With training camp just days away, our look at the 90-man roster is nearly complete. We’ve looked at the different positions on offense and most of the defense.
So next up is the Patriots’ safety position. The team has been fortunate to have had no turnover in the safety position and return the top three players who are ostensibly starters in their own right.
The team normally carries a few safeties as special teamers and this year will be no exception. Last season the team began with five safeties on the roster. So, with that in mind who is locked in and who is on the bubble?
Roster Locks: Devin McCourty, Pat Chung, Duron Harmon, Nate Ebner
The team is in very good shape at safety to start the season as they have all three starters returning for 2018. McCourty is an excellent free safety and makes all the calls for the secondary as the quarterback back there. He’s a team captain and a leader, on and off the field.
Not only is he always in the right position but he ensures everyone else is too on the field. He’s like having an extra coach on the field. He’s become a much more vocal presence on the field as one of the captains and is a leader on and off the field.
Chung has been a totally different player in his second stint with the Patriots. The coaches play him close to the line of scrimmage in the box where he’s much more effective. He outstanding in run support, and like everyone else in the secondary, is a good tackler and is rarely out of position.
He’s physical and does a pretty good job of covering backs out of the backfield and tight ends close to the line of scrimmage. He’s a solid locker room guy and seems to be a popular teammate while being another quiet leader.
Harmon is essentially a starter with the number of snaps he plays and he has a tremendous nose for the football. A few of his big plays that come to mind are the interception to seal the deal against Baltimore in the playoffs and the one to close out the close win in Pittsburgh a year ago. Harmon allows the Patriots to move McCourty around in the big nickel defense. He’s always making big plays at key times and is a very trusted player on the defense.
If McCourty were to miss any time with an injury, Harmon can be relied on to step in and do the job. Would he be able to make all the calls? That’s a question that we don’t know yet, but he’s another valuable piece of the defense.
Ebner is coming off of a serious injury where he was placed on IR, however, he was re-signed to a two-year, $5 million dollar deal this spring, so he’s not going anywhere. He’s more of an STs ace than a safety, however.
On the Bubble: David Jones, Jordan Richards
The Patriots signed UDFA safety Jones from Richmond last year and he has very good size for a strong safety at 6’3, 210 pounds to be a backup and eventual replacement for Pat Chung. He stuck on the practice squad last year, he saw almost 50 percent of the snaps in preseason and was a Patriots practice player of the week six times in 2017.
Jones is athletic for a big man and returned kicks and punts in college and got some work in the return game last year. But he missed all of the spring with an unspecified injury so we’ll have to see if he’s healthy once camp begins.
Richards continues to be unimpressive when he’s asked to play defense. After being a high draft pick (2nd Round, 64th overall) in the 2015 NFL Draft, he barely played defense in his first two years, and after a disastrous preseason in 2017, it was a surprise to not only see him make the roster but play significant snaps on defense. And the results were not good.
He’s very stiff in his change of direction and takes horrible angles. Despite being a very solid locker room guy and very good on STs, his spot has to be tenuous after the showing he had in 2017. If Jones or Travis (below) can show the same STs ability, they could get the nod.
Outside Looking In… Long Shots: Damarius Travis
The Patriots signed Travis as a UDFA and he’s an in-the-box safety. He has very good size at 6’2, 210 but he too is a bit stiff in his ability to change direction at the NFL level. He does a very good job against the run and is considered a high character player and person. He does, however, have excellent special teams’ ability.
So it should be noted that Jones, Richards and Travis are essentially playing for one roster spot unless they decide to bring in another player.