Tag Archives: Patriots cornerbacks

Patriots UDFA Class Is Good, But Jackson May Be a Keeper

Steve Balestrieri
May 3, 2018 at 7:46 am ET

Every year, like clockwork, the Patriots bring on a bevy of undrafted free agents and it seems at least one sticks on the roster, many times carving out a nice role for themselves. Malcolm Butler just left and signed a big contract with the Tennessee Titans but a few years ago he was an undrafted free agent like this latest crop and no one gave him much of a chance to make the roster.

We remember early in his first year after a training camp practice, he came over to the media area on the side of the practice field and was hardly spoken to until about midway thru training camp. No one believed he’d make the cut. He soon changed a lot of minds and was, after that, a popular player to interview. This year’s crop of free agents? Several look very intriguing but the best of the group may be former Maryland Terrapin cornerback J.C. Jackson.

Jackson started his college football career in Florida and almost ended up in prison. He was arrested for a felony, an armed home invasion but was later found not guilty. But that was the end of his career as a Gator. He went to a junior college and played his last two seasons at Maryland for head coach D.J. Durkin, who was the defensive coordinator at Florida during Jackson’s first college season

Durkin believed enough in Jackson to give him a fresh start and he made the most of it. Jackson himself believes that he’s a different person now and knew he was not on the right track. He’s straightened his life out and has made quite a turnaround.

He started in 23 of 24 games for Maryland and in 2017 made 40 tackles, three interceptions, with seven passes defensed. The Terps had a terrible season last year, but it had more to do with their rash of QB injuries as much as anything else. Because of this, Jackson largely flew under the radar.

But that is just scratching the surface. Jackson is a tough physical, if slightly undersized corner who is solid in run support, tackles well and provides very good man coverage.

Jackson has good athleticism and he will fight for the ball at the high point. While he isn’t a burner and doesn’t possess great top end speed, he’s quick off the line and at the snap he can lock up with a receiver and is very physical.

His first step quickness may lend itself to the slot if that is where the team decides to move him, something he’s already said that he isn’t averse to. He’s done a really good job of disrupting the timing of receivers, which is essential at the next level.

He’s solidly built and wants to get in on every tackle. Some of the things that he’ll have to work on with the Patriots, like many college corners, he tends to get grabby if he misses his jam at the line of scrimmage. While he’s shown good recovery, he is a bit stiff in the hips at times when a receiver is coming out of his breaks.

Jackson would immediately challenge for a role on the Patriots Special Teams, which everyone knows is the first step to making the team. But with his physicality, and ability to play either outside or in the slot, he has as good a chance at any at sticking on the roster.

The odds-on favorite to win the slot battle rest now with Jonathan Jones who played well there before ending up on IR with a foot injury, or recently drafted Florida corner Duke Dawson. But if he’s not completely ready to go when the Patriots on-field OTA work begins, it may open the door for some solid competition

The Patriots right now have Stephon Gilmore, Eric Rowe, Jason McCourty, Jonathan Jones, Cyrus Jones, Jomal Wiltz, Ryan Lewis, as well as draft picks Duke Dawson and Keion Crossen with Jackson makes a pretty crowded roster at the position but there will be some opportunities to turn some heads this spring.

I like his compete level, the ability to play either man coverage or zone and his willingness to fire up inside on run support. He’ shown the ability to undercut routes and has the ability to get better in all phases of his game.

Jackson is a guy whose best football may be in front of him. He’ll be a guy we’ll watch closely as minicamps and training camp is just around the corner.

His highlight film from 2017 courtesy of Sky Designs:

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and myself from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Patriots Nab Slot Corner Duke Dawson in Round 2, Quick Analysis

Steve Balestrieri
April 28, 2018 at 7:23 am ET

After a flurry of trading activity in the second round that had the Patriots trading down from #43 to #51 and #117 (Detroit) to trading that pick for a 2019 2nd round pick (plus #105 from Chicago), they then traded their #63 pick and #117 (received in the trade with Detroit) to move up to #56 to land slot corner Duke Dawson from Florida.

So who is Duke Dawson? He was a one-year starter for the Gators, having to wait his turn playing behind Vernon Hargreaves, Quincy Wilson and Teez Tabor, playing some safety and slot corner before getting his shot in 2017.

Projected to go in Rounds 3-4, Dawson is a slightly undersized corner at 5’11, 200 who is at his best when matched up in press man coverage, although he does well in zone as well. He has good footwork, fluid hips which allow him to turn and run with receivers and does a good job of mirroring. He can be a little handsy, walking a fine line between locking up and holding.

His lack of height may hurt his chances to play effectively on the outside, he struggled a bit when facing the bigger wide receivers of the SEC. His frame makes him look more like a safety than a corner, with his shorter, stockier frame. So, file that away for future reference.

He doesn’t have great top-end speed but shows very good anticipation and is known as a team-first guy. He’s very competitive and feisty, something that probably resonated well with the coaches when he visited here earlier in the spring.

For 2018, he should be immediately in the mix for the slot corner position with Jonathan Jones (if he ’s healthy) once training camp opens. But he could be a guy that can be moved to safety as well down the road. Versatility goes a long way.

Dawson is a guy that would’ve been available lower in the draft, but they obviously liked him and if the team likes a player, they’ve never been shy about going to get him.

Patriots Signing of Jason McCourty a Good Low-Risk Move

Steve Balestrieri
March 16, 2018 at 9:48 am ET

The McCourty twins are finally getting a chance to play together when the Patriots traded for Jason McCourty in a very low cost/risk, high-reward type of deal. McCourty was about to released by the Browns in a cost-cutting move when the Patriots approached the Browns and offered their sixth-round pick for the Browns’ 7th rounder and McCourty.

So for moving back 15 spots at the back end of the draft, the Patriots get a very serviceable corner and a guy that they tried to bring in more than once before.

McCourty, 30, was originally drafted by the Tennessee Titans in the 6th round (203rd overall) in the 2009 NFL Draft. He is considered, (like his brother) as a great locker room influence on both the younger players and veterans alike. His $3 million dollar cap hit is extremely affordable.

What does it mean for the Patriots secondary? He’s another 6-foot tall corner that can play on the boundary or possibly be moved into the slot. With Malcolm Butler now in Tennessee, the Patriots needed at least another corner with a veteran presence and now that block is checked. I still believe that they’ll draft a corner in the upcoming draft. Perhaps now it will be a mid-round pick.

It gives them options and much-needed depth at the position as they’ll be able to present different looks depending on matchups.

But for now, the cornerback situation has Stephon Gilmore, Eric Rowe, McCourty, Jonathan Jones, Cyrus Jones, as well as practice squad players Ryan Lewis and Jomal Wiltz signed for 2018. The cupboard is hardly bare there and if both of the Jones are healthy to begin training camp, (especially Jonathan in the slot) then the team is in good shape moving forward.

It was interesting to see some of the comments pooh-poohing the Rutgers connection for the Patriots and former Scarlet Knight head coach Greg Schiano. The Rutgers connection has actually worked out quite well for the Patriots. The McCourty twins, Logan Ryan, Duron Harmon and yes, Steve Belichick, the current Patriots safeties coach were all Rutgers alums and played for Schiano. Hardly a collection of stiffs.Other names who played under Schiano and made brief stops in New England were Tiquan Underwood and Alex Silvestro.

While it wasn’t the splash signing that fans were clamoring for, it was a very low-risk, high reward type of deal. He was a guy the Patriots tried to bring in once before and it didn’t work out. Now they have their man and they can continue to move forward with re-tooling the defense.

Rumors are Adrian Clayborn is in town for a visit on Friday morning. They still need some much-needed depth and athleticism at the linebacker position.

But for the McCourty twins who haven’t played together since Rutgers, they’ll finally get the chance to suit up together in the NFL. The Patriots get a good corner who graded out well according to Pro Football Focus in 2017 in his only season with the Browns.

It isn’t a fantasy football squad they are building but a 53-man roster. “Slow is smooth and smooth is fast.”

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Free Agency Fits For the New England Patriots Defense

Steve Balestrieri
March 13, 2018 at 8:23 am ET

The legal tampering window is upon us and with free agency and another blizzard right around the corner, it is a good time to kick back with a coffee and look at the free agency help that is out there. For this particular exercise, we’re looking at fits for the Patriots defense, specifically, the linebacking core as all but one of these are linebackers and one corner. Are there others out there? Absolutely. But these are the ones we like the fit to New England.

As always the price of the free agents will drive the train and the Patriots don’t have anywhere near the flexibility that they had a year ago. And many of these free agents, perhaps all of them may be out of their price range. But in terms of fit, in our opinion, these players would be good additions to the defense.

Again, there are other players out there who may either be of interest to the Patriots but here are some of the ones we believe will be a good fit in the defense.

Nickell Robey-Coleman: The Patriots are very familiar with him, having played for four seasons with the Buffalo Bills and he fits a very specific need of theirs, which is a slot corner. Coleman can play boundary corner but at 5’8, 165 pounds, he’s better suited for the slot where he’s flourished.

Coleman was an undrafted free agent in 2013 played on a one-year prove-it type deal with the Rams last season and there is plenty of talk that he wants to return to Los Angeles and that Rams want him back.

Coleman had a very good 2017 season logging 50 tackles, two tackles for loss, nine passes defensed, one forced fumble, and one interception. The Patriots need a slot corner. Jonathan Jones was close to taking over that spot but then was injured and went on IR. He was missed in the Super Bowl, especially with Malcolm Butler being benched in the game.

Eric Rowe is better suited to be a boundary corner which would leave the slot wide open. Cyrus Jones is still in the mix, but at this point, he can’t be counted on as he’s still an unknown. I would still expect them to address the position in the draft as well.

Paul Worrilow: If the name sounds familiar, it should reportedly the Patriots kicked the tires on him last spring when he was a free agent from the Atlanta Falcons. The 27-year old linebacker signed a one-year, $3 million dollar contract with the Lions last season.

Worrilow was slowed by a knee sprain of his MCL and played in just 13 games, starting in eight. He put up only so-so numbers with 30 tackles, one pass defensed and a fumble recovery. He struggled with his tackling as well as in coverage.It doesn’t appear that Detroit is interested in bringing him back with new head coach Matt Patricia.  

Would the Patriots be interested in him a second time around? I’d say no at first glance but one can never be too sure. If they feel he’d fit better in Foxboro in what they’d ask him to do, he could be a middle of the road, lower cost free agent.

Avery Williamson: Another guy that the Patriots have liked in the past is Titans inside linebacker Avery Williamson. The 26-year-old has just finished his rookie contract deal with Tennessee and wants to test the market.

Williamson would immediately upgrade the Patriots run defense in the middle as he led the Tennessee defense with 92 tackles, 3 sacks, and 2 forced fumbles. He received a 90.1 grade in run defense from Pro Football Focus, which was sixth best in the league. He’s a very durable player who has missed only one game in four years and is decent but not great in coverage.

He turned down a four-year, $12 million dollar deal with Tennessee and according to Diane Russini from ESPN is drawing interest from both the Jets and Dolphins. Spotrac has reported that he’s due for a possible four-year, $36-million dollar deal which would put him probably right out of the Patriots market.

Nigel Bradham: We wrote about this about a month ago as he’d be a great fit for the defense. Bradham is a very durable, sure tackler in the middle of the defense who is very good in coverage.

After Jordan Hicks went down with a torn Achilles last year in Week 7, Bradham began calling the signals for the Eagles defense and was one of their leaders and a very well respected veteran in the locker room. The 28-year-old finished with 88 tackles, 1.0 sack, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery.

He’s one of the most highly sought free agents out there with sources within the NFL reporting that 8-10 teams are interested in his services. While Philadelphia would love to have him back, they are currently $17 million dollars over the cap. And the interest he’s being given, will no doubt drive his price out of the Patriots range, but in terms of fit. He’d be excellent in the Patriots defense.

Preston Brown: Brown has already made it clear that he would be open to signing with the New England Patriots as they’ve gotten a lot out of several former Bills players.

“I think I can definitely help the young guys they have,” Brown said. “They’ve got some good young talent at linebacker. They run pretty well. I know Harris retired. A lot of young guys were playing well, Van Noy and Roberts played well. They definitely have some things they can work on like we all do, but I think I can help that defense get better. “

The Patriots know him well having faced him twice a year in the division. Brown has never missed a game in his four-year NFL career and calls the plays in the Bills defense. He’s a tackling machine and led the league with 144 tackles in 2017.

He’s just 25 years old and would be an instant upgrade in the middle of the defense and a fantastic fit. He’s rumored to be in the market for about in the area of a $7 million a year range. If the Patriots can somehow make that work, Brown would be a tremendous addition to the front seven.

Alex Okafor: The Saints definitely had a free agent under the radar hit signing when they nabbed Okafor during free agency last year. He was playing very well for a rejuvenated defense that went back to the playoffs in 2017. He had 4.5 sacks, nine QB hits, and two forced fumbles in the first 10 games before tearing an Achilles that ended his season prematurely.

Okafor, 27, is expected to be fully healthy and is a versatile defender as the Saints used him both on the edge and kicked him inside as a sub-package interior rusher. The Patriots could some help on the edge.

With Dont’a Hightower, Shea McClellin, and Derek Rivers all ending up on IR, it left the team thin with Trey Flowers, Deatrich Wise, Adam Butler and Eric Lee. Okafor could be one of those veteran signings (we’ve already mention Connor Barwin) that won’t break the bank but would allow the team to rotate their players in and out, set the edge and get some pressure on the quarterback.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Raymond Clayborn to be honored today at Gillette Stadium

John Morgan
September 24, 2017 at 11:30 am ET

The Patriots will honor the newest member of the franchise’s Hall of Fame today. During a half time ceremony at Gillette Stadium the Pats will hold a ceremony for Raymond Clayborn. The legendary number 26 is coincidentally the 26th person to join the Patriots Hall of Fame.

While I most certainly hoped Clayborn would get the nod this year, I wasn’t expecting it to turn out this way. I was very pleasantly surprised that the voting by Patriot Nation looked beyond recent star players. Thank you to all Patriot fans who did a bit of research that resulted in Clayborn’s induction. Fans could have easily gone along with the more recent memories. Richard Seymour, a future Pro Football Hall of Famer in my opinion, was a finalist. So was Mike Vrabel, a key defender for three championship teams, and one of the most versatile players in NFL history.

Clayborn set the franchise record with 36 career interceptions (since tied by Ty Law). He returned three kickoffs for touchdown his rookie year, averaging 31 yards per return that season. Clayborn became a starter his second season and along with Mike Haynes combined for one of the best cornerback tandems in NFL history.

Don’t take my word on it; consider what the Pro Football Hall of Fame CB had to say on the subject.

“(NFL.com) did a poll of the top cornerback tandems, and they had myself and Lester Hayes at No. 1,” recalled Haynes. “You know what? Myself and Raymond might have been just as good. Really. Raymond Clayborn was a star.”

Clayborn was a three-time First Team All Pro but stats alone do not adequately state his impact. He was part of a core group of players that turned the franchise around from the worst team in the league to one of the NFL’s best. Perhaps if he had a Super Bowl ring – which was earned but stolen away in the Ben Dreith travesty – he and some other players from the late seventies would have been held in higher regard. Clayborn played in a team record 161 consecutive games and was named to the Patriots All-Decade Team for both the 1970s and 1980s.

Congratulations to Raymond Clayborn on this well deserved honor.

Patriots Swing Deal With Detroit for CB/ST Johnson Bademosi

Steve Balestrieri
September 2, 2017 at 1:07 pm ET

The Patriots on Saturday have swung a trade with the Detroit Lions on the edge of cut-down time for the cornerback and special teams standout Johnson Bademosi.

The Lions will get a 6th Round Draft Pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.

The two teams have been frequent trade partners since Bob Quinn took over the GM duties for the Lions. He was a member of the Patriots front office and is close to Bill Belichick.

Bademosi, 27, 6’0, 200 pounds signed with the Lions last season to become a key contributor on their coverage teams. He found some defensive reps through injuries last season but struggled in coverage.

This move won’t be good news to the Patriots corners on the bubble with the roster cut-down due at 4 p.m.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

New England Patriots Training Camp Primer – Cornerback

Steve Balestrieri
July 19, 2017 at 6:30 am ET

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.

Our earlier evaluations looked at the
Running Backs
Wide Receivers
Tight Ends
Offensive Line
Defensive Line
Linebackers

 

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.

Stephon Gilmore will be a big piece of the NE secondary in 2017. (SBalestrieri photo)

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.

Jonathan Jones battles with Edelman in minicamp. (SBalestrieri photo)

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.

Thomas shows good coverage in the slot during minicamp. (SBalestrieri photo)

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.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Patriots Draft Profile, Houston CB Howard Wilson

Steve Balestrieri
April 1, 2017 at 7:30 am ET

As the 2017 NFL Draft draws closer we’ll profile some of the players that may be on the Patriots radar or that we feel would be a great fit.

The Patriots are in a state of flux at cornerback. They signed Stephon Gilmore to a big contract in free agency and the big corner is going to be looked at to provide man coverage on the many big WRs the team will face in 2017. Eric Rowe returns, after being brought over from Philadelphia, he played well in the second half of the season and into the playoffs.

They have depth guys, Cyrus Jones, Jonathan Jones, and Justin Coleman. Coleman played a lot of snaps in 2015 and the two Jones should be expected to make a big jump in their second season with the team. But the big question remains on where will Malcolm Butler be in 2017.

If the team can bring back Butler for at least the upcoming season on his tender, then the team will have a trio of starters with him,  Rowe, and Gilmore that they’ll be able to mix and match with anyone and plenty of depth behind them.

Corners, like edge rushers, however, you can never have too many good ones. So, if Butler is either dealt or signs an offer sheet elsewhere the team will look to add another corner.

Howard Wilson from Houston is a very good athlete with excellent length, size, and speed to be a productive corner in the NFL. He has fantastic athleticism and has the loose hips that allow him to turn and mirror with wide receivers. He wins his share of 50/50 passes and shows tremendous instincts and ball skills. He has a very smooth back pedal and his technique and fundamentals are solid.

Wilson made 54 tackles (45 solo), including 2.5 for a loss, and picked off five passes, had 10 passes defensed and recovered two fumbles for the Cougars in 2016. He’s smart, aggressive and can bait the opposing QB into making an ill-advised throw.

At 6’1, 184-pounds he has the length but needs to add some weight at the NFL level. His experience is somewhat limited because he missed nearly the entire 2015 season with a torn ACL. However, it didn’t stop him from being a willing and aggressive tackler in the running game.

Some scouts believe that Wilson could have been a first round pick in 2018 if he returned to college for one more season. He has tremendous short area quickness and ran a 6.68 in the 3 Cone Drill and a 3.94 in the 20-Yard Shuttle.

Pros:

– Excellent length, size, and athleticism to match up with wide receivers

– Fantastic short area quickness and burst

– Smart, coachable player with outstanding instincts

– Fundamentals and technique are very solid

Cons

– Needs to bulk up a bit at the NFL level

– Played at a lesser level of competition in AAC

– Experience is somewhat limited due to his injury in 2015

What his Role Will Be:
Wilson will immediately challenge for some snaps at the position of nickel or slot corner. He’ll also be given some work as a gunner on special teams.

Will his Role Change from Year 1-2?
Yes, he’ll need to spend some time in the gym with the strength and conditioning coach Moses Cabrera and bulk up a little bit between Years 1 – 2. With some experience, he should be ready to compete for a bigger role in the rotation in the secondary.

How Many Downs Can He Play?
Three

What Current Player on the Roster Will He Replace?
He’ll compete with the Jones’ and Coleman right away for reps at the slot corner position. That will set some great competition for minicamp and training camp this summer.

What is his ST Value?
Good, he can provide kick coverage and will see some practice time as a gunner in the kicking game.

Conclusion:
Wilson is another guy who may just be flying under the radar a bit entering the 2017 NFL Draft. With a draft deep in talented cornerbacks, he has all the traits that you look for in a good, starting player on the outside. And sheer numbers may force him down into a lower draft position.

He has tremendous instincts and can read the quarterback easily and accurately. His loose hips allow him to turn and run without loss of speed to mirror wide receivers down the field. Wilson’s short area burst and quickness coupled with good timing will allow him to break up or intercept passes.

He’ll need to get a bit bigger and could possibly add another 10-15 pounds of muscle on his frame in the NFL. But he has excellent potential and could become a very productive corner for many years to come. He has the size, speed and athleticism, he just needs some more experience.

Wilson will probably be available in the 3rd round of the draft. He’d be a nice addition to the Patriots defense as his skill set would mesh perfectly. With what they do as his man coverage skills should immediately provide him with not only the opportunity to get some reps in 2016 but become a productive, valuable cornerback in the defense.

Wilson’s highlight tape can be seen here:

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcast on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Who Will Be the Patriots’ Slot Corner in 2017?

Steve Balestrieri
March 31, 2017 at 6:00 am ET

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.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Patriots Draft Profile: Colorado CB Chidobe Awuzie

Steve Balestrieri
March 27, 2017 at 6:00 am ET

Four Year Starter is Versatile with Good Size, Athleticism

As the 2017 NFL Draft draws closer we’ll profile some of the players that may be on the Patriots radar or that we feel would be a great fit.

The Patriots lost Logan Ryan in free agency and the jury is still out on whether Malcolm Butler returns at least for the 2017 season. With the signing of Stephon Gilmore, the Patriots can still use another corner, especially if Butler is indeed traded. That would leave them with Gilmore and Eric Rowe outside with Jonathan Jones, Cyrus Jones and Justin Coleman battling it out for the third corner position.

The draft is deep as usual in good talented cornerbacks, with many talented players being available in the middle rounds. And with no current picks in the first or second round, the Patriots will be selecting starting in Round 3. So, we’ll base our player profiles (for now), on players we think will be around then.

Some of the key qualities that the Patriots like to see in their cornerbacks are as follows:
Physicality
Versatility
Ability to Play Press Corner and Jam at the line
Must be Willing in Run Support
Sure Tackler (Logan Ryan)
ST’s Contributor

Chidobe Awuzie from Colorado is a cornerback with excellent size and strength that can play both press man and zone. He’s versatile and has covered outside as well as inside in the slot. Was Second Team All-Pac 12 in 2015 and 2016.

Made 65 tackles, with 12 passes defensed, two forced fumbles and an interception in 2106 for the Buffaloes. He’s got the size, 6-0, 202-pounds to line up outside and matchup with the bigger wide receivers.

He’s got good footwork for a bigger corner and is smooth at turning and running with wide receivers. He has a good jam at the line of scrimmage and has played confidently and well when put on an island against a top opposing WR. His top end speed isn’t fantastic but he should be able to run and mirror well.

Awuzie is good in run support although at times he wasn’t as aggressive as he should have been. Colorado used him as a blitzer his final two years and he was productive, notching seven sacks coming off the edge.

Pros:

– Instinctive and athletic

– Versatile, he can play outside or in the slot

– Excellent change of direction, 3-Cone Time (6.81)

– Good ball skills, gets his head turned around

Cons

– Top end speed is a question

– Needs to keep improving at defending the run and tackling

– A bit grabby when running downfield with WRs, could result in flags

What his Role Will Be:
Awuzie would immediately compete for reps. Initially, that may be inside in the slot where he has played in the past. He has the size and athleticism to match up anywhere.

Will his Role Change from Year 1-2?
Yes, with improved play in run support and tackling, he could vie for starter’s reps on the right side opposite Gilmore.

How Many Downs Can He Play?
Four

What Current Player on the Roster Will He Replace?
Logan Ryan who departed via free agency, and Awuzie will battle the Jones’ and Coleman for the third CB slot

What is his ST Value?
Good, he played some in Colorado and you can expect to see him on the coverage units as a gunner for the Patriots.

Conclusion:
Awuzie was essentially a starter since the end of his freshman year. He’s got lock-down corner qualities and is athletic, versatile, and aggressive. He’s very alert and instinctive on the field with good ball skills when the throw is on the way.

For a bigger corner, he can change direction quickly and will mirror even the smaller, shiftier slot wide receivers down the field. His top end speed was thought to be a question but ran well (4.43) at the Combine.

Awuzie is a smart, physical player that rarely makes mistakes or is out of position. His tackling can be an issue as he tends to go too high, where in the NFL the bigger receivers or tight ends can break those for yards after the catch.

He’s a guy that would fit in well with New England if they decide to pursue him. He’s got very good size, is aggressive and versatile, a facet of his game that plays well with Bill Belichick. He can play outside or in the slot. That quality as the potential third corner allows Matt Patricia to use him as a matchup player either inside or out. He’s a dangerous and effective blitzer off the edge and can play gunner on Special Teams.

Awuzie is a player that may be around in Round 3 when the Patriots get to make their first selection. If he’s still there, then he’d be a good fit for New England and will immediately compete for starting reps as the third corner.

Awuzie’s highlight film can be view here:

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcast on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.