Projecting the Patriots’ final 53 No. 2

Patriots safety Tavon Wilson provides some special teams value.
(Michael Dwyer / AP photo)

Decision time is coming up fast for the Patriots, with the deadline to trim the team’s roster just days away.

NFL teams will have to be down to 75 players on their rosters by 4 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 27.

Just four days later, teams will need to finalize their 53-man rosters.

For the Patriots, they got another opportunity to evaluate bubble players during Thursday’s preseason game against the Detroit Lions. Because of Thursday’s game, I’ve revised my projections for the team’s final 53, which is based partly on my player power rankings.

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Here’s where I stand with any noted changes:

Quarterbacks (3)
Tom Brady
Ryan Mallett
Tim Tebow

There is no change here. I still believe, despite not playing on Thursday, that Tim Tebow has a roster spot reserved for him. Bill Belichick has given no indication otherwise. But I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s cut either.


Running backs (5)
Stevan Ridley
Shane Vereen
Brandon Bolden
Leon Washington
LeGarrette Blount
Again, there’s no reason the Patriots cannot keep five running backs to begin the season, which they did in 2012 and 2010. Brandon Bolden, LeGarrette Blount, and Leon Washington all appear to be on the bubble. Bolden fumbled in Thursday’s game and Washington did not attempt a kick return and has seen fewer and fewer opportunities. If the Patriots keep all five on the team, they will be thin elsewhere on the roster. The sleeper here is James Develin, the hybrid fullback and tight end who has seen increased play in the past two preseason games.
Tight ends (4)
Rob Gronkowski*
Jake Ballard
Zach Sudfeld
Michael Hoomanawanui
There’s no change here. Here’s what I wrote in my first projection: The Patriots could possibly put Rob Gronkowski on the physically unable to perform list to start the season, opening a roster spot for someone else. The team also carried four tight ends to start the 2012 season. But they’ve never had five, which leaves at least two out in a crowd of six. My guess is it’s Daniel Fells, a veteran that could likely get picked up elsewhere, and the recently signed Evan Landi.
Wide receivers (6)
Danny Amendola
Julian Edelman
Kenbrell Thompkins
Aaron Dobson
Josh Boyce
Matthew Slater
There is no change here. Here’s what I wrote in my first projection: The Patriots kept six wide receivers to start the 2010 and 2011 regular season. Considering the size of the quarterback, tight end, and running back groups, wide receiver Matthew Slater may seem like a luxury as a core special teams player. Luckily for him, he is highly valued by the team. On the outside looking in are Kamar Aiken, Quentin Sims, Mark Harrison and Johnathan Haggerty.
Offensive linemen (8)
Logan Mankins
Nate Solder
Sebastian Vollmer
Ryan Wendell
Dan Connolly
Will Svitek
Marcus Cannon
Markus Zusevics
This is the one group on offense that has the most flexibility, allowing for other position groups to swell while it shrinks. Dan Connolly, Will Svitek, and Marcus Cannon can all play multiple positions, making it easier on the Patriots come decision time. The team carried 11 offensive linemen in 2012, but just eight in 2011. Some consideration should be given to the relatively young group of backups on the roster who will likely have practice squad eligibility and can be brought back in to help in a pinch.
Defensive linemen (8)
Vince Wilfork
Chandler Jones
Rob Ninkovich
Tommy Kelly
Marcus Benard
Justin Francis
Marcus Forston
Michael Buchanan
There’s one change here. I’ve dropped Jake Bequette. As I’ve stated before, some players are competing against others across positions. In this case, Bequette provides less value to the team than Tavon Wilson, who can also serve on special teams. Defensive end Michael Buchanan gets the benefit of being a seventh round pick this season. Canadian Football League import Armond Armstead, who is currently on the non-football injury list, likely headed for the physically unable to perform list. And Jermaine Cunningham, who has been absent with an unknown injury, appears to be the other odd man out.
Linebackers (6)
Jerod Mayo
Brandon Spikes
Dont’a Hightower
Jamie Collins
Dane Fletcher
Steve Beauharnais
There is no change here. Here’s what I wrote in my first projection: There should be no surprises here. Steve Beauharnais is a seventh-round pick who has some special teams value and Dane Fletcher can provide insurance in case Brandon Spikes goes down with an injury. Linebackers Niko Koutouvides and Jeff Tarpinian, who have been core special teams players, are likely the victim of larger position groups on offense.
Cornerbacks (5)
Aqib Talib
Kyle Arrington
Alfonzo Dennard
Marquice Cole
Logan Ryan
It helps that Devin McCourty can move back and fourth from safety to corner. Cornerback Ras-I Dowling, who has the potential to be a starter on this team when healthy, can still make the team if the Patriots determine there is a player to be dropped elsewhere.
Safeties (5)
Devin McCourty
Adrian Wilson
Steve Gregory
Duron Harmon
Tavon Wilson
Big change here. I’ve included second-year pro Tavon Wilson, whom the Patriots drafted in the second round last offseason. While he has not developed well reading and reacting in passing situations, he still provides some value on special teams and there is a possibility that the light could switch on eventually. Again, rookie Duron Harmon, along with Steve Gregory, should be the team’s primary backups. Keeping five safeties bucks an ongoing trend for the team, keeping four safeties in the past three years.
Specialists (3)
Stephen Gostkowski (K)
Zoltan Mesko (P)
Danny Aiken (LS)
No change here. Zoltan Mesko will likely beat out rookie Ryan Allen because he has been more consistent and he excels at directional punting.
Zuri Berry can be reached at zberry@boston.com. Follow him on Twitter @zuriberry.