FOXBORO - Now that the Patriots are down to their last preseason game, it's a good time to take an educated guess about the makeup of the final 53-man roster.
All NFL teams have to reduce their rosters to 75 players by 4 p.m. Monday, so the reduction process will be underway in full swing as you read this.
The final cut must be completed by 9 p.m. on Friday, although if history can serve as a guide, Patriots' coach Bill Belichick will be making tweaks and alterations to his final 53 until the very last moment he can before the regular-season opener at Tennessee on Sept. 9.
In the meantime, here's this weekend's guess:
Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer, Ryan Mallett.
Although … neither Mallett nor Hoyer have charmed the socks off anyone in their preseason games, and Hoyer actually took a huge step backward in the Philadelphia game. It wouldn’t be a surprise if Belichick axed one of the backups and picked up a veteran that might find himself available (Matt Hasselbeck, maybe?) on the last cut.
RUNNING BACKS (4)
Danny Woodhead, Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, Jeff Demps.
Is there really any need for a fullback in this offense? The three guys at the top of this list give the Patriots all the running they need, and Demps is here as a returner. Any further need, there will be plenty available later.
Bubble: Spencer Larsen.
WIDE RECEIVERS (7)
Brandon Lloyd, Wes Welker, Deion Branch, Jabar Gaffney, Donté Stallworth, Julian Edelman, Matthew Slater.
The dynamic among Branch, Gaffney and Stallworth is interesting. Branch is a Brady binky, but he does look as if he’s slowing down. Gaffney’s hurt and getting older. Stallworth is the most athletic but also the most expendable of the three. Edelman is at risk because of Demps’ role as a returner, and Slater’s a special-teams guy.
Bubble: Gaffney, Stallworth, Edelman
TIGHT ENDS (3)
Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Daniel Fells.
There’s a slim chance Belichick may look elsewhere for the No. 3, given how little Fells practiced in camp. Doubtful he’ll go with just two, however; he’ll need a blocker to help out Nate Solder at left tackle.
Bubble: Fells, Visanthe Shiancoe.
OFFENSIVE LINE (9)
Nate Solder, Logan Mankins, Dan Koppen, Dan Connolly, Sebastian Vollmer, Marcus Cannon, Ryan Wendell, Nick McDonald, Donald Thomas.
They’ve gotten by with fewer bodies before, but they don’t have that luxury this year. Mankins may be slow in rounding into form and Vollmer’s back may still be an issue. Connolly, Wendell and McDonald are punch-in-anywhere guys but not solo standouts. People seem determined to get rid of Koppen, but I think his experience earns him one more year. Meanwhile, the Patriots continue to do their “Waiting for Godot” thing with Brian Waters, and I’m starting to feel as if they’re moving on.
Bubble: Thomas, Koppen.
Wild Card: Brian Waters.
DEFENSIVE LINE (8)
Vince Wilfork, Kyle Love, Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich, Jermaine Cunningham, Jake Bequette, Ron Brace, Brandon Deaderick.
We’re running into classification issues here (the team still lists Cunningham and Ninkovich as linebackers), but this would seem to be the rotation according to the base 4-3 defense. No real surprises here except how well Jones played.
Bubble: Brace, Gerard Warren, Tim Bulman, Trevor Scott, Myron Pryor (likely IR).
Jerod Mayo, Dont’a Hightower, Brandon Spikes, Bobby Carpenter, Jeff Tarpinian, Niko Koutouvides.
Again, the classification issues. They’re a little thin in depth here (Tarpinian is almost safety-sized and Koutouvides is a special-teamer), so expect this position to be under review when the waiver claims are made during the week leading up to the Titans’ game.
Bubble: Tracy White, Trevor Scott, Mike Rivera
DEFENSIVE BACKS (10)
Devin McCourty, Kyle Arrington, Patrick Chung, Steve Gregory, Will Allen, Alfonzo Dennard, Ras-I Dowling, Nate Ebner, James Ihedigbo, Tavon Wilson.
A lot of decisions here. Allen and Dennard could easily be displaced by Marquice Cole and Sterling Moore, but I think Allen’s experience wins out over Moore, and Belichick took a big chance on Dennard and wants to see it through, leaving Cole in the dust. Ebner, the Rugby Kid, has displayed a nose for the ball. And there’s always the chance that Belichick will continue to poke fun at the world by putting Ross Ventrone on and off the roster 20-25 times during the season.
Bubble: Allen, Ihedigbo, Ebner, Cole, Ventrone, Moore, Josh Barrett.
Stephen Gostkowski, Zoltan Mesko, Danny Aiken.
The kicking corps is set, although in the post-Lonie Paxton era, long-snappers come a dime a dozen.