(Continuing a month-long series analyzing players who are on the roster bubble and where they may potentially fit in 2012.)
NAME: Deion Branch
POSITION: Wide receiver
2011 STATS: 15 games (all starts), 51 receptions (702 yards, 5 touchdowns)
INJURY STATUS: No known injuries
CHANCE OF MAKING 53-MAN ROSTER: 65%
WHY HE SHOULD MAKE IT: Branch has been a considerable part of the Patriots' offense over the past two seasons, and in 15 games last year, he hauled in 51 passes. While age and injury concerns seem to linger with Branch, he has still shown to be an effective receiver. Branch adds a veteran presence to the Patriots' locker room, and has a solid relationship with quarterback Tom Brady, adding to his value to the 53-man roster.
WHY HE SHOULD NOT MAKE IT: While Branch started 15 games last season, it may not have been planned that way. When the team traded for Chad Ochocinco last July, the team was likely expecting Branch to slide into more of a third receiver role. This offseason, the team made a significant addition at receiver (Brandon Lloyd), retained Wes Welker, and also brought in Jabar Gaffney, who is 31 years old and coming off his best season as a pro (68 receptions in 2011). While it's possible Branch could take playing time away from Gaffney, the more likely scenario is that Branch is instead fighting for a roster spot further down the depth chart. If the team keeps six receivers, Julian Edelman is a younger and more versatile option, while veteran Donte' Stallworth could edge out Branch for a job.
CLOSEST COMPETITION: WR Donte' Stallworth, WR Julian Edelman