The Patriots will have an interesting mix on their hands at the cornerback position if they can persuade Malcolm Butler to come back at least for this season. They’ll have Butler, newly signed Stephon Gilmore, Eric Rowe, Cyrus Jones, Jonathan Jones, and Justin Coleman as their corners (as of right now) unless they add another in the draft.
The question everyone is asking is, “Who will play in the slot?” And the easy answer is, all of them could at one time or another.
With Rowe and Gilmore being 6’1, they could line up them outside and push Butler into the slot where he’d line up on the quicker shiftier receivers much like Logan Ryan and before him, Kyle Arrington did in the past. But the NFL being what it is, many teams now try to line up their big WRs in the slot attempting to get them more of a free release and take advantage of matchups.
We’ve seen this many times, and the Patriots would have the option of sliding any of their corners around depending upon those matchups. Flashback to Super Bowl XLIX, Arrington was being matched up with the Seahawks Chris Matthews who had a huge size advantage on him. Bill Belichick then slid Brandon Browner into the slot and the physical 6’4 corner quickly erased Matthews.
In 2016, the team used Butler and Eric Rowe on the outside and moved Logan Ryan into the slot. Butler has developed into one of the best corners in the game. He has a short-term memory, is very physical, doesn’t back down from a challenge and will jump up into the fray in support of the running game. He is outstanding in press man coverage at the line and is versatile enough to play on the outside or bump into the slot.
He is a perfect fit, depending on the matchups to play in the slot. The Patriots would have two big corners in Gilmore and Rowe and a slightly smaller but very athletic Butler. This is a secondary that could mix and match with anyone. Things become slightly murkier however if they do end up trading Butler.
The slot corner position would then be open for competition between Cyrus Jones, Jonathan Jones, and Justin Coleman. At that point, I think the Patriots would add a corner thru the draft if Butler leaves. But I truly believe sans Butler the job would be Cyrus Jones’ to lose.
Forget about 2016, that nightmarish rookie season is long gone. He got off to a rocky start in minicamp last spring with issues holding on to punts in the return game and it carried over into the season. Jones is starting with a clean slate this spring and I expect much, much better results from him on the defensive side of the ball in 2017.
He was much too good in Nick Saban’s defense in Alabama to forget how to play football. Jones has excellent press coverage skills, is a good, willing tackler in the running game and is more than athletic enough to cover anyone from the slot position. Obviously, without Butler, it would be a step-down, but the team and the rest of the secondary members could make it work.
Coleman and Jonathan Jones are the dark horses here but never say never…especially in New England. Coleman played some in 2015 and did fairly well overall. Jones had some flashes in training camp a year ago but it will be interesting to see how he looks in Year 2.
Devin McCourty at free safety and Pat Chung at strong safety in the box provide excellent overall play and still have plenty left in the tank although Chung’s physical play down low is bound to start taking a toll on his body soon.
Duron Harmon was brought back with a nice new deal that works well for both sides. He’s the guy that comes in for the Big Nickel formations. One player that may be replaced this summer is Jordan Richards. He’s been disappointing and is too stiff in the hips to be a consistent player in coverage.
The best-case scenario? Butler signs his tender and returns with a big chip on his shoulder and wants to show the rest of the league that he deserves a big money contract. With Gilmore, Rowe, and he providing three very good cornerbacks, the defense will be ready for the cavalcade of opposing QBs that they’ll face in 2017.
Posted Under: Patriots Commentary
Tags: 2017 NFL Combine 2017 NFL Draft 2017 Patriots Season Bill Belichick Cyrus Jones Devin McCourty Duron Harmon Eric Rowe Jonathan Jones Jordan Richards Justin Coleman Malcolm Butler New England Patriots NFL Pat Chung Patriots Patriots cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore