With some down time before training camp, we're conducting our annual, position-by-position examination of the Patriots roster. Today: linebackers.
Locks: Jamie Collins, Dont'a Hightower, Shea McClellin
Bubble: Jonathan Freeny, Rufus Johnson, Ramon Humber, Kamu Grugier-Hill
Long shots:Kevin Snyder, Elandon Roberts, C.J. Johnson
BREAKDOWN: Collins are Hightower are among the best young 'backers in the NFL and entering the final years of their contracts. Best-case scenario is that both sign long-term extensions before it gets to that point. Regardless, they'll be in the starting lineup come Week 1. McClellin came over from Chicago as a free agent this offseason and, with his versatility to play DE, OLB, and ILB, he's almost certain to be on the 53. Freeny signed an extension just a few games into his Patriots career last season, but struggled with consistency on the field. There might not be room enough on the roster for both him and Rufus Johnson (6-5, 280), who has intriguing size, which might explain why the Patriots kept him around on IR last year. Humber, meanwhile, holds the distinction of being the first free agent to sign with New England this offseason, but he could also be among the first to be let go. The undersized, special teamer Humber will be fighting for a job this summer with rookie Grugier-Hill (a hybrid safety) nipping at his heels. Snyder saw some action on the practice squad late last season, while rookies Roberts and C.J. Johnson face uphill battles to make the active roster. The practice squad could be possibilities for either or both, however.