5 Dark Horses to Make the Patriots' Final 53-Man Roster

James ChristensenContributor IJuly 7, 2014

5 Dark Horses to Make the Patriots' Final 53-Man Roster

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    Tom Brady has his spot secured.
    Tom Brady has his spot secured.Stephan Savoia/Associated Press

    In 2013, dark-horse prospects Joe Vellano and Josh Kline made the New England Patriots' final 53-man roster. In 2012, it was Lex Hilliard and Mike Rivera.

    Each year, Bill Belichick surprises us with one or two surprise picks to man one of the last spots on the roster. Sometimes, they fill a position of need due to injury. Other times, they have a trait—versatility, special teams prowess—that gives them an edge.

    Here are five players that might just sneak their way onto this year's roster after training camp.

Asa Watson, TE

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    Steven Senne/Associated Press

    With Rob Gronkowski's availability for Week 1 anything but a certainty, the New England Patriots are still filling out their dance card when it comes to the tight end position.

    Michael Hoomanawanui is a near lock to make the team, but after that, a position or two are up for grabs. Veteran D.J. Williams didn't show much in limited action last season, leaving the door open for a pair of undrafted rookies.

    Justin Jones' 6'8" frame gets all the hype, but Asa Watson is a better football player. He might not give Tom Brady the same target in the red zone, but he knows how to run routes and has some versatility. Watson can play H-back, "Move" tight end and even some "Y" in a pinch.

    If Gronkowski is healthy, Watson is the natural choice to complement him. With that said, the team signing a veteran like Dustin Keller or Jermichael Finley might seal his fate.

Daxton Swanson, CB

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Many fans of the New England Patriots who haven't been paying attention are wondering who Daxton Swanson is. To sum it up quickly, he is the cornerback who was the talk of the media tent during OTAs.

    Doug Kyed from NESN.com was the first to heap praise on Swanson:

    Swanson has made big plays during all three OTAs open to the media this spring. He had a few pass breakups in Week 1, an interception in Week 2 and another pass breakup in Week 3. The Patriots will need a fifth cornerback while Brandon Browner serves a four-game suspension to start the season, and Swanson is in the running for that role.

    Even with Browner out for five games, Swanson is going to have a tough time making the team. He'll have to carve out a niche behind Darrelle Revis, Alfonzo Dennard, Logan Ryan, Kyle Arrington and perhaps Jemea Thomas—who could move to safety.

    That's not an easy task for Swanson, but Belichick isn't afraid to go with unproven talent over veterans when the upside is worth it.

Tyler Ott, TE/LS

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    GM Andrews/Associated Press

    While kickers might receive some decent money, most punters and long snappers are cheaper commodities. Fans of the New England Patriots saw that last year, as popular veteran punter Zoltan Mesko was cast aside for the less expensive—and equally capable—Ryan Allen.

    Snapper Danny Aiken might be looking over his shoulder this year. Mike Reiss from ESPNBoston.com explains:

    That leaves the competition at snapper as the main area to watch -- undrafted free-agent Tyler Ott of Harvard against incumbent Danny Aiken. If it's close, it wouldn't be a surprise if the team goes with Ott because he's signed for three seasons at cheaper dollars ($420,000 this year) than Aiken (one-year deal at $645,000).

    Add in Tyler Ott's ability to chip in at tight end if needed and you've got yourself an unfair competition. Aiken is going to need to be nearly perfect—he has shown that ability—during camp to make this decision easy for Belichick.

Braxston Cave, OL

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Ryan Wendell and Dan Connolly have served the New England Patriots well during their tenure guarding the wall between the monsters of the defensive line and their ward Tom Brady.

    Now, perhaps their watch has ended.

    Belichick drafted three offensive linemen to help replace the aged veterans of the interior offensive line, but an undrafted free agent from 2013 will get a shot as well.

    Braxston Cave has been taking snaps at center this offseason, but his skill set lends itself well to playing guard as well.  That potential versatility could lead to him occupying the role that might be vacated by Dan Connolly.

    If Connolly—and his $4-plus million cap hit, according to Spotrac—are let go during camp, look for Cave to battle it out with Kline and Wendell for one of the last spots on the offensive line.

Jeremy Gallon, WR

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    Jim Rogash/Getty Images

    Jeremy Gallon is as underrated as they come. While his size and speed might not remind you of Calvin Johnson, he gets the job done.

    He will be one of the best 160 wide receivers in the world. He deserves to be on an NFL sideline. However, he might not get that chance in 2014.

    Mike Reiss from ESPNBoston.com tells us why:

    An undisclosed injury limited Gallon (5-foot-7 1/2, 185 pounds) in spring camps, so we're looking forward to seeing him in training camp. The Patriots have him in the mix as a punt returner. It's a crowded depth chart at wide receiver and if everyone stays healthy, a more likely landing spot for Gallon could be the practice squad.

    It is tough to make the roster from the training room. In addition to the practice squad, I wouldn't be shocked to see Gallon end up placed on injured reserve in training camp to prevent any other teams from getting their paws on a promising slot receiver prospect.