Patriots Depth Chart: Cornerback
The Patriots need at secondary is obvious, particularly after a Super Bowl loss that saw Nick Foles put up a ridiculous stat line. New England’s needs at the cornerback position grew after Malcolm Butler signed a deal with the Tennessee Titans over the offseason, leaving the Patriots with some very big questions at the position. Some low key signings and draft selections have made for decent potential at the position, but it may yet be one of the weakest positions for the Patriots’ defense.
The Patriots signed Gilmore to a massive contract last offseason, and for the first half of the 2017 season, it looked like the worst signing in Patriots history. Gilmore was horrendous to start last season, looking lost and completely out of touch. It was an injury-marred middle of his season before Patriots fans saw a strong resurgence that led to an excellent second half, including some brilliant plays in the playoffs, specifically a pass breakup on a fourth down throw at the end of the AFC Championship game that sent the team to their 10th Super Bowl. He finished the season with two interceptions and 50 tackles, which was the second-highest total of his career. The Patriots will need him to be the number one cornerback this season, and based on the way he settled in during the second half of last season, Gilmore may be able to show why Bill Belichick was willing to pay him so much money.
Rowe played in just eight regular season games in 2017 after sitting out the middle of the season with a groin injury. He did not impress much when he did return to action, including in the Super Bowl where he spent the entire game being torched by Alshon Jeffrey. Rowe has the size and skill set to play both inside and outside. The problem has been actually showing those abilities in game situations. With Butler gone, Rowe will need to play an important role for the Patriots defense, which means staying healthy and performing in big moments.
The twin brother of Patriots safety Devin McCourty is entering his 10th season in the NFL after spending nine seasons in Tennessee and one in Cleveland. The former Rutgers standout has had a solid career, consistently providing above average coverage and tackling skills. He’s on the smaller side for an outside cornerback, but he has a knack for tackling that the Patriots will appreciate. He also has uncanny recognition and acceleration skills. McCourty is a strong veteran leader that should be able to quickly assimilate into the Patriots system. I could see him being the team’s starting outside cornerback alongside Stephon Gilmore.
Jones is a small but aggressive slot corner who has shown flashes of serious talent over the past two seasons. He has played in every regular season game during his short career and makes up for talent mismatches with tenacity and effort. He is also a special teams whiz who is consistently in on tackles. An ankle injury in the AFC Divisional Round ended his 2017 season early. Jones has shown solid development over the past two seasons and seems primed to jump into a job as a starting nickel cornerback and even as a rotational outside corner, assuming he can return at full form. He certainly has areas in need of serious improvement, but he has the right attitude that the Patriots defense needs.
Cyrus Jones is looking to make a serious comeback after posting a horrific rookie campaign and watching his second season end before it began after an ACL tear in the preseason. Jones was a talented, aggressive cornerback coming out of Alabama, but couldn’t seem to grasp the system in New England, or seem to pull his head together. He was likely on the roster bubble last year before his injury sidelined him anyways. The question was never with his talent, but with his work ethic and attitude. If Cyrus has the right attitude, he has the talent to beat Jonathan Jones for a roster spot. If he shows up to camp looking the same as he did in 2016, he will not see September football.
The Florida product was New England’s second-round pick and could have a solid impact on the Patriots secondary. He has strides to make in his coverage skills, but he is an aggressive tackler who loves to challenge receivers early. It will be very interesting to see whether or not he can wrest the starting nickel corner spot from one of the Jones’, or whether he needs more developmental time and spends his first year as a rotational player.
The Patriots seventh-round pick out of Western Carolina is a freak athlete, posting absurd numbers at his pro day. He is an aggressive tackler and a ball hawk on the outside. Crossen may not see significant time at cornerback and is likely more of a core special teams player like Matthew Slater or Brandon King. However, his absurd athleticism could allow him to develop into a serviceable defensive player.
Jackson posted two solid seasons at Maryland, starting all but one game. He is an aggressive press cornerback who excels at attacking receivers at the line of scrimmage and throwing them off their route. Jackson struggles with the finer aspects of cornerback play, like quick reaction and acceleration. However, he only has two years of major D1 college experience and will need more time to develop his talents. He could be an interesting choice for a surprise player to make the roster.
Ryan Lewis and Jomal Wiltz
Both Lewis and Wiltz are young players who have been practice squad players over the course of their careers. That will likely continue this season, especially with the talent listed above.
The Patriots will need solid production from their cornerbacks this season, particularly after the dreadful start and end of the 2017 season. This depth chart has some hidden gems that could see that need filled.
Until next time – B$