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Light on WRs, heavy in front seven in final Patriots roster projection

Anthony Johnson was sidelined early in camp before charging into the picture as a penetrating sub rusher. AP Photo/Elise Amendola

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots must cut their roster to 53 by 4 p.m. ET Saturday. Here's a final 53-man roster projection, knowing there could be at least a couple of waiver claims from other teams and/or trade acquisitions:

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 for the season. If there isn't a third quarterback worthy of signing to the roster to improve depth, perhaps the Patriots consider adding one to the practice squad.

RUNNING BACKS (4): LeGarrette Blount, James White, Brandon Bolden, D.J. Foster

Nine catches for 110 yards in the preseason finale earns Foster a spot in this projection. While he's still raw, and has strides to make as a pass-protector, his upside and athletic traits make it too risky to try to sneak him through to the practice squad.

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 (4): Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Danny Amendola, Malcolm Mitchell

This group has been locked in since Day 1, with the main question being which pass-catcher would emerge among the rest of the group. None of them decisively did, which is why this projection eyes a player from another team landing here.

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

Derby has mostly outperformed seven-year veteran Clay Harbor offensively in the battle for the No. 3 role. He had one bad drop against Carolina in the third preseason game, but otherwise, has caught the ball well.

OFFENSIVE LINE (9): Nate Solder, Marcus Cannon, Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Jonathan Cooper, Shaq Mason, Josh Kline, Chris Barker, Cameron Fleming

There seems to be a reason that Barker was playing early in the third and fourth preseason games, as his experience might be viewed as more valuable early in the season when compared to that of sixth-round pick Ted Karras, who might be on the edge between the roster and practice squad. The swing tackle spot could be a concern, but for now, it's Fleming over Waddle because he was on the left side on Thursday.

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

Johnson turned out to be one of the surprise stories of training camp, as he was sidelined early before charging into the picture as a penetrating sub rusher.

DEFENSIVE ENDS (6): Rob Ninkovich*, Jabaal Sheard, Chris Long, Shea McClellin, Trey Flowers, Geneo Grissom, Rufus Johnson

Ninkovich doesn't count on the active roster during a four-game suspension to open the season, and with Sheard and McClellin managing injuries, perhaps it creates a spot for Johnson to stick early on.

LINEBACKERS (6): Jamie Collins, Dont'a Hightower, Jonathan Freeny, Barkevious Mingo, Kamu Grugier-Hill, Brandon King

Mingo played mostly off the line on Thursday and has the build of a linebacker more than a defensive end, although he can also be effective as an edge rusher. He's going to be a factor at this spot based on his debut performance.

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

LeBlanc, who didn't play in the preseason finale, gets the nod after catching the eye with a one-handed interception in the preseason opener and then with competitive ball skills. If the Patriots felt he would make it through waivers, he'd be a lock for the practice squad, but that seems risky.

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): P Ryan Allen, LS Joe Cardona, K 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.