We have entered the quiet parts of the NFL offseason. Free agency and the draft are behind us, while minicamp and training camp won't start until early June and late July, respectively. However, while the football world seemingly turns slower these days it does not stop.
After all, until the late-August's roster cuts, players need to have secured their spots on the team. Over the course of the next few months, we will take a look at the men fighting for them on the 2017 New England Patriots. 53 of currently 90 players will be asked to help the team defend its Super Bowl title.
Today, we’ll continue the series with one of the team's depth cornerbacks.
Name: Justin Coleman
Jersey number: 22
Opening day age: 24
Size: 5’11, 190 lbs.
2016 review: After a promising rookie campaign, Justin Coleman entered 2016 as a top candidate to earn the third cornerback role behind Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan. Early on during the season, this was exactly his role: He and rookie Cyrus Jones shared slot cornerback duties, with Coleman seeing a tad more playing time.
Following their week 10 loss against the Seattle Seahawks, though, the search for a starting trio at cornerback was over – and neither Coleman nor Jones were part of the rotation. With Eric Rowe joining Butler and Ryan as the top players at the position, Coleman was relegated to a reserve role and played only four more snaps on defense for the rest of the season.
Overall, the former undrafted free agent appeared in 10 games and played 227 of a possible 1,044 defensive snaps (21.7%) during the regular season. He also saw part-time duty on special teams (65 of 449 snaps; 14.5%). However, he was a healthy scratch for all three of the Patriots’ postseason games.
When he was on the field, Coleman was a serviceable but unspectacular contributor. He was the target of 21 pass attempts, allowing 10 completions (47.9%) for 129 yards and one touchdown. And while he also broke up three passes, he also was responsible for 63 penalty yards on five calls against him – both tied for the defensive lead.
2017 preview: After the Super Bowl, the Patriots opted to keep the exclusive rights free agent in the fold by placing the highest tender on him (hitting the salary cap with a non-guaranteed $615,000). But while the team thinks highly enough of him to bring him back for another offseason, Coleman has to fight for his roster life over the next three months.
With New England’s cornerback depth chart not looking drastically different from last year’s – the only difference being Logan Ryan’s spot getting filled by Stephon Gilmore –, Coleman is in a solid position to earn the fifth or sixth spot once again. In order to do so, he will have to outperform his competition on both defense and special teams.
Coleman will fight against Cyrus Jones and undrafted rookies D.J. Killings and Kenny Moore for what appears at best to be two roster spots. And while he lacks the upside the other three have, Coleman is the most experienced player of the group and has proven capable of playing competitive football in the NFL.
Whether this will be enough to win a spot on either the 53-man roster or the practice squad remains to be seen. It would not be a surprise, though, to see the coaching staff go with upside instead of experience, considering how deep the team’s secondary currently is. If Coleman is not up to the challenge and solidifies his standing on the team, his time in Foxboro will likely come to an end.