The New England Patriots secondary is stacked with starting-caliber talent. Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, and Duron Harmon have to be one of the strongest safety trios in the league, while Malcolm Butler, Stephon Gilmore, and Eric Rowe should form one of the best cornerback trios- and that’s before 2016 second round CB Cyrus Jones even thinks about mounting a comeback.
Pro Football Focus (PFF) is releasing factoids all offseason and a few include important mentions of the Patriots 2017 cornerbacks- and PFF seems to be big fans of the talent the Patriots have assembled.
Butler was named to PFF’s All Pro First Team for his performance in 2016, where he ranked 5th in their overall cornerback ranking. Butler ranked as high as third in their rankings before his status fell a little during the postseason (which is a little unfair, in my opinion).
The Patriots believe that Butler isn’t tall enough to be a top-dollar cornerback, but the team will find a way to use Butler to erase the shorter receivers on opposing rosters on a weekly basis- sometimes without safety help.
"What do you think, should we throw into Stephon Gilmore's coverage?"— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) May 21, 2017
"Nah, probably not." pic.twitter.com/woi2zAPbFt
Gilmore ranked 5th in PFF’s “Targets per Coverage Snap” ranking, which shows that teams opted to throw the ball in a different direction whenever they could. This isn’t because the Bills were lacking talent on the field- Ronald Darby is a very talented young cornerback- but because Gilmore has a habit of making opposing quarterbacks regret throwing in his direction.
Pro Football Focus has a “Playmaker Index” which looks at the number of cornerback targets result in an interception or a pass break-up. While Gilmore doesn’t rank in the top five of this ranking, he comes in 10th place, getting his hand on 16.2% of targets.
Butler ranks 7th at 17.8%.
With Stephon Gilmore and Malcolm Butler, the Patriots will head into 2017 with two of the top CBs in our Playmaker Index. pic.twitter.com/SGHahUKJ7D— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) May 14, 2017
Oh, and say “hi” to former Patriots cornerback Cre’von LeBlanc one rank ahead of Butler in 6th place. Let’s see if he becomes “the one that got away” in future years.
The Patriots acquired Rowe for a 2018 fourth round pick that could improve to a third round pick if he plays 50% of the snaps this upcoming year. With a MonStars line-up of wide receivers in 2017, the 6’1 Rowe should have a real chance of hitting that mark.
Rowe ranks second in PFF’s completion rate for cornerbacks, behind Minnesota Vikings CB Xavier Rhodes. Another great cornerback in New York Giants CB Janoris Jenkins ranks third. Don’t laugh at the pair of San Francisco 49ers on the list, either- the cornerbacks were about the only position that played well in 2016.
Of course, this statistic isn’t just an individual ranking. Rowe received plenty of safety help, especially against stars like Cincinnati Bengals WR A.J. Green and Atlanta Falcons WR Julio Jones, which makes the window for a completion much smaller for the quarterback.
If the Patriots play the nickel with three cornerbacks, then look for Rowe to continue to receive safety help from Devin McCourty, while Butler and Gilmore play on an island against their match-ups.
For example, when the Patriots play the Atlanta Falcons in week 7, look for Butler to cover slot receiver Taylor Gabriel on an island, while Stephon Gilmore gets Mohamed Sanu on an island and Rowe gets safety help against Julio Jones.
There are plenty of other combinations for the Patriots cornerbacks, but the bottom line is that New England has strong depth at the position no matter how head coach Bill Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia choose to deploy them.