The New England Patriots are feeling pretty good about their young depth at cornerback and head coach Bill Belichick is happy to talk about their progress.
Quarterbacks posted a passer rating of 87.0 against the Patriots defense in 2015, the 13th best mark in the league, which is the corresponding passer rating of the 25th best quarterback in the league.
Belichick thinks this secondary will be even better in 2016.
Here’s a key Bill Belichick quote for each player at the top of the Patriots depth chart:
1. Malcolm Butler, 26 years old
“Malcolm works hard,” Belichick said last Tuesday. “He's gotten better each year. He's certainly way ahead of where he was last year at this time, which was way ahead of where he was his rookie year at this time...His roles have expanded in terms of playing on both sides, playing inside, and I'd say his overall coverage and understanding and technique and the variety of things he can do at a proficient level has continued to expand and grow.”
2. Logan Ryan, 25 years old
Logan Ryan did not participate in May and June team activities and has been wearing a non-contract jersey in training camp. Belichick doesn’t talk about players not at practice, and there haven’t been questions about Ryan directed towards Belichick by the media.
3. Justin Coleman, 23 years old
“He's athletic, he's fast, he's a productive player, he was productive in college,” Belichick said this Tuesday. “His opportunities last year were spotty because of his availability but he did everything he could, even with I'd say minimal reps over the course of the season relative to guys that were out there on a continuous basis. He still worked hard, continued to make improvement, which I think he has this spring, this training camp, so he's getting better. He works hard at it, [he's a] very competitive player...He does a pretty good job at the line of scrimmage.”
“Justin had a good spring for us,” Belichick said on August 7th. “That was really a key thing for him. You're right, he was here last year but he missed two different sections of the season. He had some missed time with injuries so it wasn't a full year for him. He was kind of in and out, but he had a real good spring and then that carried into training camp. He's out there every day, he hasn't missed any time, he's been able to get a lot of reps and improve, so it has been good for him. I think this is a big year for him anyway, but the fact that he has had so many opportunities and has been healthy and has gotten a lot of reps [is impotant]. I think our receiver group is pretty competitive, so whoever is out there has been a pretty competitive player so it has been good for all of the corners, but definitely for him.”
4. Cyrus Jones, 22 years old
“[He's a] smart kid, athletic, obviously very good hands, he's got good quickness, good ball skills, led the nation in punt returns,” Belichick said on August 1st. “I think you can see his return skills out there. So, he turns the ball over defensively if he can get his hands on it. He can make plays on the ball. But he's fast, he's quick, he's mart, he obviously was well - coached, played in a great system at Alabama. Nick [Saban] did a great job with him, like he does with all of his defense backs down there. He's fundamentally a good technique player.”
5. Jonathan Jones, 22 years old
“He's a tough kid,” Belichick said last Tuesday. “We saw that at Auburn. He tackled well. I'd say he plays big for his size, he's not afraid, he's a tough, competitive kid that's willing to support in the running game and in the kicking game, very competitive on the ball. Again, his speed and overall awareness puts him in position to have the opportunity to play some balls. That's half the battle right there, being in position to do it. He's been very competitive on the ball and shown good speed, good toughness, as he did in college.”
“He learns well,” Belichick added on August 4th. “He’s a great kid. He works hard. He’ll do whatever you ask him to do. He’s done a good job. He’s showed up in the kicking game so I think he’s been very competitive.”
6. Cre’Von LeBlanc, 22 years old
“He's been really competitive,” Belichick said this Tuesday. “I think he's played well. Obviously, the play he had against the Saints was a pretty special play but day in and day out he's been pretty consistent for us going all the way back to the spring. I'd say his instinctiveness, his ability to be around the ball, his anticipation and ability to recognize routes maybe offset some of the testing numbers that aren't elite. They're good but I wouldn't say they're elite, but all of it kind of together and knowing how to play, he has got some of that...He's a good kid, you can tell he likes football, and he pays attention and understands football.”
7. E.J. Biggers, 29 years old
“E.J. is an experienced player,” Belichick said last Tuesday. “He has some position versatility, so he's done some different things for us.”
8. Darryl Roberts, 25 years old
No comments from Belichick this offseason.
9. V’Angelo Bentley, 22 years old
No comments from Belichick this offseason.
Jonathan Jones and LeBlanc appear to be competing for the same roster spot, while I give Biggers a slight edge over Roberts due to his special teams ability.
But at this point, the Patriots have to feel pretty happy with how their cornerbacks have been playing, especially at this stage in their career. Every single defensive back that’s projected to make the roster is still ascending as a player and each will continue to improve over the course of the season.
While Logan Ryan might depart after this season for greener pa$tures, there is a host of younger talent ready to step up in 2017. I wouldn’t be shocked if Belichick opted to retain a sixth cornerback on the roster in a similar way that they carried Rufus Johnson in 2015 as preparation for the departure of Chandler Jones.
These cornerbacks will join one of the best safety depth charts in the entire league to form a truly special secondary in 2016. And they’re only going to get better.