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17 years of Patriots: Analyzing cornerbacks under Bill Belichick

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Speedsters, big guys, slot corners and more!

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The Patriots have historically been a matchup-oriented mixed team in the defensive backfield, deploying both man and zone to confuse opponents. A majority of the team’s interceptions come in zone looks or on deep passes in man coverage. The scheme has changed over time, most notably due to rules changes in 2004 and the press ability of Aqib Talib in 2013, which rendered the likes of Devin McCourty and Darius Butler obsolete at the position after the Patriots spent premium picks on both of them. Thankfully, the Patriots currently find themselves in a fairly stable place at the position, with Stephon Gilmore coming aboard and Eric Rowe serving as the press player. Malcolm Butler is still a wild card as of press time, but he can play in the slot or as the speed corner.

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SPEED CORNERBACK

2000 Antonio Langham

2001 Otis Smith

2002 Otis Smith

2003 Tyrone Poole

2004 Tyrone Poole/Asante Samuel

2005 Ellis Hobbs

2006 Asante Samuel

2007 Ellis Hobbs

2008 Ellis Hobbs

2009 Shawn Springs/Darius Butler

2010 Devin McCourty

2011 Devin McCourty

2012 Devin McCourty/Alfonzo Dennard

2013 Alfonzo Dennard/Logan Ryan

2014 Darrelle Revis

2015 Malcolm Butler

2016 Malcolm Butler

Traditionally, New England tries to maintain a balance of one speedier cornerback to stay with smaller receivers and one more physical cornerback to serve as a press player. Many of the Patriots’ smaller secondary players slot in here, like the underappreciated Ellis Hobbs and Devin McCourty prior to his position switch. Other years, the Patriots had slower “speed” corners and deployed more off-man coverage to compensate, such as in 2013 with Alfonzo Dennard. Dennard was very adept at playing 10 yards off his man and utilizing superior body position and tracking to prevent big plays. In 2017, Gilmore or Butler should hold down the fort here.

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PHYSICAL/BOUNDARY CORNERBACK

2000 Ty Law

2001 Ty Law

2002 Ty Law

2003 Ty Law

2004 Ty Law/Earthwind Moreland

2005 Asante Samuel/Duane Starks

2006 Chad Scott

2007 Asante Samuel

2008 Deltha O’Neal/Lewis Sanders

2009 Leigh Bodden

2010 Darius Butler

2011 Kyle Arrington/Antwaun Molden/Phillip Adams/Ras-I Dowling

2012 Ras-I Dowling/Aqib Talib

2013 Aqib Talib

2014 Logan Ryan/Brandon Browner

2015 Logan Ryan

2016 Logan Ryan/Eric Rowe

SUMMARY: The Patriots have a proud heritage of press cornerbacks such as Ty Law, Aqib Talib, and Leigh Bodden (in 2009). They like bigger players with heavy hands who have plus ball skills and can play off-man. Even though some of these guys are a little slow, even the likes of Logan Ryan (6.69) and Eric Rowe (6.70) had 3-cone times well-above average. With Ryan off to Tennessee, Rowe looks poised to take over his spot next year. Rowe is a physical specimen and played well in 2016. Hopefully, he can keep up his high level of play for next year.

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SLOT CORNERBACK

2000 Otis Smith

2001 Terrell Buckley

2002 Terrell Buckley

2003 Asante Samuel

2004 Randall Gay

2005 Randall Gay

2006 Ellis Hobbs

2007 Randall Gay

2008 Jonathan Wilhite

2009 Jonathan Wilhite/Pat Chung

2010 Kyle Arrington

2011 Kyle Arrington/Sterling Moore

2012 Kyle Arrington/Marquice Cole

2013 Logan Ryan/Kyle Arrington

2014 Logan Ryan/Kyle Arrington

2015 Tarell Brown/Devin McCourty

2016 Cyrus Jones/Logan Ryan/Jonathan Jones

Slot cornerbacks in New England tend to struggle when they get kicked out to the perimeter due to injuries, but when they can stay in the slot they tend to succeed. Kyle Arrington, Randall Gay, and Jonathan Wilhite are all part of the Patriots’ proud history of smaller cornerbacks. On the other hand, the Patriots’ slot cornerback this year was Logan Ryan, who really stepped up when he was moved to the position after struggling on the perimeter. In 2017, Cyrus Jones should get a second chance, although he may not be the best cornerback 2016 rookie who went to college in Alabama on the team. Auburn’s Jonathan Jones came to camp as a gunner but thrived when he got playing time late in the season, and he deserves a look at CB, too. Either way, one of the Joneses or holdover Justin Coleman should get first crack here.

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PROSPECT FITS: The Patriots may not take a cornerback until Day 3 this year, but this is a really deep group with a lot of talent. They will look for cornerbacks with good three cones and ball skills to add to their team. If the Patriots splurge early on a corner, Adoree Jackson adds versatility thanks to his return ability and Kevin King tested through the roof. Later in the draft, Howard Wilson of Houston and Shaquill Griffin of UCF are both athletic, smaller players who tested well at the Combine and have very good ball skills. Another Houston Wilson, Brandon Wilson, has return experience and could be an interesting addition as well.