Patriots' 53-man roster projection reflects N'Keal Harry's importance

Rookie receiver N'Keal Harry could find himself playing a prominent role for the Patriots early in the season. AP Photo/Charles Krupa

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots open training camp July 25 at Gillette Stadium. Here's a projection for the 53-man roster:

QUARTERBACK (3): Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer, Jarrett Stidham

In years when the Patriots have selected a quarterback in the middle rounds -- like they did with Stidham this year (fourth round, No. 133) -- they have traditionally kept three players at the position for that initial season. How quickly Stidham develops in training camp -- and he would have to come a long way from where he was in spring practices -- could alter that thinking. Danny Etling (seventh round, 2018) is the odd man out.

RUNNING BACK (5): Sony Michel, James White, Rex Burkhead, Damien Harris, Brandon Bolden

This is arguably the deepest position on the roster, and the easiest to project. Michel missed spring practices after undergoing a knee scope, but it isn't expected to affect his 2019 season.

FULLBACK (1): James Develin

He played 35 percent of the offensive snaps in the 2018 regular season, which essentially made him the No. 2 tight end as the Patriots elected for more two-back sets than two-tight-end sets. He's a valuable, dependable cog.

WIDE RECEIVER (5): Julian Edelman, N'Keal Harry, Maurice Harris, Braxton Berrios, Phillip Dorsett

Dontrelle Inman still has time to make his case, but he'll need to make up some ground based on what was seen in spring practices. Also, the projection is that Demaryius Thomas opens on the reserve/physically unable to perform list (Achilles). Overall, this shows how much the Patriots are counting on the development of Harry, their first-round pick from Arizona State (No. 32 overall).

TIGHT END (2): Matt LaCosse, Ryan Izzo

Benjamin Watson won't count against the initial 53-man roster as he serves a four-game NFL suspension, so Izzo (seventh round, 2018) and Stephen Anderson (2018 practice squad) would vie for a second spot. Izzo gets the edge as a blocker, while Anderson is more of a threat as a pass-catcher.

OFFENSIVE LINE (9): Isaiah Wynn, Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Marcus Cannon, Brian Schwenke, Hjalte Froholdt, Ted Karras, Dan Skipper

With third-round pick Yodny Cajuste opening training camp on the active/non-football injury list, it threatens his chances to build an all-important foundation in the team's system after also missing spring practices. It could open the door for the towering 6-foot-9 Skipper, a former practice squad player who was taking some second-unit reps at left tackle in the spring. Center/guard James Ferentz deserves a spot, which reflects the strong depth on the line.

DEFENSIVE LINE (6): Michael Bennett, Deatrich Wise Jr., Derek Rivers, Lawrence Guy, Mike Pennel, Adam Butler

Fifth-round pick Byron Cowart is on the edge and would be a strong practice-squad candidate, while Keionta Davis is another bubble player of note. By going heavy on linebackers, a case could be made this is too light at the big-bodied defensive tackle spot.

LINEBACKER (7): Dont'a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins, Ja'Whaun Bentley, Elandon Roberts, John Simon, Chase Winovich

With some linebackers who have the ability to play on the line of scrimmage in an edge-based role (Hightower, Van Noy, Collins, Simon, Winovich), it complements the defensive line group well. One question: Do the skill sets of Bentley and Roberts duplicate each other?

SECONDARY (10): Stephon Gilmore, Jason McCourty, Jonathan Jones, J.C. Jackson, Duke Dawson, Joejuan Williams, Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon, Terrence Brooks

Cornerback is a position of notable quality and depth, as Keion Crossen (seventh round, 2018) is worthy of a spot and could ultimately secure one based on his contributions on special teams. The varied skill sets at the position offer plenty of matchup options, just the way Bill Belichick likes it. At safety, how safe is Harmon? The answer to that question could be tied to Obi Melifonwu's development and role on special teams (he was on the top punt coverage team in spring practices), as the depth at cornerback might make it challenging to carry both Harmon and Melifonwu.

SPECIALISTS (5): K Stephen Gostkowski, P Jake Bailey, LS Joe Cardona, Brandon King (coverage), Matthew Slater (coverage)

After punter Ryan Allen's MVP-caliber performance in Super Bowl LIII, it's hard to believe he could be in jeopardy of losing his roster spot, but the Patriots traded up to select Bailey in the fifth round. Nate Ebner, who is worthy of a spot, is currently on the PUP list.