps him keep his spot.

LINEBACKERS (5): Jamie Collins, Dont'a Hightower, Jonathan Freeny, Kamu Grugier-Hill, Brandon King

Elandon Roberts, the 2016 sixth-round draft choice from Houston, is a worthy practice squad candidate. His tackle on the second play of Friday's preseason game was one example of his instincts and ability to play downhill and fill quickly in the running game.

CORNERBACKS (5): Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan, Cyrus Jones, Justin Coleman, Cre'von LeBlanc

LeBlanc, an undrafted free agent from Florida Atlantic, played a team-high 59 defensive snaps on Friday, and I thought he was competitive in some tough assignments. His one-handed interception against the New Orleans Saints in the preseason opener was also one of the team's highlights. Meanwhile, fellow undrafted cornerback Jonathan Jones warrants serious consideration after watching him work against the gunner on the punt return unit on Friday; he's making it tough on the coaching staff because he runs especially well.

SAFETIES (5): Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon, Jordan Richards, Nate Ebner

This is one position that has seemed pretty clear cut since the opening of training camp, with Belichick calling it arguably the team's deepest, from top to bottom.

SPECIALISTS (4): Ryan Allen, Joe Cardona, Stephen Gostkowski, Matthew Slater

This group has been solidified since Day 1, with Slater a perennial Pro Bowler. Cardona's low snap on Friday night that contributed to Gostkowski's 30-yard missed field goal shouldn't put him in jeopardy.