The Patriots were extremely fortunate that neither Logan Ryan, nor Malcolm Butler suffered a serious injury in 2015. They provided an excellent tandem, with Ryan covering the larger opposing receiver, while Butler locked down opposing #1 targets on a weekly basis. This year, New England focused on filling in the depth at the position. Justin Coleman returns for his first full offseason in New England (he was a preseason addition), 2015 7th round pick Darryl Roberts returns from the injured reserve, while the Patriots added veteran E.J. Biggers, drafted Cyrus Jones in the 2nd round, and added a trio of high quality preferred free agents after the draft in Jonathan Jones, Cre'von LeBlanc, and V'Angelo Bentley- all three undrafted because of their lack of height.
Assuming the Patriots carry five cornerbacks, and that Butler, Ryan, and Cyrus Jones are locks, who do you envision taking the final two cornerback slots?
The defensive back training camp battle is a preseason staple year in and year out in New England; anybody with even a casual interest in the Patriots knows that Belichick loves to stockpile an absurd amount of cornerbacks and then lets them battle it out in training camp. This year sees us with about as close to starter locks as you can get with Ryan and Butler, but after that it's anybody's race. Darryl Roberts had a solid preseason before going on IR last year, and Justin Coleman was more than serviceable when healthy, so I feel like those two have the inside track on those last two roster spots. That said, our #1 corner right now was a camp body his rookie season, so who knows who is going to step up and shine.
When we were talking about structuring the defense for 2016, you theorized that the Patriots might utilize a 4-2 Nickel base for this year, given the personnel at the linebacker and defensive line; if true, slot corner is going to be an extremely important position going forward. Who is your #1 choice for nickelback (and to be completely clear, I DO NOT mean the band)?
Well, when I look at this photograph of the secondary
it makes me laugh, I really think that rookie Cyrus Jones has the best chance of seeing serious time. I think that Roberts is better suited as a sideline corner, just like Butler and Ryan, and I think Jones is more talented than Coleman. His change-of-direction ability is incredible and he’s still just scratching the surface of his ability.
That said, I really think this secondary is fairly versatile. While Jones might be the best slot corner, Butler, Ryan, and Coleman can all play inside if they have to and that’s ignoring the versatility of Patrick Chung.
A name that I didn’t mention is undrafted free agent signing Jonathan Jones, who stood out during offseason camps. I think he could be another impact player. It seems like the Patriots enjoy adding an undrafted cornerback on a regular basis, with Coleman and Butler the most recent two. Jones, Cre’von LeBlanc, and V’Angelo Bentley all have a chance of making the squad- so who is your favorite, and who is the odd man out to make space for them?
If we're going by name alone, then it's V'Angelo Bentley by a mile. He's also the tallest of the three, by a full inch, and I'm not sure if there's an obscure NFL rule that says you can't carry more than one 22 year old, 5'9", 190lb rookie DB on the roster, so being 5'10" might give Bentley the edge he needs.
Editor’s note: the Patriots list Bentley at 5’10, with Jones and LeBlanc at 5’9. Bentley measures 5’8 1/4 per NFLDraftScout services, with Jones at 5’9 1/8 and LeBlanc at 5’9 7/8. Not sure why the Patriots have Bentley so much taller.
From a skill standpoint, though, I think it's Jones - he's a former sprinter and has great closing speed. It's going to be interesting how the coaches evaluate these guys this year, as they are likely going to be spending a good chunk of time defending passes thrown by Jimmy Garoppolo as opposed to Tom Brady; do they put more weight into your play if you pick off Tommy B vs. Jimmy G? What if a DB looks great against Garoppolo but struggles against Brady? Or vice versa? How do you best measure those intangibles? The good news in we don't have to wait too much longer to find out.