Main intrigue with Patriots' 53-man roster projection is at backup spots

The New England Patriots open training camp on July 27 at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts. Here's a 53-man roster projection:

QUARTERBACKS (3): Tom Brady, Jimmy Garoppolo, Jacoby Brissett

Nothing difficult about this one, as the Patriots will carry three signal-callers for the second year in a row. This marks the first time since 2007 and 2008 that the Patriots have gone back-to-back years with three quarterbacks on the roster. It traditionally has been two.

RUNNING BACKS (4): Mike Gillislee, James White, Dion Lewis, Rex Burkhead

Second-year running back D.J. Foster could play his way into a spot, as he looked good in spring camps and flashes promise. If he ends up on the outside looking in, perhaps he would have trade value for a team looking for a pass-catching running back with upside.

FULLBACK (1): James Develin

The main competition comes from Glenn Gronkowski, and then from a larger 53-man roster projection with a third/fourth tight end or extra linebacker. Develin adds a level of toughness to the team that, and though I wouldn't put him in the sure-fire roster-lock category, he should be safe as long as he's still running well.

WIDE RECEIVER (5): Brandin Cooks, Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell, Danny Amendola

Andrew Hawkins would be making the roster of most teams, but he gets squeezed out here unless there is an injury or Mitchell opens on the physically unable to perform list. Undrafted rookie Austin Carr, the Big 10 receiver of the year, could be an ideal candidate for the practice squad.

TIGHT END (3): Rob Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen, Matt Lengel

The competition for a roster spot between Lengel, James O'Shaughnessy and Jacob Hollister should be a good one to monitor in training camp. O'Shaughnessy could stick as a special-teamer, and Lengel's physical makeup (6-foot-7, 266 pounds) makes him more of a traditional tight-end option.

OFFENSIVE LINE (8): LT Nate Solder, LG Joe Thuney, C David Andrews, RG Shaq Mason, RT Marcus Cannon, OT Tony Garcia, OT Cameron Fleming, G/C Ted Karras

Sixth-round draft choice Conor McDermott, the offensive tackle from UCLA, could play his way into a spot or simply show enough promise that the Patriots want to protect themselves from losing him. In this scenario, the idea is to have him land on the practice squad.

DEFENSIVE END (5): Trey Flowers, Rob Ninkovich, Kony Ealy, Derek Rivers, Deatrich Wise Jr.

Flowers is a good example of how the perception of a player can change in a year. Last year at this time, he was viewed as a player with something to prove after playing sparingly as a rookie. Now, he's viewed by many as the team's best pass-rusher after posting a team-high seven sacks in the 2016 regular season. Rivers, the team's top draft choice (third round, No. 83 overall), could help right away on special teams and as a situational pass-rusher.

DEFENSIVE TACKLE (4): Alan Branch, Malcom Brown, Vincent Valentine, Lawrence Guy

With the flexibility of interior defensive linemen to play a variety of techniques, coupled with a group of hybrid ends, the Patriots have the potential to be ever-evolving along the line of scrimmage by playing odd and even fronts liberally.

LINEBACKER (5): Dont'a Hightower, David Harris, Kyle Van Noy, Elandon Roberts, Shea McClellin

The addition of Harris could create some trade possibilities with others, although one potential concern is that if Hightower and Harris are both playing off the line of scrimmage, the club would be giving up a lot of speed at the position. An underrated competition for a roster spot could be Roberts vs. Jonathan Freeny, assuming good health for Freeny.

CORNEBACK (5): Stephon Gilmore, Malcolm Butler, Eric Rowe, Jonathan Jones, Cyrus Jones

The top four are locked in, and then the question becomes if Cyrus Jones can turn things around after a rocky rookie season. If he doesn't contribute on special teams, which was what ultimately gave him the edge over other possible picks at the No. 60 spot last year, his value to the club decreases.

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

This is a big year for Richards, the 2015 second-round pick from Stanford whose playing time declined in his second season when the club hopes players will make a jump. He faces some pressure to stick around, and the team's plentiful group of undrafted defensive backs bears watching along those lines.

SPECIALISTS (5): Stephen Gostkowski (kicker), Ryan Allen (punter), Joe Cardona (holder), Matthew Slater, Brandon King

There are no other kickers, punters or snappers on the 90-man roster, and Slater and King are core special teamers who are critical to Joe Judge's special teams units annually being among the NFL's best.