No defender on the New England Patriots has played more than Cre’Von LeBlanc and his 82 defensive snaps, per NFL official statistics. The undrafted free agent cornerback has been given a big opportunity to make the team- and he’s rising to the challenge.
LeBlanc is a hair shorter than 5’10 and weighs roughly 190 pounds. He was a well-regarded cornerback in his final year, but a lousy 4.67 40 yard dash and uninspiring 9’6 broad jump at his Pro Day but a damper on his draft prospects.
“He's a good kid, you can tell he likes football, and he pays attention and understands football,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said about LeBlanc in early August. “I'd say probably his measurables coming out are the reason he didn't get drafted...I think what you saw in film and what you saw in workout numbers, I don't know that it quite matches up. Sort of like Malcom [Butler], it's a little bit of the same thing with Malcom. His testing numbers, I'm sure that's part of the reason why he didn't get drafted either.”
LeBlanc stood out on tape while he was at Florida Atlantic, according to Pro Football Focus (PFF). PFF regarded LeBlanc as a 3rd round caliber player roughly on par with Patriots 2nd round pick Cyrus Jones.
“LeBlanc plays bigger than his 5-foot-9 stature,” PFF analyst Sam Monson wrote prior to the draft. “He wasn’t out-muscled by bigger receivers and could run down field with them as well. He has a good feel for zone play, coming off his first man and identifying the second threat. He can move with receivers well, flowing with routes and then fights for the ball at the catch point. LeBlanc allowed only 39.3 percent of passes thrown into his coverage to be caught, and is a guy that could overcome height concerns at the next level.”
The same traits that made LeBlanc a success in college have seemingly translated during his brief time in the NFL, as LeBlanc is PFF’s #1 undrafted rookie to watch this week.
The Patriots have played LeBlanc all over the defensive formation, with time in the slot and at left cornerback against the Saints, and then primarily at right cornerback against the Bears. He has allowed a mere three receptions on eight targets for a total of 10 yards. He’s also collected an interception and a pass break up.
Note: For the record, both LeBlanc and E.J. Biggers were in coverage during the Bears’ last second 22-yard touchdown pass, but I haven’t been able to find a good camera angle to prove which player was the primary coverage option.
LeBlanc has also been an aggressive run defender, showing a willingness to fight in traffic to help end the play. When Belichick says he wants a cornerback willing to get physical with the wide receiver, LeBlanc’s style of play comes to mind.
PFF notes that LeBlanc has 4 stops (stops are plays that reduce the opposing team’s expected points on the drive), the most of any rookie cornerback in the league.
Now there are still some rough edges to LeBlanc’s game that needs polishing. I’m sure Belichick will watch the last GIF and tell LeBlanc to watch out for outside leverage in the future. But in general, Leblanc showed more positives than negatives and had a clear willingness to try and make a play.
The Patriots generally left LeBlanc off on his own by the sideline to see how he operated in coverage and he was rarely targeted. While it’s hard to tell without the All 22 footage, there was only one play where the receiver forced him out of position- but LeBlanc’s recovery was noteworthy in and of itself.
This is a 2nd and 15, so LeBlanc is clearly trying to avoid giving up the big play, but while he expected a post route due to the location of the safety (likely helping the side with the tight end and two wide receivers), he guessed wrong, planted his foot, and stopped the receiver for almost no yards after the catch.
That’s impressive recovery and it forced the Bears into a 3rd and 8 situation.
LeBlanc will have two more chances to prove that he deserves the final cornerback spot on the roster, and he has fierce competition from Darryl Roberts and Jonathan Jones. Roberts is tied for the 4th most defensive snaps, so the coaches want to give him a fair shot; Jones only played eight snaps on defense against the Bears, so it looks like he’s in 3rd place right now.
The Patriots have cleared out some other members of the secondary with the releases of E.J. Biggers and V’Angelo Bentley, so look for this bubble trio to see plenty of time on the field over the next two games.
Whatever the result, LeBlanc has certainly made the case that he can play cornerback at the highest level.