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17 years of Patriots: Analyzing safeties under Bill Belichick

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Safety time!

Super Bowl LI - New England Patriots v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Over the years, the safety position has been up and down for the Patriots. Going back through old Media Guides and videos surfaced some one-time starters that seem fairly incredible in hindsight, including Josh Barnett and James Ihedigbo. However, the Patriots actually seem to have some stability now at the position with Devin McCourty, Pat Chung, and newly re-upped Duron Harmon patrolling the backfield. Patriots safeties have to be versatile, with the ability to play man if needed, especially on tight ends and running backs. The team has three very distinctive safety positions, and at the moment all are humming along smoothly. It’s fun to remember some of the old back seven patrolmen, though.

Super Bowl XLII Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

DEEP SAFETY

2000 Tebucky Jones

2001 Tebucky Jones

2002 Tebucky Jones

2003 Eugene Wilson

2004 Eugene Wilson

2005 Eugene Wilson

2006 Eugene Wilson/Artrell Hawkins

2007 Eugene Wilson/James Sanders

2008 Brandon Meriweather

2009 Brandon Meriweather

2010 Brandon Meriweather

2011 Sergio Brown/Pat Chung

2012 Steve Gregory/Devin McCourty

2013 Devin McCourty

2014 Devin McCourty

2015 Devin McCourty

2016 Devin McCourty

SUMMARY: 2011 and 2012 were dark times for Patriots safeties, but ever since McCourty was pushed from cornerback to safety, the team has not looked back. Eugene Wilson and Brandon Meriweather are still underrated in my mind, but McCourty is undoubtedly the best of this bunch, with intelligence, ball skills, and speed to boot. The team’s third safety, Harmon, is a very viable backup as well, giving New England great depth.

Super Bowl XLII Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

WIDE SIDE SAFETY

2000 Lawyer Milloy

2001 Lawyer Milloy

2002 Lawyer Milloy

2003 Rodney Harrison

2004 Rodney Harrison

2005 Rodney Harrison/Michael Stone

2006 Rodney Harrison

2007 Rodney Harrison

2008 Rodney Harrison/James Sanders

2009 Brandon McGowan/Pat Chung

2010 Pat Chung/Jarrad Page

2011 Pat Chung/James Ihedigbo

2012 Pat Chung

2013 Steve Gregory

2014 Pat Chung

2015 Pat Chung

2016 Pat Chung

SUMMARY: The weakside safety often has to drop down and cover players in man while also providing some punch in the run game. Rodney Harrison, Lawyer Milloy, and Pat Chung have been present at this position for 16 of 17 years during Belichick’s tenure, and Chung is someone who I often think is unappreciated. He was the best defender on the field for the 2011/2012 New York Giants Super Bowl, and he tends to play intelligently and physically at all times despite his limitations. The Pat Chung redemption story is great, and I expect him to hold off all challengers, including fellow ex-second rounder Jordan Richards, from his starting spot next year.

Super Bowl LI - New England Patriots v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

THIRD SAFETY

2000 Larry Whigham

2001 Matt Stevens

2002 Victor Green

2003 Antwan Harris

2004 Don Davis

2005 James Sanders

2006 James Sanders

2007 Brandon Meriweather

2008 James Sanders/Lewis Sanders

2009 James Sanders

2010 James Sanders

2011 James Ihedigbo

2012 Tavon Wilson

2013 Duron Harmon

2014 Duron Harmon/Tavon Wilson

2015 Duron Harmon

2016 Duron Harmon

SUMMARY: This list is fun. So many great names - Matt Stevens, Victor Green, Tavon Wilson. Duron Harmon, however, may be the best of the bunch by the end of his career. I was surprised that there was not a bigger free agency market for the rangy Harmon, who is very intelligent and has the range to cover McCourty when he freelances in the middle of the field. His loss is the Patriots gain, however, as he serves as the best third safety on this team since the James Sanders era.

Nebraska v Iowa Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images

PROSPECT FITS: The Patriots are pretty stacked at safety, but special teams value and a general affinity for the position could dictate that they choose someone in the late rounds. New England has had some nice defensive back pipelines from Iowa and Auburn in recent years, and Desmond King and Rudy Ford are both athletic defensive backs who can make plays in the kicking game as well. Another sleeper who didn’t test well but showed up at the Senior Bowl is Lorenzo Jerome from Saint Francis, who has range and intelligence similar to Harmon. Justin Evans from Texas A&M is a bit overrated for me based on his tape, but he has special teams ability and is very athletic. Finally, local boy John Johnson from BC is a physical specimen who, if he slips, could be a nice addition to the team.