The Rich Got Richer
The Patriots head into training camp at the end of next week and there should be no shortage of competition at a number of spots. As a lead-in to the beginning of camp, we’ll break down the positions and give our take on who is a lock, a near lock for the 53-man roster and who is on the bubble. And we’re on to the Secondary and specifically the corners.
Bill Belichick likes to say that the spring’s OTAs and Minicamp is a learning exercise and that the real competition begins in training camp. With a roster of 90 players and no cuts needed before the final 53-man roster cut down, there will be plenty of time for evaluation. And some serious decisions will have to be made to get to the 53-man limit at the end of camp this summer.
So next up is the Patriots’ cornerback position. This spring the Patriots lost CB Logan Ryan who was a very valuable player for them. But the sting of his loss was more than made up for with the signing of Gilmore who came over from the Bills. All spring long the rumor had Malcolm Butler being traded but the deadline passed and he’s still here. That gives the team, embarrassingly deep riches at corner. Which means that they’ll be able to mix and match at the third or slot corner position depending on the opponent.
So, with that in mind who is locked in and who is on the bubble?
Roster Locks- Cornerback: Malcolm Butler, Stephon Gilmore
The team laid out some healthy dough for Gilmore who is a bigger, physical corner and immediately upgrades the position. The Bills had him playing too much off-coverage which wasn’t his strength. And a look at the opposing schedule this season and the wide receivers that they’ll be facing shows that they selected Gilmore specifically with this in mind.
He looks to be exactly what they’re looking for and thru the spring workouts, he was trying to glue himself tightly with the wide receivers in practice. They’ll be no off-coverage with him this year. The only question with him is how well he learns the defense and picks everything up.
Butler was the subject of countless trade rumors going to the Saints this spring. But being a restricted free agent, New Orleans balked at paying the Patriots asking price of a 1st round pick. The end result was that no one else was going to pay the price either. Next spring? That may be a different story when Butler can hit free agency. But the other 31 teams’ loss is the Patriots gain.
Butler has shown the ability to stick with opponent’s top receivers, be physical and stay on the field. He’s rarely banged up and never misses any practices or games. His biggest asset is his short memory. Butler can get beat on one play and unlike other corners who will dwell on that, he puts it right behind him and is back competing hard again. Together the duo of Butler and Gilmore on paper looks to be a very good one.
Near Roster Locks: Eric Rowe, Jonathan Jones, Cyrus Jones
The Patriots brought in Eric Rowe last season and the young, third-year corner bounced between the slot and outside at times. Whether that was dependent on matchups and moving Ryan into the slot or Rowe’s inability to is a subject for debate. But he’s another big (6’1) corner who showed he can cover bigger wide receivers on the outside.
Jonathan Jones certainly turned some heads this spring. One of the fast players on the team, Jones impressed enough last summer to earn a roster spot. This spring he was getting a lot of work in the slot where his speed and short area quickness can be brought to bear. He’s generously listed at 5’10 but seems to be a bit shorter than that. But if he can continue to stick to the slot receivers, he’ll see plenty of work in the secondary this season. Plus, his work on special teams makes him almost a lock.
Cyrus Jones had a rookie season he’d probably like to block from his memory. Having superb return skill and experience, he was thought to provide the team with an immediate upgrade in the return game while competing for slot corner duties. Neither happened. Starting in minicamp, Jones treated kicks like kryptonite and he never made an impression on defense. To make matters worse he was ejected from one game for fighting. He’ll look to make a huge jump in play this summer but his leash will be much shorter. Still, by virtue of his draft position, he’ll probably be safe…for now.
On the Bubble: Justin Coleman, D.J. Killings
The Patriots got a good return from UDFA Justin Coleman who played some valuable snaps for them in 2015. The 24-year old probably thought his role would increase with the leaving of Logan Ryan and the Butler trade rumors. Now he’s going to have to fight and produce really well just to stick.
Killings is one of those UDFAs that the Patriots seem to find every year and who carves out a roster spot. He didn’t get invited to the NFL Combine but had a very impressive Pro Day at Central Florida, running a 4.48 in the 40-Yard Dash, 6.97 in the 3-Cone Drill, leaping 37.5 inches on the vertical and doing 22 reps on the Bench Press which would have been tied for most by a defensive back.
He’s feisty, competitive, and versatile. He’s lined up all over the field and is an intriguing guy. The Patriots liked him enough to guarantee him $31,000 this spring. Don’t go to sleep on him this summer. He’ll be a guy to watch.
Outside Looking In… Long Shots: William Likely, Kenny Moore, Dwayne Thomas
Without any of the top five guys getting injured, I don’t see much of a chance for any of these three guys to make a big enough impression to make the roster. These three are really fighting for practice squad eligibility.
Likely is an undersized (5’7 but listed at 5’9 ½) corner who is very versatile and can play both offense and defense. He lined up as both a corner and a WR in the same game for Maryland in 2015. His size will make things difficult for him at the NFL level.
Moore is another smaller (5’9) but very athletic slot corner from Valdosta State. He played both safety and in the slot but would have to make it with the Pats as a corner.
Thomas is a versatile guy and has played strong safety, slot, and perimeter corner in his college career at LSU. He’s got good size at 6’0, 200-pounds for a corner but may be undersized at strong safety. He’ll have the time to make an impression but faces a pretty steep uphill climb.