New England Patriots: Bubble watch

Wrapping up the 'Bubble watch'

July, 22, 2013
7/22/13
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On Sunday, the final installment of the "Bubble Watch" series was posted, with a total of 28 players considered to be on the bubble as the Patriots are set to begin training camp this week.

Keeping in mind two things, (a) that injuries can quickly change the outlook of the roster and (b) the percentages assigned to players on the bubble weren't intended to be scientific, the following is an overview of where the roster stands, based on the series' projections:

Bubble watch: Niko Koutouvides

July, 21, 2013
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(Continuing a month-long series analyzing players who are on the roster bubble and where they may potentially fit in 2013.)

NAME: Niko Koutouvides

[+] EnlargeNiko Koutouvides
Tom Croke/Icon SMINiko Koutouvides has provided a steady presence on special teams.
POSITION: Linebacker

AGE: 32

2012 STATS: 14 games, 4 tackles

INJURY STATUS: No known injuries.

CHANCE OF MAKING 53-MAN ROSTER: 40%

WHY HE SHOULD MAKE IT: Koutouvides is the Patriots' most experienced special teams player, and even at 32, would provide a steady presence in that phase of the game. Even after Koutouvides was released during final cuts last season, he returned to the team in Week 3, and remained on the 53-man roster through the balance of the season. It would hardly be a shock if Koutouvides, who seems to fit well within the locker room and the overall program, finds a way back into the mix this fall.

WHY HE SHOULD NOT MAKE IT: With the Patriots spending second-round (Jamie Collins) and seventh-round (Steve Beauharnais) draft picks this April on linebackers, it puts a squeeze on players already within the system to hold onto their jobs. It's unlikely that Beauharnais, whose draft status puts him on the roster bubble, would make as great an impact on special teams as Koutouvides, who has been in the NFL since 2004. But if the Patriots want to hold onto their younger pieces, it could come at the expense of players such as Koutouvides.

CLOSEST COMPETITION: LB Steve Beauharnais, LB Jeff Tarpinian, LB Mike Rivera

Bubble watch: Kamar Aiken

July, 20, 2013
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(Continuing a month-long series analyzing players who are on the roster bubble and where they may potentially fit in 2013.)

NAME: Kamar Aiken

[+] EnlargeKamar Aiken
David Butler II/USA TODAY SportsWill Kamar Aiken prove to be a keeper in the Patriots' crowded WR competition?
POSITION: Wide receiver

AGE: 24

2012 STATS: 1 game, no statistics

INJURY STATUS: No known injuries.

CHANCE OF MAKING 53-MAN ROSTER: 20%

WHY HE SHOULD MAKE IT: At 6-foot-2, Aiken's size could be his best asset in his attempt to secure a roster spot this preseason. The Patriots have two veteran inside receivers in Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman, but they have been in search of an outside threat since the departure of Randy Moss in 2010. Aiken doesn't have the skill set of rookie Aaron Dobson or even veteran Michael Jenkins, but he saw reps with the top offensive unit at one point this spring. If he proves to be durable and reliable, then there may be room for him.

WHY HE SHOULD NOT MAKE IT: With so few sure bets at wide receiver, it's unlikely that the Patriots will have room to keep another special-teams-oriented player, like Aiken, outside of captain Matthew Slater. And while it's too early in his career to write off Aiken's value as an offensive player, the Patriots invested two high draft picks in April on receivers, and have another promising undrafted rookie in Kenbrell Thompkins. Ultimately, Aiken may prove to be too much of a niche player to earn a spot on the 53-man roster.

CLOSEST COMPETITION: WR Kenbrell Thompkins, WR Lavelle Hawkins, WR Michael Jenkins

Bubble watch: Steve Beauharnais

July, 19, 2013
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(Continuing a month-long series analyzing players who are on the roster bubble and where they may potentially fit in 2013.)

NAME: Steve Beauharnais

[+] EnlargeSteve Beauharnais
AP Photo/Michael DwyerSteve Beauharnais could face an uphill battle to secure a roster spot.
POSITION: Linebacker

AGE: 23

2012 STATS: 13 games (13 starts), 83 tackles (6.0 for loss), 1 sack, 1 interception, 1 pass defensed -- at Rutgers

INJURY STATUS: No known injuries.

CHANCE OF MAKING 53-MAN ROSTER: 60%

WHY HE SHOULD MAKE IT: Known as a hard-working, fundamentally sound player, Beauharnais could fit the Patriots mold early on. It's unlikely that he will have any significant contributions on defense, at least initially, but he could bring value down the road, especially if Brandon Spikes departs through free agency next spring. If Beauharnais shows promise this preseason -- it wouldn't be shocking if he led the defensive huddle in the second halves of those games -- then he could be a developmental piece worthy of a spot.

WHY HE SHOULD NOT MAKE IT: The Patriots have been deep at most positions in most years, so it's far from a given that any seventh-round pick will stick on the 53-man roster in New England. While he was a solid defensive player at Rutgers, Beauharnais will need to make his mark on special teams with the Patriots. In doing so, he'll be going up against several players adept in that phase of the game. Linebacker is one of the most well-stocked groups on the roster, which could make the practice squad a more likely option for the team's final draft choice this April.

CLOSEST COMPETITION: LB Jeff Tarpinian, LB Mike Rivera, LB Niko Koutouvides

Bubble watch: Marquice Cole

July, 18, 2013
7/18/13
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(Continuing a month-long series analyzing players who are on the roster bubble and where they may potentially fit in 2013.)

NAME: Marquice Cole

POSITION: Cornerback

AGE: 29

2012 STATS: 14 games (1 start), 17 tackles, 3 passes defensed, 1 interception

INJURY STATUS: No known injuries.

CHANCE OF MAKING 53-MAN ROSTER: 60%

WHY HE SHOULD MAKE IT: As with Ras-I Dowling, Cole's chances of securing a roster spot will be impacted by the availability of Alfonzo Dennard, whose status remains unclear at this point. If Dennard is suspended, released, and/or jailed, then Cole becomes more valuable as a reserve option at cornerback. But even if Dennard is part of the team this season, Cole still has value as both a quality special-teams player and a solid veteran presence in the locker room.

WHY HE SHOULD NOT MAKE IT: During OTAs and minicamp, Cole participated in some drills as a safety, a position where the Patriots are already deep, having invested second- and third-round selections in the previous two drafts (Tavon Wilson and Duron Harmon, respectively). Similarly, the Patriots have a recent second-round pick (Ras-I Dowling, 2011) and now third-round pick (Logan Ryan, 2013) at cornerback. While none of these young players has the same special-teams value as Cole, they quickly fill up roster space in the secondary, which could leave Cole, who has limited potential as a defensive player, outside the bubble.

CLOSEST COMPETITION: CB Ras-I Dowling, S Nate Ebner, S Steve Gregory

Bubble watch: Armond Armstead

July, 17, 2013
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(Continuing a month-long series analyzing players who are on the roster bubble and where they may potentially fit in 2013.)

NAME: Armond Armstead

[+] EnlargeArmstead
Craig Bennett/Icon SMIArmond Armstead, who went from USC to the CFL, will try to carry his success over to the NFL.
POSITION: Defensive tackle

AGE: 22

2012 STATS: 46 tackles, 6 sacks with Toronto (CFL)

INJURY STATUS: No known injuries.

CHANCE OF MAKING 53-MAN ROSTER: 80%

WHY HE SHOULD MAKE IT: It's always possible that they bring in veteran competition, but at this point, the Patriots seem to be banking on Armstead being a contributor this season. Behind presumptive starters Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly, the Patriots are thin at defensive tackle, giving Armstead a strong chance to stick, even if no reason other than being a big body on the roster. But Armstead has upside as a pass rusher beyond that, and it wouldn't be surprising if he begins to emerge in the NFL after a brief stint in Canada.

WHY HE SHOULD NOT MAKE IT: While there have been players recently -- Cameron Wake and Brandon Browner, most notably -- who have carried their success in the CFL to the NFL, it's not a given. Armstead's case is different than many, as he went to the CFL after leaving USC with a medical condition. But even if he's considered an "extra draft pick" by the Patriots this season, there is still the risk that he's simply not ready. If Jermaine Cunningham and/or Justin Francis can fill the void as interior rushers, there is an outside chance Armstead could fall off the radar, at least initially.

CLOSEST COMPETITION: DT Marcus Forston, DE Jermaine Cunningham, DE Justin Francis

Bubble watch: Ras-I Dowling

July, 16, 2013
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(Continuing a month-long series analyzing players who are on the roster bubble and where they may potentially fit in 2013.)

NAME: Ras-I Dowling

Ras-I Dowling
Rob Tringali/SportsChrome/Getty ImagesRas-I Dowling, whose durability has been an issue, stayed healthy throughout OTAs and minicamp.
POSITION: Cornerback

AGE: 25

2012 STATS: 7 games (0 starts), 7 tackles, 1 pass defensed

INJURY STATUS: No known injuries.

CHANCE OF MAKING 53-MAN ROSTER: 70%

WHY HE SHOULD MAKE IT: If presumptive starter Alfonzo Dennard misses any time (or is released) as a result of his arrest earlier this month, Dowling could stand to benefit the most, from a purely football standpoint. Entering his third season, Dowling stayed healthy throughout OTAs and minicamp, which would put him on track to cure the biggest ill from his first two seasons: his durability. If Dennard is out of the picture, even if it's just to begin the season, Dowling could go from teetering on his final days in New England to locking up a starting role. When training camp begins next week, he'll be one of the top players to watch.

WHY HE SHOULD NOT MAKE IT: Even with Dennard's arrest, the Patriots still are deep in their secondary. There are as many as six safeties with strong chances to make the roster, while the Patriots have invested a third-round pick (Logan Ryan) and a four-year contract (Kyle Arrington) at cornerback behind Dennard and Aqib Talib. Just by default, that could leave Dowling on the outside looking in, especially if he needs to compete against a potentially superior special teams player (i.e. Marquice Cole) for a back-end roster spot.

CLOSEST COMPETITION: CB Marquice Cole, S Nate Ebner, CB Alfonzo Dennard

Bubble watch: Jermaine Cunningham

July, 15, 2013
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(Continuing a month-long series analyzing players who are on the roster bubble and where they may potentially fit in 2013.)

NAME: Jermaine Cunningham

POSITION: Defensive end

AGE: 25

2012 STATS: 12 games (3 starts), 24 tackles, 2.5 sacks

INJURY STATUS: No known injuries.

CHANCE OF MAKING 53-MAN ROSTER: 70%

WHY HE SHOULD MAKE IT: After a dismal 2011 season, Cunningham bounced back through the first half of last season, seeing an increased role as an interior rusher in a retooled Patriots defense. However, he was suspended for four games in December and his playing time dipped upon his return. Entering the final season of his rookie contract, Cunningham's back is to the wall, and he could benefit from the lack of depth at interior pass rusher. If CFL import Armond Armstead doesn't pan out, Cunningham will stand a stronger chance of making the roster because of his versatility.

WHY HE SHOULD NOT MAKE IT: Even after spending a second-round pick on Cunningham in 2010, the Patriots devoted first- and third-round selections to defensive ends (Chandler Jones and Jake Bequette, respectively) in the 2012 draft, and further bolstered the position by picking up Michael Buchanan in the seventh round this April. With undrafted free agent Justin Francis also emerging last season, Cunningham's chances to break out are quickly dwindling. If newcomers Buchanan and Armstead both make a case to stick, this could be Cunningham's last summer in New England.

CLOSEST COMPETITION: DT Armond Armstead, DE Michael Buchanan, DE/DT Justin Francis

Bubble watch: Chris McDonald

July, 14, 2013
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(Continuing a month-long series analyzing players who are on the roster bubble and where they may potentially fit in 2013.)

NAME: Chris McDonald

POSITION: Guard

AGE: 23

2012 STATS: 13 games (13 starts) -- at Michigan State
INJURY STATUS: No known injuries.

CHANCE OF MAKING 53-MAN ROSTER: 25%

WHY HE SHOULD MAKE IT: McDonald's path to the 53-man roster closely mirrors that of another undrafted free agent, Matt Stankiewitch. The Patriots are slightly thin on veteran depth along their offensive line, giving rookies like McDonald and Stankiewitch a shot at cracking the roster. In this case, the younger McDonald will in some ways be competing with his older brother, Nick. While there could be room for both of them, the best way for Chris to secure a spot is to do what his brother did: learn both guard and center, and provide value through his versatility.

WHY HE SHOULD NOT MAKE IT: While it's tough to gauge exactly how much an effect this will have beyond spring practices, Stankiewitch could have the upper hand on McDonald because he came into New England already knowing the terminology of the Patriots' system, having played under former offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien at Penn State. It's very unlikely that the Patriots will be able to keep both McDonald brothers and Stankiewitch on their 53-man roster, so this knowledge of the offense might give Stankiewitch the edge heading into the preseason.

CLOSEST COMPETITION: G/C Nick McDonald, C Matt Stankiewitch, G Josh Kline

Bubble watch: Daniel Fells

July, 12, 2013
7/12/13
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(Continuing a month-long series analyzing players who are on the roster bubble and where they may potentially fit in 2013.)

NAME: Daniel Fells

[+] EnlargeDaniel Fells
Elsa/Getty ImagesWill Daniel Fells capitalize on the Patriots' uncertainty at tight end?
POSITION: Tight end

AGE: 29

2012 STATS: 13 games (4 starts), 4 receptions (85 yards, 0 touchdowns)

INJURY STATUS: No known injuries.

CHANCE OF MAKING 53-MAN ROSTER: 70%

WHY HE SHOULD MAKE IT: After a stint on the PUP list to begin training camp last season led into a quiet 2012 campaign, Fells could be in position to capitalize on an uncertain landscape for the Patriots at tight end. If he can bounce back and regain his old form (41 receptions in 2010), Fells could take an increased role in the offense this season. Even if he doesn't flash in the preseason, he provides veteran insurance where it's badly needed.

WHY HE SHOULD NOT MAKE IT: While offseason surgeries for Rob Gronkowski and the release of Aaron Hernandez this offseason would make it seem like Fells has a chance to break out, it should be noted that both Gronkowski and Hernandez missed time last season, and Fells failed to take advantage. Instead, Michael Hoomanawanui, who was signed off the Redskins' practice squad in September, became a bigger contributor. If Hoomanawanui maintains that pace, and undrafted rookie Zach Sudfeld has a strong training camp, then Fells and his $1.25 million base salary could become expendable.

CLOSEST COMPETITION: TE Zach Sudfeld, TE Jake Ballard, TE Michael Hoomanawanui

Bubble watch: Michael Jenkins

July, 11, 2013
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(Continuing a month-long series analyzing players who are on the roster bubble and where they may potentially fit in 2013.)

NAME: Michael Jenkins

[+] EnlargeMichael Jenkins
Mike Reiss/ESPNMichael Jenkins doesn't offer much as a vertical receiver, but still figures to find a role on the Patriots.
POSITION: Wide receiver

AGE: 31

2012 STATS: 16 games (8 starts), 40 receptions (449 yards, 2 touchdowns)

INJURY STATUS: No known injuries.

CHANCE OF MAKING 53-MAN ROSTER: 75%

WHY HE SHOULD MAKE IT: He's not quite the same player he was during his best seasons in Atlanta, but Jenkins has the makings of a consistent, reliable veteran presence in a passing game that will be in need of one. It may not mean much come training camp, but Jenkins and Danny Amendola were almost exclusively part of the top group at wide receiver during OTAs and minicamp. While he doesn't offer much as a vertical receiver, Jenkins can easily earn a role as a big target who can work outside the numbers and in the red zone.

WHY HE SHOULD NOT MAKE IT: The biggest factor working against Jenkins will be his age, as he will have two draft picks (Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce) and an undrafted rookie (Kenbrell Thompkins) who stood out this spring competing against him. If Dobson is able to recover from an undisclosed injury that sidelined him during minicamp, and if he can push for significant playing time this season -- and that's a major "if" -- then Jenkins could slide down the depth chart, where his lack of special teams impact could work against him.

CLOSEST COMPETITION: WR Donald Jones, WR Lavelle Hawkins, WR Kenbrell Thompkins

Bubble watch: Tim Tebow

July, 10, 2013
7/10/13
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(Continuing a month-long series analyzing players who are on the roster bubble and where they may potentially fit in 2013.)

Tim Tebow
AP Photo/Charles KrupaTim Tebow's character and athleticism will carry him only so far.
NAME: Tim Tebow

POSITION:Quarterback

AGE: 25

2012 STATS: 12 games (2 starts), 6-for-8 passing (39 yards, 0 touchdowns, 0 interceptions), 32 rushes (102 yards, 0 touchdowns)

INJURY STATUS: No known injuries.

CHANCE OF MAKING 53-MAN ROSTER: 25%

WHY HE SHOULD MAKE IT: Patriots owner Robert Kraft spoke highly of Tebow's personal characteristics following the team's decision to sign him in June, but what Tebow brings off the field would only be part of why the Patriots could decide to keep him on their 53-man roster. Tebow is past the point in his career where he's a developmental project at quarterback, but his athleticism could provide the Patriots value within their fast-paced offensive system. Because of that possibility, it's simply too early to write off Tebow's chances of earning a roster spot for the regular season.

WHY HE SHOULD NOT MAKE IT: The operative word when it comes to Tebow and the Patriots is "value," and precisely how much value Tebow would provide to New England. Roles on the 46-man game-day roster are precious, and Tebow's character off the field or simply his athleticism on the field won't be enough to justify making him active for games. As long as Ryan Mallett locks down the job backing up Tom Brady -- and it would be an upset if Tebow can push Mallett for that job -- then Tebow will need to earn his playing time through a well-defined role on special teams and in the offense. It will be an uphill battle.

CLOSEST COMPETITION: QB Ryan Mallett

Bubble watch: Brandon Bolden

July, 9, 2013
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(Continuing a month-long series analyzing players who are on the roster bubble and where they may potentially fit in 2013.)

NAME: Brandon Bolden

POSITION: Running back

AGE: 23

2012 STATS: 10 games, 56 rushes (274 yards, 2 touchdowns), 2 receptions (11 yards)

INJURY STATUS: Did not participate in OTAs/minicamp with undisclosed injury.

CHANCE OF MAKING 53-MAN ROSTER: 60%

WHY HE SHOULD MAKE IT: Following a similar path to another undrafted Ole Miss running back, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Bolden found a role on the Patriots as a rookie early last season. Although a four-game suspension midseason cut his playing time upon his return, Bolden could have a fresh chance this preseason to work his way back into the mix behind presumptive lead back Stevan Ridley.

WHY HE SHOULD NOT MAKE IT: There's two significant factors weighing against Bolden's chances of making the 53-man roster the season. The first is increased competition created by April's acquisition of LeGarrette Blount from the Buccaneers. If Blount makes a case to stick, Bolden will be hard-pressed for a spot. The second is an undisclosed injury that landed him in a walking boot at one point this offseason. Bolden could be a candidate to begin training camp on the physically unable to perform list, hardly ideal for a player entering his second NFL season.

CLOSEST COMPETITION: RB LeGarrette Blount, RB George Winn, FB James Develin

Bubble watch: Zach Sudfeld

July, 8, 2013
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(Continuing a month-long series analyzing players who are on the roster bubble and where they may potentially fit in 2013.)

NAME: Zach Sudfeld

POSITION: Tight end

AGE: 24

2012 STATS: 13 games, 45 receptions (598 yards, 8 touchdowns) -- at Nevada

INJURY STATUS: No known injuries.

CHANCE OF MAKING 53-MAN ROSTER: 65%

WHY HE SHOULD MAKE IT: It's no mystery that the Patriots have significant uncertainty at the tight end position heading into training camp, and it's Sudfeld who could stand to benefit the most. He saw extensive practice time during OTAs and minicamp, and has an intriguing combination of size (6-foot-7, 260 pounds), mobility, and hands that could allow him to play either the 'Y' or 'F' tight end positions. Regardless of whether Rob Gronkowski begins the regular season on the active roster or PUP, the Patriots may want to keep Sudfeld on the 53-man roster as a young piece to develop at the position.

WHY HE SHOULD NOT MAKE IT: Undrafted rookies always have an uphill battle to make the team out of training camp, and one thing to keep an eye on with Sudfeld is injuries. He had six surgeries while at Nevada and the NCAA granted him a rare second medical redshirt after he broke his leg in 2011. It's too early to question his durability as an NFL player, but any injury that sidelines him during the preseason will hurt his chances of making the 53-man roster.

CLOSEST COMPETITION: TE Daniel Fells, TE Jake Ballard, TE Michael Hoomanawanui

Bubble watch: Kenbrell Thompkins

July, 7, 2013
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(Continuing a month-long series analyzing players who are on the roster bubble and where they may potentially fit in 2013.)

NAME: Kenbrell Thompkins

[+] EnlargeKenbrell Thompkins
Stew Milne/USA TODAY SportsWill Kenbrell Thompkins catch on with the Patriots?
POSITION: Wide receiver

AGE: 24

2012 STATS: 13 games, 34 receptions (541 yards, 2 touchdowns) -- at the University of Cincinnati

INJURY STATUS: No known injuries.

CHANCE OF MAKING 53-MAN ROSTER: 25%

WHY HE SHOULD MAKE IT: While draft picks Josh Boyce (foot) and Aaron Dobson (unknown) were sidelined for last month's minicamp, Thompkins was on the field and healthy, earning critical practice time alongside top offensive players. If he did enough to impress the coaching staff this spring, they won't hesitate to give him a chance to prove himself in training camp and the preseason. Because of the wide-open personnel situation at wide receiver, Thompkins remains an undrafted free agent to watch.

WHY HE SHOULD NOT MAKE IT: There are at least three players who are virtual locks at wide receiver: Dobson, Boyce and free-agent pickup Danny Amendola. Beyond that, Julian Edelman brings the experience and versatility to secure a roster spot, leaving Thompkins to battle with a trio of veterans -- Michael Jenkins, Donald Jones, and Lavelle Hawkins -- for a role in the offense. That's a tough task for an undrafted rookie who played just two seasons of Division I football.

CLOSEST COMPETITION: WR Michael Jenkins, WR Donald Jones, WR Lavelle Hawkins

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