Following the free agent pickup of Adrian Wilson and the selection of former Rutgers safety Duron Harmon in the third round of the 2013 draft, the Patriots’ safety position suddenly became one of the team’s most crowded spots.
As it was, the Patriots already had a couple of locks on the roster. Fourth year pro Devin McCourty really emerged in 2012 as a potential blue chip player at the free safety position. He showed tremendous instincts at the position, and has the range to cover the entire field. Barring key injuries at the cornerback position, it looks as if the free safety position will be McCourty’s permanent home going forward.
Second year player Tavon Wilson also figures to be a roster lock heading into next season. He flashed some playmaking ability early on in his rookie season. And while his play tapered off towards the tail end of the year, he appears in line for a bump in playing time heading into 2013. And as a second round pick a year ago, you might as well put his name in ink for your opening day rosters.
The two aforementioned newcomers – Wilson and Harmon – are also virtual certainties to make the team. The Patriots signed Adrian Wilson to a three year contract, and he figures to be an important player on 1st and 2nd downs for the team. If his play were to drop dramatically, I suppose there could be a scenario where the team lets him go, but it’s hard to see that happening at this point. Harmon also is seemingly a roster lock. As a third round pick less than three months ago, he’ll probably have the so-called “rookie immunity.”
Right there are four players who appear to be locks. Most teams will only keep four or five at the position each year. And because of this, there is going to be an awful lot of competition for what appears to be one roster spot. The other safeties on the Patriots roster: Steve Gregory, Nate Ebner and Kanorris Davis.
While Davis could be a practice squad candidate, it appears that the fifth safety spot will come down to one of Ebner or Gregory. Who do you think the Patriots should keep?
The Case for Gregory: Steve Gregory is not a star, but he is a very solid football player. He is a bit undersized, but has the versatility to play both safety positions, and can even occasionally drop into the slot at cornerback. At 30 years old, Gregory is one of the most experienced players at the position for the Patriots. While Devin McCourty, Tavon Wilson, Duron Harmon, and Nate Ebner all have upside, none have much experience at the position. Wilson, Harmon, and Ebner in particular are unknowns. And with Wilson and Harmon virtual locks to make the roster, the Patriots could use a “safety net” such as Gregory at the position. I think that you could make the argument that should Gregory make the roster, he could be the team’s third safety. He’s also not a bad special teams player, and made quite a few big plays a season ago (three interceptions, two forced fumbles, and a fumble return for a touchdown).
The Case for Ebner: Potential. If Nate Ebner makes the Patriots final reason, it will be for that reason. In his first season in the NFL after being a lifelong rugby player, Ebner showed the ability to be a playmaker on special teams in 2012 and could be an impact player there in the future. And in the preseason, Ebner flashed some playmaking ability on defense. He’s got size, incredible athleticism, and is doing all he can to adapt to the pro game. The only question with Ebner is if his potential is enough. With projects such as Harmon and Tavon Wilson on the roster, the Patriots could opt to move away from Ebner in favor of an experienced vet such as Gregory.
Two more quick things to keep in mind with this battle: the Patriots could opt to keep only four safeties, especially considering the team also has a logjam at cornerback. And second, you could actually make the argument for keeping both Ebner and Gregory... if Ebner were able to beat out a special teams mainstay such as Matt Slater.
So what do you think? If the Patriots kept a fifth safety on the roster, would you want them to go with Ebner or Gregory?