New England Patriots Off-Season Questions: Secondary

The Patriots defense had issues last season and it stemmed from three main positions: #2 Cornerback, Right Defensive End and Outside Linebacker. It appears the Patriots are fairly content to enter this upcoming season with very little tweaking of the outside linebacker core and the off-season was highlighted with some quiet defensive line veteran pick-ups. But what about the secondary? The Secondary was torched by some of the league's best quarterbacks and, as a result, the Patriots utilized a first round draft pick on Rutgers' CB Devin McCourty.

However, for all "research purposes", let's ignore the draft. McCourty, for all the hype surrounding him (and that I fully support and believe in), hasn't played a down in the NFL. It's hard to grade him as a professional player without seeing how he matches up against the world's greatest.

Let's just look at the players who played last season. Which players deserve to be starters? Which players should ride the pine? Which players should even be on the roster?

More after the jump!

The secondary is comprised of two main groups: the cornerbacks and the safeties. Let's break them down into two groups to determine which players should see the field.

Cornerbacks

To see how our players stacked up to the rest of NFL, I used a small sample of players from around the league to see how the Patriots' players matched up. I owe a lot of thanks to Pro Football Focus for their extensive data research. The players I compared were PFF's top 3 positional players, players from the AFC East, players from the Indianapolis Colts and a few other big name players. Here's the data compiled with PFF information:

Name

TA

Rec

% CT

PD

% PD

INT

% INT

TD

% TD

MT

% MT

Charles Woodson

76

39

0.51

8

0.11

9

0.12

5

0.07

8

0.21

Darrelle Revis

111

41

0.37

23

0.21

6

0.05

2

0.02

5

0.12

Leon Hall

97

48

0.49

15

0.15

6

0.06

3

0.03

2

0.04

Leigh Bodden

90

45

0.50

12

0.13

5

0.06

4

0.04

6

0.13

Nnamdi Asomugha

28

21

0.75

2

0.07

1

0.04

1

0.04

8

0.38

Vontae Davis

76

48

0.63

8

0.11

4

0.05

6

0.08

6

0.13

Sean Smith

67

38

0.57

10

0.15

0

0.00

4

0.06

8

0.21

Shawn Springs

50

33

0.66

4

0.08

1

0.02

2

0.04

3

0.09

Asante Samuel

67

45

0.67

6

0.09

9

0.13

5

0.07

19

0.42

Antonio Cromartie

79

45

0.57

6

0.08

3

0.04

2

0.03

6

0.13

Jarraud Powers

77

46

0.60

6

0.08

1

0.01

1

0.01

6

0.13

Darius Butler

64

36

0.56

3

0.05

3

0.05

2

0.03

3

0.08

Jacob Lacey

93

56

0.60

6

0.06

3

0.03

2

0.02

8

0.14

Jonathan Wilhite

67

44

0.66

0

0.00

2

0.03

6

0.09

4

0.09

Dunta Robinson

82

54

0.66

7

0.09

0

0.00

3

0.04

10

0.19

Average

74.93

42.60

0.59

7.73

0.10

3.53

0.05

3.20

0.04

6.80

0.17

Now a few things with my scoring of players:

  • I know some players had a lot more playing time than others. I weighted scores according to how much playing time a player had. (ie: the more a player was on the field, the more "impressive" I consider their high level of play and they will get more credit than a player who didn't see the field as much)
  • I know missed tackles aren't always the fault of the player- it's no reflection on how well they covered their man. Therefore, missed tackles held less weight when making final calculations.

Final Rankings

Rank Centered Name
1 1.17 Darrelle Revis
2 0.86 Leon Hall
3 0.49 Leigh Bodden
4 0.46 Charles Woodson
5 0.21 Antonio Cromartie
6 0.09 Sean Smith
7 0.03 Jacob Lacey
8 0.02 Jarraud Powers
9 -0.11 Dunta Robinson
10 -0.18 Vontae Davis
11 -0.32 Darius Butler
12 -0.38 Asante Samuel
13 -0.66 Nnamdi Asomugha
14 -0.73 Shawn Springs
15 -0.97 Jonathan Wilhite

 

These rankings are a reflection on how well a cornerback covers- it is not a reflection on how good of an all-around player they are. A player like Woodson is more than just a cover corner because he rushes the QB, stops the running back and is everywhere on the field; however, he isn't as great of a cover corner as Revis. Also, a player like Asomugha is completely avoided by opposing QBs (only 28 challenges), but he let up 75% of the passes his direction- not very impressive in my opinion. I've always thought that Asomugha was overrated and benefited by having terrible corners on the other side of the defense and while the numbers are in no way "proof" that Asomugha is overrated, I'll definitely still use them as proof to say: Asomugha is overrated.

As for the Patriots, Bodden represents a solid corner who should keep the "bend, don't break" defensive goal alive and well. After Bodden, however, there is very little to look at. All Patriots secondary members were hurt in the final scoring due to lack of playing time, but Butler was the top remaining player. With Springs and Wilhite filling the bottom two spots overall, Butler really gets the #2 spot by default. Looking at the scores, I can see why Springs was released- he was barely better than the younger Wilhite. No point in keeping him around if he doesn't bring much to the table.

Wilhite, on the other hand, was given opportunities and never ran with them. He gave up the most touchdowns out of the corners in this study and, with his time on the field, gave up the greatest percentage of touchdowns/pass in his direction. He needs to prove himself this off-season if he wants to play on the defense. He's lucky there's a ghost in Terrence Wheatley, or else Wilhite would be my pick for training camp cut. In this study, Wilhite is the #3 corner for the Patriots- and that's not including 1st round pick McCourty.

I think our cornerback stable has much better depth this upcoming year than this past year. Hopefully, everyone improves and our cornerbacks become a strength.

 

Safeties

Name

TA

Rec

% CT

PD

% PD

INT

% INT

TD

% TD

MT

% MT

Ed Reed

18

13

0.72

2

0.11

3

0.17

1

0.06

5

0.38

Kerry Rhodes

36

24

0.67

5

0.14

3

0.08

0

0.00

5

0.21

Nick Collins

29

13

0.45

7

0.24

6

0.21

3

0.10

4

0.31

Brodney Pool

22

10

0.45

6

0.27

4

0.18

2

0.09

2

0.20

Brandon Meriweather

30

18

0.60

6

0.20

5

0.17

1

0.03

10

0.56

Adrian Wilson

52

28

0.54

4

0.08

5

0.10

3

0.06

1

0.04

Darren Sharper

37

13

0.35

3

0.08

9

0.24

2

0.05

10

0.77

Gibril Wilson

31

18

0.58

6

0.19

0

0.00

1

0.03

9

0.50

Pat Chung

8

3

0.38

0

0.00

1

0.13

0

0.00

0

0.00

Louis Delmas

35

22

0.63

1

0.03

2

0.06

5

0.14

13

0.59

James Sanders

20

14

0.70

2

0.10

0

0.00

1

0.05

1

0.07

Jairus Byrd

18

6

0.33

1

0.06

9

0.50

1

0.06

4

0.67

Antoine Bethea

26

13

0.50

1

0.04

4

0.15

1

0.04

10

0.77

Brandon McGowan

35

24

0.69

4

0.11

0

0.00

2

0.06

6

0.25

Melvin Bullitt

30

25

0.83

1

0.03

0

0.00

2

0.07

10

0.40

Average

28.47

16.27

0.56

3.27

0.11

3.40

0.13

1.67

0.06

6.00

0.38

Final Rankings

Rank

Centered

Name

1

0.95

Jairus Byrd

2

0.91

Brodney Pool

3

0.75

Nick Collins

4

0.40

Adrian Wilson

5

0.34

Darren Sharper

6

0.30

Pat Chung

7

0.16

Brandon Meriweather

8

0.11

Kerry Rhodes

9

-0.09

Gibril Wilson

10

-0.10

Antoine Bethea

11

-0.30

Ed Reed

12

-0.53

Brandon McGowan

13

-0.71

Louis Delmas

14

-0.99

Melvin Bullitt

15

-1.18

James Sanders

This is a gross generalization of safeties, regardless of their actual position (strong vs free) and they're rated in a manner extremely similar to that of the corners. I'm looking at how effective these players are in the defensive backfield and I'm not looking at how they play the line. Ed Reed is hurt in these rankings because he missed playing time and because he wasn't as lockdown this year when he was being targeted by opposing quarterbacks.

Meriweather comes in at "just above average" mainly because he was such a bad tackler. He knows of his flaw and has spent this off-season working on his tackling. If he cleaned up his tackling to "average", he'd be right up with Wilson and Sharper. If he makes his tackling "above average", he'd be a top 5 lock.

Sophomore Pat Chung actually came in with a better score than Meriweather, despite having limited snaps. He made the most of his opportunities and should be seeing more playing time next season.

Free Agent Pick-up Brandon McGowan was a solid player, but his lack of interceptions hurt his score. He's a good player for a "bend, don't break" defense, but he's not going to be creating many opportunities for turnovers.

Veteran James Sanders is at the bottom of this list. Sanders was one of the worst pass-defense safeties when quarterbacks targeted him, with his 70% completion rate. He struggled to find the ball, with no interceptions and only a couple passes defended. His strength comes in his tackling (where Meriweather struggled) and he, like McGowan, should play key roles as support players on our defense.

Verdict

My projected depth chart for our secondary:

Right Cornerback: 1) Leigh Bodden, 2) Devin McCourty

Left Cornerback: 1) Darius Butler, 2) Jonathan Wilhite

Free Safety: 1) Brandon Meriweather, 2) James Sanders

Strong Safety: 1) Pat Chung, 2) Brandon McGowan

 

Thoughts? Disagreements? What do you think?

 

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