This week we will analyze the Defensive Backs. The Defensive Backs are going to make or break the team this year. When the Patriots got toasted by the Bills and Dolphins at the end of the season, this is the group of cornerbacks they sent out to play.
Jackson is gone via Free Agency. He did not play well in any of those games. The Patriots felt that his salary demands were way out of line with his actual performance. He did have 8 interceptions last year and 25 over the 4 years he played for NE. That will be hard to replace.
Jalen Mills – It appears that Mills will be one of the starting corners. His performance last season left a lot to be desired. I am worried if Mills is one of the starters.
Joejuan Williams – the 4th year Pro has never lived up to his 2019 2nd-round selection (#45). It was expected that Williams with his 6’3” size would be a good matchup for those bigger receivers. That hasn’t been the case. Williams appears slow, unable to make the quick change of direction the Patriots like in their DBs. At the combine, Williams ran a pedestrian 4.64 40-yard dash but did run a 6.92 3-cone drill. Anything under 7 on the 3-cone drill indicates a quick change of direction. I don’t have Williams making the team unless there is an injury.
Terrance Mitchell – Mitchell was signed as a Free Agent this season. The 2014 7th-round pick by Dallas was on the Practice Squad his 1st year and played parts of 7 consecutive seasons, including as a starter last year for Houston. His stats for last season had him making 60 tackles, 2nd highest of his career, 1 INT, and 10 Pass Breakups. Comparing his combine numbers to Williams he ran a 4.63 but had a blistering 6.57 3-cone drill. I expect that Mitchell will be a starter, at least at the start of the season.
Malcolm Butler – Butler has also signed as Free Agent this off-season. He was out of football last year and at 32, he is a bit old to be playing cornerback. When he left the Titans after the 2020 season he was playing at a high level. Can he replicate this performance as a 32-year-old DB? I don’t have him making the team but not for performance reasons. He will be a veteran cut at the 53-man cut-down date on 30 August. That doesn’t mean he won’t be on the week one roster. As a veteran, Butler will become a Free Agent immediately and not be subject to passing through waivers. He will sit in Foxboro, and be re-signed a few days later, allowing a younger player to not be exposed to waivers and then added to the IR (recall). Another option is to sign Butler to the Practice Squad and be subject to weekly call-ups. The NFL has granted teams up to 3 call-ups each week and each player can be recalled 3 times in the season.
Jack Jones – Jack Jones was the surprise of OTAs and Mini-Camp. His ball skills remind many of what JC Jackson showed as a rookie. Jack Jones is slender at only 177 lbs. Jones tallied 41 combined tackles, three interceptions, and six pass deflections in 11 games for the Sun Devils. He proved to be a ball hawk in other aspects as well, recording three forced fumbles on the season.
Longtime scout and front office executive TJ McCreight offered his thoughts on Jones. Jones’ versatility and instincts are two of the biggest things that could work, as New England tries to remake the secondary. McCreight says he has “Outstanding instincts and eyes.” Jones ran a 4.43 handheld 40-yard dash at the combine. He also put up a 6.92 3-cone drill. I will be watching Jones during the pre-season to measure his progress. Some believe he may be the starter. I would think he would be the starter by mid-season.
Shaun Wade – Wade was acquired from the Ravens for a 2022 7th round and a 2023 5th round selection. Wade was a 2021 5th-round selection out of Michigan. He stands 6’1” and 198 lbs. and ran a 4.46 40 at his Pro Day. At the OTAs and Mini Camp, Wade was switched to slot corner. He has the size to play safety as well. His versatility is exactly what the Patriots like in their players.
Jonathan Jones – Jone’s injury last season put the secondary in quite the bind. Once out of the lineup, no one stepped up to fill that role. Slot receivers toasted the Patriots’ secondary. Having Jones back should be a huge boost to the secondary. This will give the Patriots time to develop the rookies like Marcus Jones as capable backups.
Myles Bryant – Bryant made a great play at the end of the Patriots’ victory over the Bills in the monsoon played in Buffalo. He knocked away the pass at the end of the game, ensuring the victory. However, that was the only play he made. Bryant is a smaller DB at 5’8” 183 lbs. He made the team as an Undrafted Free Agent out of Washington. His poor play at the end of the season puts him behind as he heads into the preseason. Bryant might be tried at Safety, but his 4.62 40 means that he doesn’t have the makeup speed to recover from those double moves. He has the quickness as his 6.82 3-cone drill indicates.
Marcus Jones – I was very excited when the Patriots drafted Marcus Jones in the third round. First, his Punt Return skills are off the charts. Jones was the number one Punt Returner in the country. He is immediately the starter at Punt Returner once he is on the roster. The question is whether or not he is recovered from his off-season double shoulder surgeries. He wore the red non-contact jersey during the Mini-Camp. He is super-fast and has outstanding speed as evident by his estimated 4.38 40. He did not perform any drills at the combine or pro day due to his shoulder surgeries. Will Jones be ready or does he make the team and then be placed on IR? Either way, he will make a major impact on the team. Although he is only 5’8” and 177 lbs, with his quickness I expect that he will become an excellent slot corner. He may be the player that goes on IR after he has made the final 53-man roster and Butler is re-signed.
Kyle Dugger – Dugger is becoming one of the most feared players in the league. He is a tremendous hitter from his Strong Safety/ LB position. He is bigger than a lot of the linebackers drafted in this year’s draft. He has begun to trust his instincts and is making big plays all over the field. Dugger ran an outstanding 4.49 40 at 6’2” 221 lbs. Dugger is becoming the glue in the secondary and will be the heir apparent to McCourty as the leader.
Adrian Phillips – Phillips has been the unsung hero of the defense the last two seasons. He has been playing the Big Nickel position. He is more of a linebacker playing safety. The Patriots play more nickel and dime coverage than they do the base 3-4. Phillip’s excellent versatility, sure tackling and coverage of TEs make him an invaluable piece to the defense. His tackles were down in 2021 because he split time with Kyle Dugger, but still managed 92 tackles and 4 INTs. In 2020 he had 109 tackles. Entering his 9th season the 30-year-old has gone from Undrafted to All-Pro. Phillips isn’t going anywhere as he signed a three-year extension in January. Over his two-year stint with the Patriots Phillips has not missed a game. Mike Reiss says the contract he signed with the Patriots is one of the biggest bargains in the league.
Joshua Bledsoe Bledsoe was drafted last year, knowing that he was hurt and would likely be unable to play in 2021. That’s what happened. Bledsoe did recover enough to practice late in the season but was never activated from IR. The 5’11”, 201 safety was drafted out of Missouri, a 6th round selection, pick # 188. At Missouri, he had 130 career tackles and one sack in 46 games. Bledsoe runs an estimated 4.52 40. Because of his injuries suffered during the Senior Bowl practices, he was unable to participate in the Combine or Pro Days. The estimated 40 time comes from NFL Draftscout. Coaches liked what they saw in Bledsoe during the three-week time he was able to have him practice. At a minimum, Bledsoe should be a 4 team core special teamer.
Devin McCourty The old man, the rock of the secondary and undisputed team leader, has been a member of the Patriots since he was drafted in the 1st round #27 in the 2010 draft. Entering his 13 year the vet will turn 35 in August. This is the last hurrah for McCourty. In his career, he has won 3 Super Bowls, 3 times 2nd team All-Pro, 3 Time Pro Bowler, and a team captain for the last 9 seasons. Originally drafted as a CB, McCourty struggled there his 1st two seasons before moving to Free Safety. He will be hard to replace, but this season you should see someone emerge as his heir apparent (Bledsoe?).
Jabrill Peppers Peppers was signed as a surprise Free Agent. His athletic ability is beyond question. He held the NJ state record in the 100 dash as a senior and also won the 200-yard dash the same year. He attended Don Bosco Prep his first two years and led them to the state championship. He transferred to Paramus Catholic and won the state championship his last two years for them. That was state champion all 4 years. He was ranked as the #1 HS recruit and chose Michigan. During his three years at Michigan, he had 333 total tackles. He played both SS and LB. At the combine, he worked out at both positions and posted a 4.43 handheld 40 time. His Bench Press was 19 which is strong for a DB, then he produced a 26 on the Wonderlic intelligence test. Drafted by the Browns with the 25th pick in the 1st round of the 2017 draft, the soon to be 27 year old started at Free Safety. During his 5 year career, Peppers missed time in 2018, going on IR for a Traverse Process Fracture and in 2021 for a torn ACL. His recovery from the ACL should be monitored, but we heard nothing about it during the OTAs and Mini-Camp. Peppers, if healthy give the Patriots the strongest group of Strong Safeties in the league. He was named a team captain with the Giants in 2020.
Brenden Schooler – Despite an ability to be an effective two-way player, Schooler projects primarily as a special teamer player at the pro level. He played wide receiver at both Oregon and Arizona before transferring to Texas. As a Longhorn, he made a position switch to safety. Schooler logged 50 tackles as a sixth-year senior. He is a potential replacement for Matthew Slater who may retire soon. In his career, he had a total of 143 tackles and four interceptions and 55 receptions for 661 yards. At 6’1.5 and 215 he ran a 4.43 40 and 6.71 3-cone drill at his Pro Day. He will be one I am watching in pre-season to see if he can make the team as a special team player, otherwise, I see him as a Practice Squad signee.
A sure-fire 1st ballot Hall of Famer, when he is eligible. The question is will he stay retired. I don’t believe he is done. Look for him to sign with Tampa mid-way or sooner. One of those veteran moves that he doesn’t want to go through the grind of a pre-season. The things he did for the Patriots in his career were magical. My favorite was his block that took Indy Safety and former Patriot Sergio Brown out of the club. The block, during which Brown wound up about 10 yards out of bounds, was so extreme Gronkowski received a flag. After the game, Gronkowski was asked about the play, and he answered in textbook fashion. “He was just yapping at me the whole time, Gronkowski told reporters. So I took him and threw him out of the club.”
His hearing with an independent arbitrator continues on Wednesday. His lawyers argue there is no precedent for this kind of punishment and also invoke the defense that the league has failed to punish owners Robert Kraft, Daniel Snyder, and Jerry Jones for their digressions. Texas Grand Jury failed to indict Watson.
Watson agreed to settle 20 of 24 civil lawsuits for sexual misconduct, but the league is seeking at least a one-year suspension, one of the people told The AP. Watson wants to play for Cleveland this year. A Baker Mayfield trade depends upon the outcome of this hearing and ultimately the ruling.
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