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Patriots 2015 Rookie Review: S Jordan Richards Boxed Out of the Defense in First Season

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How mad would you be if the New England Patriots spent another 2nd round pick on a special teams safety?

But what if it wasn't the player's fault?

The Patriots drafted Jordan Richards in the second round of the NFL draft with a starting role in mind. Patrick Chung had a major impact in his 2014 return to the Patriots, but what if that was a fluke? And fellow safety Duron Harmon would be a free agent after the 2016 season, so it couldn't hurt to be prepared with another safety in the wings, right?

Well, Chung continued to improve in his second season back and Richards was unable to contribute- not due to lack of ability on his part, but because Chung was a legitimately dominant safety that could be considered one of the top ten in the league.

So instead of watching a 2nd round safety possible thrive, we had to watch Richards play special teams.

2nd round, 64th overall, S Jordan Richards: Richards played 21.8% of defensive snaps, with the large bulk coming after Devin McCourty was injured in week 14 against the Texans, and after Patrick Chung suffered an injury in week 15 against the Titans.

It should be noted that while Richards was active for 14 regular season games, he was a healthy scratch in the team's first two losses of the year against the Broncos and the Eagles. Defensive back Tavon Wilson briefly jumped over Richards in the depth chart after a wrist injury to rookie cornerback Justin Coleman required the Patriots to play a safety at cornerback. Wilson put together a quality week 11 performance against the Bills, and remained active over Richards for the subsequent two weeks.

Richards had typically contributed against teams that featured two-tight end sets, like the Jaguars, Cowboys, and Colts, which made his inactivity against the Broncos even more surprising.

But mostly Richards toiled away on special teams, racking up the 5th most snaps on the roster (51.4%), behind Nate Ebner, Matthew Slater, Brandon King, and Brandon Bolden. He will likely serve a similar function next season.

The Stanford graduate was touted as being a versatile defensive back, similar to Tavon Wilson, but with the football IQ of Steve Gregory. It's very possible that he could be the future linchpin of the Patriots secondary.

The 2015 Patriots played a lot of three-safety sets due to the lack of depth at cornerback, but also because Chung emerged as a viable safety/linebacker hybrid that could cover slot receivers, rending the standard nickel cornerback position less of a necessity. The Patriots played Devin McCourty and Duron Harmon as the deeper safeties, with McCourty drawing coverage of tight ends and Harmon often acting as the single deep safety over the top.

An interesting option for the Patriots in either 2016, or 2017 after the departure of Harmon, would be to place Richards in McCourty's spot in the middle of this safety trio and to allow McCourty to play the single deep role. Richards is a capable cover safety and can handle most tight ends in his path, and it would free up McCourty to possibly force more turnovers with his incredible range.

The development of Richards and his possible role in the defense will be a key storyline for this offseason. Richards is pretty much a roster lock to make the team, but he'll need to start contributing on defense if he's going to produce at the expected level of a standard second round pick.