We continue our position-by-position breakdown of the roster with a look at the defensive line.
Locks: Jabaal Sheard, Terrance Knighton, Malcom Brown, Rob Ninkovich, Shea McClellin, Chris Long, Trey Flowers, Alan Branch, Vincent Valentine.
Bubble: Markus Kuhn, Geneo Grissom, Frank Kearse
Long shots: Anthony Johnson, Joe Vellano, Woodrow Hamilton
BREAKDOWN: There is some position flexibility here that could impact the overall number of spots available. Ninkovich spent the spring working at linebacker while McClellin was on the line at defensive end. Our projections have Ninkovich reverting to end while McClellin remains there. Sheard projects as a starter with Chandler Jones off to Arizona while the veteran Long came aboard to provide quality depth. Some combination of Brown, Branch and Knighton will fill the starting interior spots with Valentine, Kuhn and Kearse battling for backup roles. The rookie third-round pick Valentine likely has a spot while Kuhn saw lots of reps during the spring. Flowers bounced from the outside to the inside in sub packages and could carve out a role as a pass rusher while Grissom looks more like a special teamer with athletic versatility. Kearse, a free agent addition, could be in trouble while Johnson, Vellano and Hamilton are fighting long odds. The Patriots could keep 10 defensive linemen, which would mean adding one more to our list of locks.