Between now and next Sunday, 31 players currently on the New England Patriots roster will be looking for work elsewhere. The Patriots currently have 84 players on their roster, and must be down to 75 by 4 p.m. on Tuesday Aug. 26 and down to 53 by 4 p.m. on Saturday Aug. 30.
You'll probably see a hundred predictions of what the Patriots' final roster will look like, and there's a good chance that none of them will be right. With 31 other teams also releasing players, one team's trash may turn out to be the Patriots' treasure.
There's also an interesting dynamic with a pair of suspended players, wide receiver Brian Tyms and cornerback Brandon Browner, who will not count against the 53-man roster until such time as their suspension ends.
The recent releases of defensive tackle Tommy Kelly, linebacker James Anderson, and defensive end Will Smith make our job a little easier, but nonetheless, here is my prediction for the Patriots' final roster.
Rookies are in blue, free agent signees are in red, and suspended players are denoted with asterisks.
— This roster projection is based on the assumption that the Patriots will be running more 3-4 looks this season than previous years. The Patriots are a little shaky for depth at the outside linebacker spots, but Dont'a Hightower could kick outside and play that role if needed. He had lined up there at times in practice before Jerod Mayo suffered an injury. Jamie Collins didn't practice there very often, but he could be used at outside linebacker as well.
— Despite the lack of outside linebacker depth in 3-4 looks, there is still plenty of depth at linebacker overall if the Patriots want to switch back and forth between a 3-4 and a 4-3, as they have done in previous years. My guess is that a 4-3 front would have Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich move down to defensive end, with Collins, Mayo and Hightower as the upright linebackers.
— Brandon Bolden has faded further and further into the background, getting little to no opportunities to carry the ball in the preseason. Roy Finch, on the other hand, has shown his value as a kickoff returner (despite his struggles in the first game) and has shown the versatility to get involved in the passing game as well (despite struggles in pass protection).
— As has been the case for awhile, the tight end depth is scary shallow. Fullback James Develin has earned some run at tight end, but his development there is still a work in progress. As discussed earlier, this would be a position where I would not be surprised with a scrap-heap signing after teams begin making their cuts.
— James Morris impressed me on defense and special teams. He was the second-team green-dot wearer, calling the signals for the Patriots defense in the second half of their third preseason game against the Carolina Panthers. He showed off some good open-field quickness, coverage ability, and sure tackling in that game. I give him the slight edge over Steve Beauharnais for that alternate inside linebacker role.
— There's only one free safety listed here, but the Patriots have been working some cornerbacks in at safety, including Logan Ryan and Kyle Arrington. We've also seen all the safeties take turns at multiple spots, with strong safeties like Tavon Wilson and Patrick Chung getting opportunities at free safety this preseason.
— OLB Darius Fleming is a benefactor of the recent cuts. He has played a lot of special teams, and has been an edge rusher in nickel packages with the first-team defense. With so few options at outside linebacker, and with his ability to contribute on kickoffs and other special teams units, Fleming becomes a valuable player on the roster.