(Continuing a month-long series analyzing players who are on the roster bubble and where they may potentially fit in 2012.)
NAME: Nick McDonald
2011 STATS: 4 games (2 starts)
INJURY STATUS: No known injuries
CHANCE OF MAKING 53-MAN ROSTER: 55%
WHY HE SHOULD MAKE IT: McDonald is the latest young offensive lineman the Patriots have developed and seen improve within their system. After joining the practice squad last season, McDonald eventually became the fill-in starter at center after injuries to Dan Koppen and Dan Connolly. Both of those veterans are back and healthy this season, but McDonald could still have a spot on the roster. Until guard Logan Mankins returns from offseason knee surgery, offseason pickup Robert Gallery appears slated to be the replacement left guard, leaving Ryan Wendell and McDonald as the top two interior backups. The Patriots seem to value depth along the offensive line, and keeping McDonald on the roster would provide that.
WHY HE SHOULD NOT MAKE IT: While McDonald held the role as offensive line signal-caller and snapper to quarterback Tom Brady for two starts last season, the Patriots decided to re-sign both Koppen and Connolly, their top two options at center. Unless Koppen is a surprise cut, or Connolly shifts to right guard in the event of Brian Waters not playing this season, then McDonald is stuck on the depth chart behind two more experienced veterans. Ryan Wendell has been a steady presence as a reserve interior lineman for several seasons, while Donald Thomas also chipped in for fill-in duty last season. McDonald faces stiff competition, and him securing a roster spot is far from a guarantee.
CLOSEST COMPETITION: G/C Ryan Wendell, G/T Robert Gallery, G Donald Thomas