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The New England Patriots Have a Young, But Talented Group At Cornerback

The Patriots have 4 viable CBs under the age of 25. Could they be part of the long term solution at the position for the Patriots?

Malcolm Butler highlights the Patriots young, but talented cornerbacks.
Malcolm Butler highlights the Patriots young, but talented cornerbacks.
Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

Last year, the Patriots secondary featured future Hall of Famer Darrelle Revis and a 6'4" Brandon Browner on the outside along with veteran Kyle Arrington in the slot. All three players have since moved on to other teams and the Patriots have gone with a youth movement at the CB position. During the offseason, the Patriots brought veterans Tarell Brown, Bradley Fletcher, Derek Cox, and Robert McClain to compete for a CB position. Brown is the only veteran player still on the Patriots roster as of today, with the Patriots using a rookie, a 2nd year player, and a third year player in their secondary. In addition to those three, the Patriots had a promising rookie who is on injured reserve after breaking his wrist in the Patriots first preseason game.

These are the current CBs for the Patriots under contract past the 2015 season: Malcolm Butler (RFA-2017), Logan Ryan (UFA-2017), Justin Coleman (RFA-2018), and Darryl Roberts (UFA-2019).

Patriots CB Measurables
Player HT WT Age/Exp Arm 10 40 Vertical Broad Jump S Shut 3-Cone L Shut
Malcolm Butler 5'11" 190 25/1 4.4-4.5
Logan Ryan 5'11" 195 24/2 31 3/8" 1.50 4.56 32 1/2" 9'8" 4.06 6.69 11.28
Justin Coleman 5'11" 185 22/R 31 3/4" 1.42 4.53 37 1/2" 10'4" 3.98 6.61 11.21
Darryl Roberts 6'0" 182 24/R 1.48 4.38 39" 11'1" 4.06 6.66

*Some measurables not listed because too difficult to find
** Malcolm Butler's Pro Day Numbers Intentionally Not Included

Malcolm Butler: Butler will be forever revered in New England for his Super Bowl-ending interception at the Patriots goal line. It's tough to peg Butler athletically, because his Pro Day numbers do not accurately measure his true athletic ability. After testing a 4.6 at Alabama's Pro Day, Butler reportedly ran a 4.4 when he tried out for the Patriots during rookie minicamps in 2014. Butler is a tough, physical, and cocky player who isn't afraid to cover anyone and get in their face about it. Butler came in the 2nd half of the Super Bowl XLIX when Kyle Arrington could not cover Seahawks receiver Chris Matthews. After shuffling around the secondary, Butler wound up allowing 2 of 6 completions, with one of them being on a lucky bounce after Butler initially broke up the pass, and intercepted a pass. His growth in the Patriots secondary is going to be key in the future.

Logan Ryan: Ryan is the highest drafted Patriot from this group, going 83rd overall in the 2013 draft. Ryan is a quick-twitch CB that lacks explosiveness and straight-line speed, which can create problems on the boundary. Receivers that run faster than 4.5 will give him problems off free releases on vertical routes since Ryan lacks the burst or recovery speed to catch up when beat downfield. That limits his ceiling as a middle of the pack #2 CB and perhaps his best role is in the slot where the game is more horizontal and goes against receivers he's quicker than. Ryan had a solid rookie campaign with 5 INT but his athletic limitations were exposed in the 2013 AFC Championship Game and struggled in 2014 due to technique and confidence issues along with an irregular workload. He will likely play a large role in the secondary after winning the final CB spot on the roster in preseason.

Justin Coleman: Coleman is a very raw CB prospect with very good measurables for the position. He's a very quick accelerator with great change of direction skills and average at best straight-line speed, but has enough burst to stay with receivers on the boundary. If the Patriots can coach up this guy, he has the measurables to be a top-flight #2 and potential middle of the pack #1 CB. His straight-line speed is the only issue, but most routes aren't 40-yard fly patterns and Coleman is faster than most receivers in the first 20 yards of the 40. You can mitigate the issue of slow straight-line speed with safety help over the top, with Duron Harmon and Devin McCourty providing assistance. Hopefully this year gives him opportunities to see the game and develop the mental aspects to his game because I think his ceiling is higher than Butler's.

Darryl Roberts: You look at this guy's measurables and it screams #1 CB. He brings the total athletic package to the position with size, length, speed, explosiveness, and quick-twitch movement. Despite dominating the competition at Marshall and receiving All Conference USA honors, Roberts was snubbed from the NFL Combine. He turned that into motivation and just lit it up on his pro day. According to SPARQ, Roberts is the 2nd most athletic CB from the 2015 Draft Class with only the Cowboys' Byron Jones finishing ahead of him. The only other 2 CBs in the draft who even compare are Jones and the Texans' Kevin Johnson. Roberts was impressing the Patriots coaches in the offseason program and early portions of training camp before a fractured wrist suffered in the first quarter of the first preseason game ended his rookie campaign before it started. His injury likely prompted the Patriots to go out and get Justin Coleman. Hopefully the mental part of his game will develop behind the scenes and it translates to the field next year. Roberts has the highest ceiling of this group.

CB Pass Coverage Stats Through 4 Games
Player Targets Completions Yards TD INT PD
Malcolm Butler 20 13 257 3 1 4
Justin Coleman 5 3 70 0 0 0
Logan Ryan 14 9 91 0 2 0

So far in 2015, the Patriots secondary is still a question mark although Butler is cemented as the top CB with Logan Ryan taking snaps as the #2 recently. Justin Coleman has seen time as the team's #3 CB, but he hasn't really been tested because teams are picking on Butler and Ryan on the boundary and the Patriots have played two straight awful pass offenses. Even so, getting snaps for those guys is important for shaping up the secondary because it is impossible to improve at football without practicing and playing football. Butler has been very uneven, in large part due to his aggressive style. He is very good at normal routes and breaking on the ball, but will struggle against double moves because he's too eager to jump routes. We have a pretty good understanding what Logan Ryan can and can't do in his third year in the league, although his ability to play both inside and outside effectively has been huge for the Patriots in 2015.

For these three CBs, it's about getting more comfortable in 2015. Butler is in his first year starting for the team and Coleman is a rookie who went undrafted this year. Gaining valuable experience in both practice and in games is huge in their development, especially at a position where the Patriots have really struggled to develop starters since Asante Samuel in the mid 2000s. A lot of those issues were major injuries derailing players with equal or even superior talent, which is crucial that these young CBs avoid in their careers in order to develop into viable starters. The Patriots have to be able to develop players at the CB position because signing mid-tier free agents only provides a band-aid to the problem and not a solution.

The issue with developing CBs is the position is very demanding athletically with the rule changes on offense that restricts the physical nature of the position and the position naturally has a high bust rate. Receivers are more athletically gifted than ever now and are bigger than ever before as well. Your prototypical outside receiver is taller than 6'2" while the prototypical boundary CB is now about 5'11"-6'1". The obvious height advantage to the receiver places a greater emphasis on footwork and hand techniques in addition to being physical enough with the receiver that it doesn't draw a penalty from the officials. Not only do corners have to match and overcome the physicality of the receiver, they have to be able to mirror them in footwork to stay in phase and be able to make plays on the ball. If the corner cannot stay in phase, that leads to penalties and/or completed passes going for big plays down the field. With the athletic demands for the position higher than ever before, it gets difficult to develop a truly elite CB who can match up and limit the best receivers in the NFL.

Despite the high bust rate at the position and the Patriots recent lack of success at developing a starter from within, this may be the most athletically gifted group I've seen in a while. The Patriots previously thought they had a top tier CB prospect when they drafted Ras-I Dowling with the 33rd pick of the 2011 draft, but a devastating hip injury suffered in his 2nd NFL game ended his career before it could really start. The Patriots lucked out by trading for Talib and signing Revis in recent years, which has masked the problem of drafting and developing young CBs. With this current group of CBs, I like the Patriots chances of developing at least two viable starters for 2016 and perhaps even further. You have two players that would excel in the slot and also be able to shut down an opponent's #2 boundary receiver (Ryan, Coleman), a potential #1 CB (Butler), and a player with Darrelle Revis type measurables (Roberts).