Along with linebacker, safety was considered a relatively high priority this offseason for the New England Patriots. They still have a group of highly talented starters in Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon, and Patrick Chung, but these stars are aging and the team’s depth is atrocious. Jordan Richards, the Patriots second round in the 2015 NFL Draft, saw significant playing time in Super Bowl 52 for some unknown reason and was essentially useless, spending the entire night getting ripped to shreds by the Eagles’ tight ends. The team needs more depth at the position but didn’t make any serious strides in that direction this offseason.
The Patriots safety and captain needs little introduction. He is entering his eighth season in the NFL, coming off of a solid 2017 campaign that saw him total a career-high 94 tackles. He struggled in the beginning of 2017 along with the whole Patriots secondary as they had a whole host of communication issues. His season improved markedly over the second half of the year and the playoffs before posting a disappointing performance in the Super Bowl. McCourty is an intelligent and athletic player who excels at tackling. While he doesn’t intercept many passes, his anticipation is spectacular and he prevents a number of big plays. He will once again be the anchor of the Patriots secondary.
Harmon has been a productive player for the Patriots over his first five seasons in the league. He is more of a “ball hawk” type safety, as evident by his four interceptions last season. He has good recognition skills and is able to jump on routes. He is also a versatile player who can easily rotate effectively between zone and man coverage. He could improve his tackling and his man coverage skills but otherwise has been a very solid starting safety for New England. He has been a solid partner alongside McCourty, and the team will need him again this season.
Chung is having a successful second stint with New England after being drafted by the team, spending a year with Philadelphia, and returning to the Patriots. He is a fantastic coverage safety who matches up well on most tight ends in coverage. He also plays well in the box and is routinely able to take on blockers who have advantages in strength and size. In addition, he is one of the toughest and most dedicated players on the team. Chung did not have the best 2017 season, which is very likely due to the Patriots utter lack of depth at linebacker that forced the team to spend a majority of the time in a three-safety defense in which Chung essentially performed the role of a linebacker. While he is impressive against the run as a safety, he does not have the size to consistently play the position. Chung is set up for a rebound season with the improvements made to the Patriots linebacking corps.
Richards is entering his fourth season with New England after being selected by the team in the second round of the 2015 draft. His career so far has been an utter disappointment. He has started just seven games over the course of his career and totaled a dismal 42 tackles. He seems to back down against the running game and gets lost in coverage. So far he has shown no indication of potential or longevity, and his vomit-inducing performance in the Super Bowl has likely sealed the opinions of Patriots fans. Unless there is an extremely dramatic change, I would be shocked and disappointed to see Richards make it out of camp.
Jones is entering his second year in the league after being signed to the Patriots as an undrafted free agent in 2017. He was a practice squad player who did not make the active roster at all during the season. He has decent size at 6’3 210 lbs and could develop into a solid coverage safety. The Patriots need depth at safety, and Jones could be that depth over Richards if he develops well over the offseason.
Travis was signed by the Patriots as an undrafted free agent in 2017. Like Jones, he has great size at 6’2 215 lbs. His athleticism is underwhelming and his technique is raw, but he could be able to fight for a roster spot thanks to the lack of depth at the position.
Moore started every game for Mississippi in 2017, playing key roles on defense and special teams. He is on the smaller side at 5’11, 202 lbs, but playing against run-heavy offenses in the SEC could make him an effective tackler that the Patriots value. He will certainly have a shot at making the roster.
The US Rugby star is coming off of a torn ACL suffered on a fake punt against the Dolphins in week 12. He is a tenacious player with a talent for getting right to the football. While he is essentially a core special teams player, Ebner does add depth at safety, and his return will be important to the team.
All in all, the Patriots have an odd disparity at safety. They have an extremely high level of talent among their starters, enough to be considered one of the best safety corps in the league. However, they have next to no actual depth after those starters, and Bill Belichick is going to need to be extremely creative with his defensive schemes to make up for the team’s weaknesses. The best hope is that one of the young practice squad players can make a big leap and become a solid rotational player.
Until next time – B$