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From the Hart: Final Patriots roster projection

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By 9 p.m. tomorrow night Bill Belichick will get his team down to the league-mandated limit. Of course, that roster will probably change a couple times before next week as Belichick works the waiver wire and trade market.

We also have to take into account the new IR rule that allows one injured player to return during the season.

But with all that in mind, I also decided that my final 2012 Patriots 53-man roster projection would be a bold, brash one. There are plenty of questions left to be answered by us outsiders, so as we come down the wire I'm going to do my best to swing for the fences.

Here goes:

Quarterback (2): Tom Brady, Ryan Mallett

QB Analysis: I didn't think that Brian Hoyer had a very good preseason and it looks like his progression has flat lined. Maybe they try a last-minute run at a trade with a team like the Cardinals. If not, I just slide Mallett into the backup spot, save the nearly $2 million RFA tender salary that Hoyer was due and move on. We all know that if Brady goes down it's finger-crossing time anyway. Hoyer's departure isn't really a roster crunch. There is room to keep him. It's more about the way Belichick talks about development and when a guy stops progressing it's time to move on. Hoyer is a great guy and Brady probably wouldn't like this move. But I think it's the right one.

Running back (5): Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, Danny Woodhead, Jeff Demps, Brandon Bolden

RB Analysis: Health is an issue here. Vereen could be an option for the partial-season IR spot. Given the uncertainty with both Ridley and Vereen, Bolden is an insurance policy that I add at this point after leaving him off previous rosters. That costs Eric Kettani a job, but he'll land on the practice squad. He also needs to work on his blocking if he's going to make a team as a true fullback.

Tight end (3): Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Daniel Fells

TE Analysis: Visanthe Shiancoe is another partial-season IR option after missing nearly all of camp. Or maybe he lands on full IR. Or gets cut. Regardless, I think it's just these three guys to open the season. Not a bad trio to have.

Wide receiver (5): Wes Welker, Deion Branch, Brandon Lloyd, Julian Edelman, Matthew Slater

WR Analysis: The bulk of the cuts here came early in the process with Jabar Gaffney and Donte' Stallworth getting the boot. Like others, I think there is a chance Gaffney could return. Jesse Holley just didn't get much good work done in camp. Kerry Taylor is interesting in that this is the second time the Patriots have brought him aboard, but not interesting enough to win a roster spot. That also leaves rookie Jeremy Ebert for the practice squad.

Offensive line (9): Nate Solder, Logan Mankins, Dan Koppen, Dan Connolly, Sebastian Vollmer, Marcus Cannon, Ryan Wendell, Nick McDonald, Matt Kopa

OL Analysis: First of all, I've given up on talking about Brian Waters. I don't think he's walking through that door, as Rick Pitino would say. But I haven't given up on Dan Koppen, even though he was clearly on my bubble. I just feel more comfortable with him starting between Mankins and Connolly with guys like Wendell and McDonald coming off the bench. But I won't be shocked if Koppen gets his walking papers, either. He did not have a great summer overall. McDonald's health could also be an issue here, with a guy like Donald Thomas or Jeremiah Warren potentially stealing that spot. Kopa is more a placeholder and backup tackle option, even though he's had an injury. More likely the team brings in an offensive lineman who gets let go from another team. Just a hunch, probably a tackle type for insurance.

Defensive line (10): Rob Ninkovich, Kyle Love, Vince Wilfork, Chandler Jones, Jermaine Cunningham, Brandon Deaderick, Ron Brace, Justin Francis, Jake Bequette, Trevor Scott

DL Analysis: There doesn't appear to be a lot to debate here. Bequette really hasn't done much or flashed this summer, but as a third-round pick it's hard to think he could get cut. Scott doesn't seem like he's done all that much to earn a spot either, but the uncertainty and lack of proven players at the position keeps him around. Also could be a placeholder for Andre Carter for now. Francis finally got something done on the game field in New York, as his motor and versatility make him a nice developmental option.

Linebacker (5): Jerod Mayo, Brandon Spikes, Dont'a Hightower, Bobby Carpenter, Jeff Tarpinian

LB Analysis: The starting three are pretty straight forward, although Spikes' health is always a concern. Carpenter has backed up a variety of spots in camp and will also contribute on special teams. Tarpinian is a special teams guy who looks ready to build on his work as an undrafted rookie last fall. Tracy White is a real health question. Could he land on IR? Could he be the partial-season IR guy? Could he get cut? Regardless, with some versatile special teamers elsewhere, White just doesn't make my final cut. And I know some like Niko Koutouvides, but I think guys like him are available off the street during the season.

Safety (5): Patrick Chung, Steve Gregory, Tavon Wilson, Nate Ebner, James Ihedigbo

S Analysis: The top three here are easy, and Ebner was one of the more productive players overall throughout the preseason. Ready now on special teams, Ebner looks intriguing on defense. Wilson also has been a nice surprise to watch this summer. Chung's health is a question right now that only the team has the answer to. Given the health question, Ihedigbo wins one of the last few roster spots as an emergency backup with plenty of game experience and special teams ability.

Cornerback (6): Devin McCourty, Kyle Arrington, Ras-I Dowling, Alfonzo Dennard, Marquice Cole, Sterling Moore

CB Analysis: Cole's inclusion among those guys sitting out against the Giants seemed to put him on solid footing for the roster. Conversely Dennard played every snap against New York, but in my opinion has acquitted himself well since coming back from injury and is very much worth developing. For what it's worth, I really like his build and potential to play a bit physical. Dowling has seemingly fallen down the depth chart a bit of late, but he's still in the mix as a second-year second-round pick. Also helps that a number of these guys can play safety in a pinch.

Specialists (3): Stephen Gostkowski, Zoltan Mesko, Danny Aiken

SPT Analysis: Not much to analyze here. No other options on the roster. Only Aiken would even be a consideration for being replaced after a couple bad snaps in practice this summer. And Lonie Paxton is out there, the snow-angle, long-snapping legend that he is.

What do you think of my roster? Crazy to cut Hoyer? Who did I leave off that earned a spot? Let us know with a comment below!

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