FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- As the New England Patriots take steps to form their initial 53-man roster, let's step back and look at some areas of vulnerability and how they might be addressed:
1. Receiver/returner: In my final 53-man projection, the personnel at receiver (Chris Hogan, Brandin Cooks, Danny Amendola, Malcolm Mitchell) stood out as particularly thin when considering that Amendola (snap count management) and Mitchell (knee injury) come with caveats. This is where Julian Edelman's season-ending torn right ACL shows up and could prompt the team to make a move -- internally, via trade or on the waiver wire. Top internal options are 2016 seventh-round pick Devin Lucien and 2017 undrafted free agent Austin Carr, but the sense is that they more likely will be viewed as practice-squad candidates. As for possible trade or waiver wire targets, that's an evolving picture that should be monitored into the weekend, when more than 1,000 players become available as 53-man rosters are formed. Ideally, a potential target could help fill two voids -- receiver depth and top punt returner.
2. Punt returner: With Cyrus Jones suffering what was initially diagnosed as a serious right knee injury Thursday night, it further thins the Patriots' depth at punt returner, where Edelman and Jones projected as the top options. As with the receiver need, the Patriots can assess in-house options, with safety Patrick Chung, Amendola (increased injury risk a factor) and Cooks the top experienced players to potentially help them before they find a longer-term solution. Younger players such as D.J. Foster and Will Likely took reps in training camp, but it's hard to imagine the team turning over that important role to them at this time. Chris Harper's muffed punt return in Denver in the 2015 season serves as a reminder of how critical this spot can be. That's why I'd imagine director of pro personnel Dave Ziegler is scouring options around the NFL, with the ideal candidate, as noted above, someone who could also help at receiver.
3. Edge of the defense/linebacker: Given the way the Patriots scheme on defense, their end-of-the-line players could come out of the defensive end or linebacker groups. As for pure defensive ends who would often be responsible for setting the edge in a four-man front, they are light personnel-wise unless they consider Geneo Grissom a legitimate rotation player at this time (my sense is they don't). Then if the team accounts for that void by using Dont'a Hightower more on the edge, as has been seen in some early warm-ups from practice, it potentially thins the off-the-line linebacker depth. So the best available player who could help add a layer of quality/depth in either of those spots would be a significant addition to help fill out the roster.