It's that time of year again.
Actually, it's not, but we media types always get ahead of ourselves. So let's do it.
That's right. It's May. In New England we've yet to have access to a single OTA session or mini-camp of any sort. But what's stopping us from making competition assessments?
So, all opinions on the 90 players that currently make up the Patriots roster are either from past years' performances or the players' work on a college football field, most of which we've never seen.
Still, it's time to try to figure out the 53-man roster that New England will put forth at the end of training camp and final cuts.
Bill Belichick may smartly wait till the very last possible second before he makes decisions regarding his roster, but we in the media don't have that luxury. Heck, it probably won't be long now before some online go-getter will do a 2017 roster projection!
So here's a way-too-early, before-we-see-them-practice projection for the Patriots 2016 53-man roster. It's for entertainment purposes only and I don't expect anyone to reference any errors in it at any point down the road. Read it. Debate it. Love it. And move on. OK? Thanks.
And for the record, my first run through cut it down "easily" to 57. The last four cuts took a bit more attention.
Tom Brady, Jimmy Garoppolo, Jacoby Brissett
Analysis: The only real question here is Brady's four-game suspension. If he's available the team will have three quarterbacks for the first time in years. If not, then the two backups will be in the brutally-hot spotlight.
RUNNING BACK (5)
Dion Lewis, LeGarrette Blount, Brandon Bolden, James White, James Develin.
Analysis: Injuries will be a consideration at a lot of positions – both those we already know about and those that will come up between now and September. Lewis is the question here, as the electric back works back from a torn ACL. He's the biggest sure-thing on the roster if available. Bolden might be next on that list thanks to his versatility. Blount would seem destined to be the big back again, by default, unless there is another addition to the depth chart down the road. Some seem to want to dismiss White, but I can't look past his impressive playmaking in the passing game late last year, even if he offers nearly nothing as a runner. Brady has called Develin the best fullback in the NFL. Belichick has raved about him. Until he's cut, I'm assuming he has a roster spot, even returning from a broken leg.
TIGHT END (3)
Rob Gronkowski, Martellus Bennett, Clay Harbor.
Analysis: This position is as stocked as it's ever been for Brady and Belichick. Gronk is coming of another healthy offseason, poised for another big year. Bennett brings elite pass-catching talent to what should be the best two-tight end sets in the game today. Harbor is a versatile experienced veteran, who got a little guaranteed money this offseason that make him likely to stick. That would seem to push veteran Michael Williams and a couple potentially talented youngsters off the roster.
WIDE RECEIVER (5)
Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell, Nate Washington.
Analysis: Health is a major consideration here with Brady's top two wide receivers having gone under the knife this offseason. Neither looks destined to open the year on PUP, but neither is a lock to be at full health, either. Hogan's big contract makes him a lock and Mitchell's intrigue should earn him a job, probably bumping Aaron Dobson from the developmental outside receiver roster slot. Washington is a reliable veteran with experience in Houston's Patriots-like system, but don't rule out another former Texan, Keshawn Martin, making the team. That would be a simple swap.
OFFENSIVE LINE (9)
Nate Solder, Sebastian Vollmer, Bryan Stork, Tre' Jackson, Shaq Mason, David Andrews, Joe Thuney, LaAdrian Waddle, Marcus Cannon.
Analysis: With the return of Dante Scarnecchia to the mix and some big-money veterans with questionable roles, the offensive line could have some interesting cuts. It would seem likely that Jonathan Cooper has to prove himself beyond just the potential that saw him as a top-10 pick in Arizona. Scar, like everyone else, may have had him highly-rated coming out of college, but that was then and this is now. There is a logjam of young draft picks on the interior, with a chance that one of them won't make it to the season. It also looks like Josh Kline could be a hard-working veteran without a job. Cannon makes the cut here, having had his best times filling in at right tackle for Scar back in 2014, but his falloff over the last two seasons and big salary could land him out of work. The offensive line cuts could be one of the more interesting spots on the team. I wouldn't rule out a "big-named" youngster getting the boot.
DEFENSIVE LINE (9)
Malcom Brown, Rob Ninkovich, Jabaal Sheard, Chris Long, Alan Branch, Terrance Knighton, Trey Flowers, Vincent Valentine, Geneo Grissom.
Analysis: The defensive line was a pretty active spot this offseason with the departures of Chandler Jones, Akiem Hicks and Dominique Easley as well as the additions of Long, Knighton and Valentine. The first six guys on the list would seem to be locks here, although if there is an odd man out it would probably be Branch. Flowers showed potential as a rookie and could be in line for increased reps as a pass rusher. Valentine's draft status has him on sure footing. That probably leaves Markus Kuhn and the versatile Geneo Grissom vying for one spot, though the latter's role could be primarily valued on special teams as much as defense. In this scenario New England cuts one of its two Germans.
Jamie Collins, Dont'a Hightower, Shea McClellin, Jonathan Freeny, Kamu Grugier-Hill.
Analysis: Even with the retirement of Jerod Mayo, New England's linebacker group is star-studded and maybe even deeper than a year ago. Collins and Hightower are soon-to-be-very-wealthy stars. McClellin is a solid free agent addition as a former first-round pick with experience and versatility, which is what Freeny surprisingly brought to the field in his first Patriots season in 2015. That said, I wouldn't rule the veteran out as a possible cut. Grugier-Hill is an athletic, modern-day football player whose first contributions will need to come on fourth down. Rufus Johnson has to be one of the final cuts, if at all.
Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon, Jordan Richards, Nate Ebner.
Analysis: The safety spot is top heavy with three locks in McCourty, Chung and Harmon. Richards' second-round draft status makes him borderline a lock regardless of any role he has/has not carved out for himself. But the position is very much tied into the kicking game. Ebner re-signed almost totally based on his special teams work. Brandon King is a tough cut here and one of the more difficult overall. He's an impressive athlete and special teamer. But at some point the Patriots can't keep all the guys who are good on fourth down but have yet to find a role on the first three downs.
Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan, Justin Coleman, Cyrus Jones, Darryl Roberts.
Analysis: This group seemed strangely easy to asses for a position that's still a major question. I would very much leave the door open for the annual undrafted rookie job winner to come at cornerback. Otherwise, these young players fill out the depth chart on pass defense. Butler is the true No. 1 and rising star. Ryan's back to start assuming he's not unseated by either the top pick Jones or the returning Roberts, who has found quite a cult following despite his extremely limited resume.
Special teams (4)
K Stephen Gostkowski, P Ryan Allen, LS Joe Cardona, Pro Bowler Matthew Slater.
Analysis: Not much to break down here. The only real question is whether the Navy makes Cardona free to play. If so, these four are solid locks.