FOXBORO MA - SEPTEMBER 26: Steve Johnson #13 of the Buffalo Bills scores a touchdown against the defense of Devin McCourty #32 of the New England Patriots in the second half at Gillette Stadium on September 26 2010 in Foxboro Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
After a Pro Bowl rookie season, New England Patriots cornerback Devin McCourty digressed significantly over the course of his second year in the NFL. The former Rutgers product warranted three times as many touchdowns and had a fourth as many interceptions last season.
McCourty is just once of a handful of players who severely underachieved last season, but is one of the few who some believe will rebound in 2012. CBS Sports' Ryan Wilson recently ranked the Top 10 NFL players who could be poised for a comeback. The Patriots cornerback came in at sixth on Wilson's list.
The defense, after being an integral part of New England's success early this century, has been a decided weakness in recent years. Coach Bill Belichick looked like he hit the jackpot with McCourty, the team's 2010 first-round pick, who had seven picks and two forced fumbles as a rookie. But Year 2 was as forgettable as the one that preceded it wasnother familiar memorable. He became a liability in coverage which wasn't helped by a shoulder injury. By the end of the year, McCourty was playing a lot of safety, which led to speculation that he would move to the position full-time in 2012. Turns out, the position switch was more out of necessity than anything else and the plan, for now, is to keep him at cornerback. It was clear last season that offenses were making a point to target McCourty, but he should benefit from an improved Patriots pass rush. The team drafted Chandler Jones 21st overall, and took linebacker Dont'a Hightower four picks later to bolster the front seven. In fact, six of their seven selections were on the defensive side of the ball (including three defensive backs). While McCourty may not return to his rookie form as a shutdown corner, he'll always be valued for his solid tackling. Which, worst case, could necessitate New England moving him permanently to safety.
In addition to McCourty, another familiar name appears on the list. Former Patriots wide receiver Chad Ochocinco topped the list. Ochocinco is coming off a highly disappointing season where he only caught 15 passes for 276 yards and a single touchdown.