After nearly three full weeks of preseason football, NFL coaches and management are beginning to have a better understanding as to who will make their respective rosters and who will be left off of it.
Like other teams in the NFL, the New England Patriots began the process of cuts on Monday in order to make the Tuesday deadline of an 80-man roster. On Monday, Bill Belichick and company shocked a lot of Patriots fans when he decided to cut sixth-year safety James Sanders along with a handful of less shocking cuts.
With the release of Sanders and defensive end Ty Warren earlier this offseason, Belichick clearly doesn't believe in team tenure. As he's said in constant press conferences, "The best players play more".
I'm not saying you should expect the Patriots try and cut Tom Brady or Vince Wilfork, I just believe that with Sanders' release Monday, you should anticipate the Bill Belichick has a few more surprises up his sleeve. As we look forward towards Week one of the NFL season (which begins only a week from Thursday!), here's my 2011-2012 New England Patriots 53-man roster.
Who Gets Cut: N/A
Why: The Patriots seem to be pretty contempt with what they have a quarterback and Tom Brady isn't going anywhere. Quarterback Brian Hoyer has had a pretty decent preseason and will most likely open up as the second string quarterback. Hoyer was the potential to be the next Kevin Kolb, one of the top backup quarterbacks in the NFL. Mallett meanwhile has also had a pretty solid preseason as well. The third round pick out of Arkansas will most likely be the third string quarterback this season and may ultimately take the reigns when Tom Brady decides to hang it up.
Running Back (4)
Why: Running back is just one of many positions the Pats seem to have a lot of depth at. For one, I believe the tandem of BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead has to be brought back because of their incredible contributions to last year's team. Green-Ellis was able to rush over 1,000 yards for the first time in his career and Woodhead is becoming a clear fan favorite in New England. Vereen and Ridley were both drafted very early by the Patriots in this year's draft, so Belichick clearly has a vision for these two. I believe Sammy Morris gets the boot here just because there isn't a whole lot of space for him. Kevin Faulk makes the team while on the Physically Unable to Perform list and provides veteran leadership to this young corp of running backs.
Wide Receiver (6)
Why: The first four receivers make the team easy, then comes the more interesting part. Bill Belichick has said all through Training Camp that he has "big plans" for Taylor Price this upcoming season and that he's been quite impressed with his development. The interesting battle comes between Slater and Tate. I give the slight edge to Slater as a sixth receiver because he is a proven special teams player. Brandon Tate's value seemed to drop when the NFL changed the kickoff rule, which eliminates the position of a designated kick returner. Tate battled injuries throughout Training Camp and has seemed sluggish at times.
Tight End (3)
Who Gets Cut: Lee Smith
Why: After having impressive rookie seasons last year, both Gronkowski and Hernandez return as two of Tom Brady's top targets. The real battle comes down between the fifth-rounder Smith and the undrafted Yeatman. After the Patriots released Alge Crumpler to begin Training Camp, Smith appeared to gain traction as a blocking tight end. However, Smith's reps in practice have slipped somewhat and Yeatman has received more playing time during the preseason. With that being said, the lacrosse-playing tight end from Maryland has the upper hand to make the roster.
Offensive Tackle (4)
Who Gets Cut: N/A
Why: The Patriots already sort of addressed offensive tackle cuts when they decided to release veteran Mark LeVoir. After his release, it became apparent that the second year man Maneri was going to make the team. After undergoing cancer treatment in the offseason, rookie Marcus Cannon starts the year on PUP.
Offensive Guard/Center (5)
Why: With Mankins, Connolly and Koppen as roster locks, Bill Belichick must pick between returning and new players. Ohrnberger seems to be taking shape as this year's Dan Connolly, a vesatile interior lineman who can play on both the right and left sides of the line. I also believe Belichick will give the edge to the tenured Wendell over the third year center Compas.
Defensive End (4)
Why: Like Running Back, the defensive line is a very crowded area. Nothing really shocking here, but I have all three newcomers making the roster (Ellis, Carter, Anderson) along with returning starters Jermaine Cunningham and Eric Moore. Brace and Deadrick start the year out on PUP. Anderson was a player I contemplated leaving off. However, because the Patriots plan to use both a 3-4 and 4-3 defense, Anderson sees time as a 4-3 pass rusher used by Belichick.
Defensive Tackle (6)
Why: I believe that Belichick has every intention of bringing in several guys on the defensive line in order to use them in certain scenarios. I considered cutting the injured Wright, but he is working his back and could be a valuable commodity in a sub package. The veteran Landon Cohen gets the cut in favor of Gerard Warren.
Why: I had Tracy White as my last one in because he's fairly familiar with Bill Belichick's system. White will likely get time as a 3-4 linebacker with pass rusher Jermaine Cunningham. Even though Cunningham has received a lot of reps at defensive end during camp, he has the versatility as a 3-4 linebacker if needed. On a 3-4 scheme, Cunningham could get playing time as an outside rusher with Rob Ninkovich with Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes in the middle.
Who Gets Cut: N/A
Why: The Patriots already addressed cornerback on Monday when they released veteran Jonathan Wilhite. The main competition would have been between Wilhite and Darius Butler for the fifth cornerback slot. Now that Wilhite is gone, Butler can breathe a lot easier.
Who Gets Cut: Ross Ventrone
Why: The Patriots sort of shocked us with the release of James Sanders on Monday. With it, it appears that James Ihedigbo will likely make the team and serve as Patrick Chung's back up at free safety. The new comer Ross Ventrone will likely get the boot off the roster in the next few days.
Special Teams (2)
Who Gets Cut: James Dearth
Why: With the release of Matt Katula on Monday, the Patriots made it clear that they weren't going to just hand a roster spot to a long snapper; they had to earn it. For these reasons, I believe Dearth won't be able to make the team. Bill Belichick will most likely to concede the long snapping duties to a guy like Rob Ninkovich who has other duties other than long snapping.