New England won the Super Bowl last season with one of the youngest rosters in the league, and this past offseason they got even younger. The two areas that saw the biggest changes are at cornerback and running back, but there were also moves made in the front seven that should jumpstart the Patriots pass rush. There were also subtle moves on offense that could make a world of difference for a team that can score with anyone. Although there are questions at running back, defensive line, and the secondary as a whole, the core of the team is intact. Let's take a look at how we see the roster shaking out.
This isn't as easy a projection as it appears because the Brady suspension, but I'm going to go out on a limb and say the Brady case lands in federal court and he is playing the season opener. Brady doesn’t appear to be slowing down and he has a strong chance to win a fifth Super Bowl before his career is over. Garoppolo is a strong backup, and if I'm wrong about Brady, he'll be starting opening night versus Pittsburgh. Garoppolo reportedly gave the Patriots defense fits leading up to the Super Bowl as he emulated Russell Wilson on the scout team, so he’s ready. If Brady does accept some form of suspension, Matt Flynn will be on the roster until Brady returns. Again, this is a fluid situation, so we'll see what happens this week.
New England is going through another transition at running back after watching Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen both make their way to New York to play for the Jets and the Giants, respectively. Nothing to fear though, Bill Belichick and Nick Caserio planned for this transition. They did get a little lucky with the Blount acquisition last year, but when they signed him for two years, it was clear that they expected him to be their lead back in 2015. Brandon Bolden also signed an extension in 2014 and has served as a solid backup for a team that likes to feature backs based off of game plans. Gaffney will be in a battle with Jonas Gray for a roster spot, and his versatility will help him win that spot. Travaris Cadet, due to his experience and blocking ability, will handle third-down-back duties, and James Develin will remain on the roster as the fullback.
Although there are a few receivers that could beat out Dobson and Gibson, the other four (Edelman, LaFell, Amendola, and Slater) are locks to make the team. Dobson battled injuries all last year and late in his rookie year, but he is too talented to move on from at this point in his career. That basically leaves one spot for Gibson, Brian Tyms, Josh Boyce, Jonathan Krause, Chris Harper, and Zach D’Orazio to battle for. Gibson has the most experience and production, not to mention he knows the offense well; he is the favorite to win this final receiver spot. Brian Tyms has a shot to beat out Gibson due to his excellent work ethic and the ability to beat his man deep, but he’ll have his hands full. Chris Harper, a rookie free agent who had a strong career at Cal, has a chance to make the practice squad, assuming he clears waivers. It seems like it is time to move on from former TCU wide receiver Josh Boyce, a player that has all the physical tools but can’t seem to put it together. There are rumors that New England is interested in Reggie Wayne; he would take the spot of Brandon Gibson if he is signed.
This is one of the stronger parts of the Patriots roster; defenses are going to have fits with the twin towers in Gronkowski and Chandler, and Hoomanawanui is also an underrated pass-catching tight end. Gronkowski isn’t just a great tight end, he’s one of the top-five offensive weapons in the NFL; he’s simply unstoppable when he’s healthy. Gronkowski is also an excellent run blocker and he’ll help drive a running game that is crucial if the Patriots want to stay balanced. Chandler is going to find himself open in the red zone on a regular basis and teams will have to pick their poison with the two towering tight ends. Rookie A.J. Derby has a chance to beat out Hoomanawanui for the third spot, and if he doesn’t win the spot, he’ll be another candidate for the practice squad. Jake Bequette is a long shot to make the roster as a tight end, but if he shows he can be effective on offense, defense, and special teams, Belichick will find a spot for him. Bill loves Swiss-Army knife players; Troy Brown, Julian Edelman, Mike Vrabel, and…Jake Bequette? Maybe.
New England added depth in the draft with Jackson and Mason, two fourth round picks that have a chance to start. With four starters returning, the Patriots feature one of the strongest groups of offensive lineman in the NFL. Nate Solder returned to form as the 2014 season wore on after his battle with testicular cancer, and rookie Bryan Stork emerged as one of the best young centers in the game. Sebastian Vollmer continues to be one of the top five right tackles in the game, and Marcus Cannon can either start at guard or backup. Some teams go with ten offensive linemen, but New England can go with nine because they have players that can play multiple positions. The battle at guard is going to be interesting to watch this preseason; Josh Kline played excellent in spot duty last year and has a strong chance to win the job, but if Jackson or Mason shows the promise they did in college, Kline may find himself as a backup again. Cam Fleming will edge out Jordan Devey due to his ability to play tackle and guard; Devey is strictly a guard.
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