The New England Patriots head into the 2017 camp season with a stacked roster and few roster battles left to play out. Head coach Bill Belichick has assembled a team that projects to be strong with talent throughout the entire 53-man roster, including multiple back-ups that could be considered starting-level talents, with few exceptions.
The most glaring exception comes at the strong safety position, where I believe that SS Patrick Chung is the most irreplaceable non-Brady player on the team this year. Chung isn’t the best player on the team- he might not even crack my top five of best defenders at this point- but he provides such great versatility to the defense that the team might struggle to function without him.
QB Tom Brady is clearly the best player on the team and losing him would be a major blow to the success of the team, even with QB Jimmy Garoppolo is waiting in the wings. He might not be a top 10 quarterback, but I think that Garoppolo could navigate this roster into the playoffs. Yet anything short of a Super Bowl run would be a major drop off in production.
Other players are far better than Chung, too, like TE Rob Gronkowski, WR Julian Edelman, CB Malcolm Butler, CB Malcolm Butler, and FS Devin McCourty. But each one of those players has a capable back-up ready to start. TE Dwayne Allen, WR Brandin Cooks (or WR Chris Hogan or WR Danny Amendola), CB Eric Rowe, and FS Duron Harmon could all take the field and the Patriots would continue to chug along, if at a slightly less-dominant clip.
Third-year SS Jordan Richards is behind Chung in the depth chart, who is such a question mark that he played a mere 18 defensive snaps last year and was inactive for 5 regular season game and the entire postseason. Alternatively, the Patriots might rely on Nate Ebner who also saw 18 defensive snaps in 2016 as a part of the goal line package. Regardless, the drop off from Chung to his back-up is greater than pretty much every other position on the roster.
There are a few others that deserve some mention, but going from LB Dont’a Hightower to LB Shea McClellin or from EDGE Trey Flowers to EDGE Kony Ealy or from DT Alan Branch to DT Vincent Valentine seems like a much less concerning decline in ability. Even OT Cameron Fleming and OG Ted Karras gained starting experience in 2016 and played well enough.
Chung turns 30 in August and is coming off a year well below his otherworldly contributions in 2014 and 2015, but he’s still the glue in the Patriots defense. His ability to shift from the slot to linebacker to safety allows the Patriots to play multiple different styles on defense without changing personnel. I would bet on Chung regressing back (in a positive way) to the quality contributions of his previous years, too.
The Patriots would obviously love to avoid injuries in 2017, but I think that Chung is one player on the roster they can’t afford to lose.
Who is the most irreplaceable non-Tom Brady player on the Patriots?
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