The Patriots are expected to release cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, further thinning out an already weaker-than-before secondary. New England now has Logan Ryan, Malcolm Butler, Bradley Fletcher, Kyle Arrington, and Robert McClain as their cornerbacks with experience, with Chimdi Chekwa, Justin Green, Daxton Swanson, Darryl Roberts, and Jimmy Jean as depth prospects with an outside shot of making the team.
I guess there's also Devin McCourty.
There are some obvious issues with each of these players- Ryan struggles in off-man; Butler is inexperienced; Fletcher hasn't played in the system and was a clone of the Patriots 2011 cornerbacks; Arrington is limited to the inside; McClain is 5'9 and has been on three teams in four seasons- but it's what New England will have to use moving forward.
Ideally, the Patriots will start Fletcher and Ryan out the outside since they're both capable of both zone and man, while Arrington plays in the slot. Butler will continue to grow and could push for one of the outside positions. Fletcher's struggles are extremely similar to Devin McCourty's sophomore season, where the lack of a viable safety really hurt his production. Look for a bounce back by Fletcher due to McCourty's play over the top.
But the key to mitigating the weakness in the secondary is by investing heavily in the defensive front seven and reaching the quarterback before the receivers have the time to exploit the defenders. No one can say that the Patriots haven't improved their defensive front.
Looking at the defensive front, there can and will be a healthy rotation on the defensive line, supplemented by blitzes from Jamie Collins, Jerod Mayo, and Dont'a Hightower at the second level. The defensive line will have more depth than ever before, as Chandler Jones, Jabaal Sheard, Rob Ninkovich, and Trey Flowers can rotate next to Sealver Siliga, Malcom Brown, Alan Branch, and Dominique Easley. That's a fantastic top eight that doesn't include players like Chris Jones or Zach Moore on the inside.
The key will be generating pressure as quickly as possible and there are no shortage of possibilities on the defensive front. There's versatility at every position that can help disguise pressures in conjunction with disguised coverages.
The NASCAR package was the name for the New York Giants defensive front that was able to take down the Patriots in 2007 and 2011, and it is considered their "speed" package. The goal is to use the pass rushers to reach the quarterback as quickly as possible, and since interior linemen are used to the quickness of defensive end the defense can disrupt the quarterback's timing.
The Patriots have the depth to control the line of scrimmage against the rush. When it comes time to rush the passer, though, look for Sheard, Chandler, Easley, and Ninkovich to space and stunt the offensive line and allow for pressure that fronts with Vince Wilfork, Gerard Warren, and Andre Carter could never generate.
The post-Darrelle Revis secondary might not have been addressed in the draft, but that doesn't mean the team ignored the issue. They've opted to improve their defensive line with the goal of improved front line play positively affecting the production of the defensive backs.