How do you feel about the Patriots current secondary?
I'm asking because it seems fairly likely that what you see on the roster will be what Bill Belichick crafts into a starting defense- and everything is going to be okay.
Most fans are fine with the current depth chart at safety; Devin McCourty is an All Pro at free safety, while Pat Chung will play in the box against the run, Duron Harmon will play in the Cover Two against the pass, and Jordan Richards will be Belichick's favorite special teamer and a potential dime back.
The cornerback position has the most question marks. Who will replace Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner, Kyle Arrington, and Alfonzo Dennard, the Patriots top four cornerbacks from last season?
The Patriots currently have ten cornerbacks on the roster and the expectation should be for five of them to make the final squad.
Four of them are rookies (Darryl Roberts, Jimmy Jean) or practice squad players (Justin Green, Daxton Swanson). Roberts, Jean, and Swanson all have turned heads in the offseason camps and Green has experience in the Patriots system.
A fifth is a Super Bowl hero (Malcolm Butler), but one with only 220 snaps over the course of the 2014 season, including playoffs.
Let's ignore them and consider whatever contributions they bring to the roster as a bonus. Let's instead turn our focus to the veterans on the team.
Newly signed Tarell Brown has spent the past couple of seasons on the Raiders and 49ers. He has averaged over 1,000 snaps per year over the past three seasons. He's coming off a foot surgery, which is why he was on the street, and his play has declined in each of the years- but in 2012, he was elite, and in 2014 he was on the Raiders. What's to say that Brown couldn't recapture his old skills on a higher quality defense?
Fellow signing Bradley Fletcher has averaged over 1,000 snaps per year over the past two seasons, and while he wasn't overly successful with the Eagles last season (some might call him terrible), before last season he was considered a quality cornerback, and Football Outsiders still considers him an above average #2 corner.
Another signing is Robert McClain, who has averaged over 650 snaps per year over the past three seasons. He's a slot guy and is penciled in to take Arrington's old snaps, but he's also been asked to play on the sidelines.
650 snaps a year is roughly the same amount as incumbent Logan Ryan, who has been on the team for two seasons. He's another slot corner candidate and has flexibility to play in multiple defensive schemes.
A fifth veteran is Derek Cox, who was out of football in 2014 after being a premier free agent signing in 2013. In 2014, Cox was cut from the Chargers, Vikings, and Ravens, and couldn't get a job with the Bears or Giants. There was something clearly wrong, but he is yet another player that had a ton of potential.
Between Brown, Fletcher, McClain, Cox, and Ryan, the Patriots have five CBs who average 600+ snaps when in the league over past three years.— Rich Hill (@PP_Rich_Hill) July 26, 2015
So turn back the clock to the 2013 season for a second. Brown is one of the best corners in the league, Fletcher and Cox are priority free agent signings, Ryan is a promising rookie known as Instant Offense, and McClain is providing quality snaps in the slot.
One year later and all five are in the dog house. One year later and no one wants any of these former rising stars. What are the odds that last season was just a down year for a couple of these players? What are the chances that one or two of these players rebounds after an average season in Oakland, or a bad year on a sieve of an Eagles defense?
Money is on at least two of these five playing at least at an average level. Doesn't even factor in potential from Butler or Roberts.— Rich Hill (@PP_Rich_Hill) July 26, 2015
It remains to be seen which of these players will win the camp battle, but it's extremely likely that one or two of these players will step up and perform at an adequate level. Factor in the potential of Butler or Roberts, and it wouldn't be surprising if the five cornerbacks on the final roster are already on the Patriots right now.
In 2009, the Patriots featured a remodeled secondary that included new faces like Leigh Bodden, Shawn Springs, and rookie Darius Butler at cornerback, and Brandon McGowan and rookie Pat Chung at safety. That defense ranked 5th in the league. This isn't the first time that Belichick is maneuvering through an entirely new secondary.
Smart money would be on Brown and Fletcher as the top veterans, due to their experience and past performances, with Ryan as the top player in the slot. Butler and Roberts could make the roster as special teams players with starting defender talent, and either of them could end up as a starting outside cornerback by the end of the season.
There is definitely talent at the cornerback position on the roster. Time will reveal which players are ready to reclaim their former high levels of play.