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 the team’s starting strong safety.
Name: Patrick Chung
Position: Strong safety
Jersey number: 23
Opening day age: 30
Size: 5’11, 215 lbs.
2016 review: Ever since 2014, when he returned from his one-year stint with the Philadelphia Eagles, Patrick Chung has been the Patriots’ undisputed starting strong safety. Last year was no different: The veteran, who appeared in all 19 of New England’s 2016 games, was a key member of the NFL’s top scoring defense and played the third-most snaps on the unit.
Overall, Chung played 96.4% of snaps during the regular season (1,006 of 1,044) and 89.8% during the playoffs (168 of 187). In addition to being an important member of the Patriots’ defense, Chung also was an key cog of the team’s special teams units in 2016: The former second round pick played a combined 257 of 543 snaps in the kicking game (47.3%).
Chung once again proved to be among the best strong safeties in the NFL – despite not quite playing at the same All-Pro-worthy levels he did in 2014 and 2015. A versatile and physical defender, he was used close to the line of scrimmage serving as a) a quasi additional linebacker when the Patriots were in a nickel or dime formation, or b) in coverage of tight ends, slot receivers and running backs.
Overall, Chung finished the season with a combined 101 tackles – second-most on the team behind Logan Ryan – while also adding six quarterback pressures, among them one sack. He also was the target of 77 pass attempts, allowing 51 completions (66.2%) for 571 yards and three touchdowns. Chung also registered an interception and broke up five passes thrown his way.
And while the numbers do not look overly spectacular, Chung was a valuable member of New England’s defense once again.
2017 preview: Seeing the Patriots address the strong safety position over the course of the 2017 offseason would not have been a surprise. However, despite Chung turning 30 in August and the depth behind him consisting of relatively inexperienced defenders Nate Ebner, Brandon King and Jordan Richards, New England did not invest a draft choice in a strong safety.
Consequently, Chung’s role heading into the 2017 season appears to remain unchanged despite four undrafted safeties being added to the team following the draft: The two-time Super Bowl winner will be back as a starting member of the Patriots’ secondary.
He is once again projected to play around 90% of defensive snaps while also seeing regular action on special teams. Due to his role, which is not expected to change much despite some struggles in 2016, he will also likely be among the team leaders when it comes to tackles.
Given the lack of depth behind Chung, though, the team will have to hope that those projections will turn out to be accurate. If they are, and fellow safeties Devin McCourty and free agency re-signee Duron Harmon stay healthy as well, the Patriots will again field one of the league’s better safety corps.