Considering it's early June, this is the “way too early” Patriots 2016 offensive roster projection. We'll go in depth at each position and give predictions for who will make the team’s 53-man roster and who, unfortunately, will not. Be sure to look back at this as in September when Patriots Insider Publisher/Columnist Chris Simoneau releases his own 53-man roster projection article to see how accurate both of us were.
Quarterback (3) – Tom Brady, Jimmy Garoppolo, Jacoby Brissett
Notable Exclusion(s): NONE
Nothing too shocking here. Regardless of whether or not Tom Brady does have to serve his current four game suspension to start the 2016 season, the team will keep Jacoby Brissett even when Brady is active. After drafting Brissett in the third round, and Garoppolo going into his third season, the Patriots could be armed to trade one of them mid-season potentially if a team is desperate enough for a quarterback. It would most likely be Jimmy Garoppolo, as he would be the one starting at the position if Brady does sit to start 2016, but that's not a lock.
Running Back (4) – LeGarrette Blount, Dion Lewis, Brandon Bolden, D.J. Foster
Notable Exclusion(s): James White, Donald Brown
With LeGarrette Blount coming off a season-ending hip injury and Dion Lewis coming off a major knee injury, this is one of the weaker positions on the roster. Blount has declared himself healthy, and the game plan is for Lewis to be ready for Week One of the regular season. With that being said, Bolden is the team’s typical change-of-pace running back and a valuable piece on special teams, so don't expect to see him get cut.
The shocker here is D.J. Foster making the team over James White and Donald Brown. Foster could fit very well for the team as a Dion Lewis clone who can catch the ball very well and add some life in the run game. He also played wide receiver in 2015 for Arizona State and that could come in handy as well. James White filled in well down the stretch for the Patriots last season as a receiver out of the backfield, but did nothing in the run game. Brown is the opposite; he can run the ball decently but is not very good as a receiver. Foster has a good shot at taking a roster spot over those two in 2016 because of his versatility.
Fullback (1) – James Develin
Notable Exclusion(s): NONE
Tom Brady has said on multiple occasions that James Develin is one of the best fullbacks in the league. The Patriots are one of the few teams that use a fullback, and that does not look like it’ll be changing in 2016. Coming off a broken leg, Develin hopes to bounce back and be the asset he is as a lead blocker in the run game. He faces no true competition and the team clearly values his ability.
Wide Receiver (6) – Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Danny Amendola, Malcolm Mitchell, Keshawn Martin, Matthew Slater
Notable Exclusion(s): Nate Washington, Aaron Dobson
One of the more difficult positions to figure out, besides Edelman, Hogan, and Amendola, there are no true “locks” to make the team. Technically Matthew Slater is, but he is only a wide receiver in title as he's the team’s special team's captain. The team extended Keshawn Martin in the middle of last season, Amendola agreed to a re-negotiated contract which all but guarantees his spot, and Malcolm Mitchell is a recent fourth round pick by the team.
Due to Mitchell’s raw talent and underrated production at Georgia, he is all but guaranteed a spot as the team’s number four/five receiver who could contribute in year one due to injury issues that both Edelman and Amendola face every year. Nate Washington was a solid veteran pick-up in the off-season, but will be one of the last cuts for the team most likely, and Aaron Dobson will finally run out of chances to “break out” after being a second round pick by the team a few years back.
Offensive Tackle (4) – Nate Solder, Sebastian Vollmer, LaAdrian Waddle, Cameron Fleming
Notable Exclusion(s): Marcus Cannon
Signed for the next two seasons at over $10 million dollars per year, Nate Solder is a lock to return as the team’s starting left tackle. Going into the last year of his deal despite dealing with injuries last season, Vollmer will be back to man the team’s right tackle spot. While Waddle was brought on late last season, he showed that he is a capable back-up and is signed cheaply for the next two seasons. Fleming was brought back after being an exclusive rights free agent and has his old offensive line coach back in Dante Scarnecchia.
It was hard to figure out who would take the last offensive tackle spot between Cannon and Fleming, but the fact that Cannon costs much more against the cap ($4.7 million in 2016 for Cannon, $600,000 for Fleming). It very well could come down to Fleming and Cannon for the last spot with Fleming winning out in the end.
Offensive Guard (4) – Shaq Mason, Joe Thuney, Jonathan Cooper, Josh Kline
Notable Exclusion(s): Tre’ Jackson, Ted Karras
A position last year that was anchored for the most part by two rookies in Mason and Jackson will have a make-over for 2016. Mason performed rather well as a rookie and should have an inside edge at one of the two starting guard positions in 2016. The team just drafted Joe Thuney in the third round, so he is all but guaranteed to make the team. Jonathan Cooper is a former top-10 pick and has shown flashes of his awesome talent at times; he was acquired in the Chandler Jones-to-Arizona trade and is a lock for the 53 man roster.
The Patriots just signed Josh Kline to a nice two-year extension as well during the middle of last season and has proven to be reliable as a fill-in interior offensive lineman when called upon. Tre’ Jackson was a fourth round pick last year but dealt with injury and inconsistent play in his rookie season. He will be one of the final cuts most likely due to the quality depth at the position. Despite being drafted in the sixth round, Karras may find himself on the practice squad for the 2016 season. It’s all but certain that Mason will be one of the starters in 2016 at guard, but Thuney, Cooper, and Kline will all fight for the other starting guard position.
Center (2) – David Andrews, Bryan Stork
Notable Exclusion(s): NONE
There are no surprises here really. This is the same as last season and Andrews filled in well after being an undrafted free agent rookie out of Georgia. The general consensus would be that Stork would the starting center if both are healthy, but this could be a battle to the end for who is the starter come week one. Regardless, this is one of the easiest positions to project for New England in 2016.
Tight End (3) – Rob Gronkowski, Martellus Bennett, Bryce Williams
Notable Exclusion(s): Clay Harbor
The first two tight ends on the depth chart are locks of course with Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett. The upset here is that neither Clay Harbor, Michael Williams, nor Steven Scheu makes the team here. It is undrafted free agent rookie Bryce Williams out of East Carolina. If you read my profile of Bryce Williams from a few weeks ago, you’d see that I was a big fan of his. He is a more polished receiving tight end than most realize despite being undrafted. Williams finished third in the nation in receptions and ninth in receiving yards for all college tight ends in 2015.
Scheu would make for the ideal practice squad candidate potentially as another talented receiving tight end, but Williams edges him out slightly because he's more polished. It would be a bold move, but it wouldn’t be anything the Patriots haven’t done before.
Tomorrow: Part Two- Way-Too-Early 2016 Patriots Defensive Projections