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 premier free agency signing.
Name: Stephon Gilmore
Jersey number: 24
Opening day age: 26
Size: 6’1, 190 lbs.
2016 review: Stephon Gilmore entered the fifth and final year of his rookie contract as the Buffalo Bills’ number one cornerback. The former 10th overall draft pick did not entirely live up to the role in 2016: While he was dominant during the second half of the season resulting in his first Pro Bowl nomination, Gilmore was up-and-down through its first nine weeks.
Arguably the lowest point came against the Patriots: When the Bills faced his future team, Gilmore consistently struggled in one-on-one coverage. On the day, he gave up four receptions on five targets for 105 yards and a touchdown – a 53-yard play which saw ex-Bill Chris Hogan beat his former teammate deep. To make matters worse, he also was flagged twice (two of a team-high nine penalties in 2016).
After the bye week, however, Gilmore was able to turn things around and became a much more consistent defender. Growing more confident in the defense and taking advantage of his elite skill set, his yards per target sank from 10.8 to 6.5 through the latter half of the season – despite still regularly lining up opposite number one wide receivers.
Overall, Gilmore appeared in 15 of Buffalo’s games in 2016 and played the third most defensive snaps on the team (981 of 1,071; 91.6%). And thanks to his home stretch, he finished the year with a very respectable star line: Gilmore gave up 40 receptions on 69 targets for 625 yards and two touchdowns while also registering a team-high five interceptions.
He added 48 tackles and 12 pass breakups and set himself up nicely for a big free agency payday after the season. And despite some early struggles in 2016, he received one from the unlikeliest of all teams: the Patriots.
2017 preview: Signing a five-year, $65.0 million free agency contract with the Patriots, Gilmore’s role in New England seems to be predetermined even before he played a single competitive snap for the team: The 26-year old will serve as the starting perimeter cornerback opposite Malcolm Butler, adding more than just size – standing at 6’1, 190 lbs – to the Patriots’ cornerback corps.
Gilmore also brings an impressive athletic skill set to the table and has been noted as an intelligent and physical defender. As such, he appears to be well suited to go one-on-one against some of the talented and physically imposing wide receivers the Patriots’ defense is scheduled to face this upcoming season.
And while he was inconsistent in this role early on in 2016, he will be in an ideal position to succeed and build on his 2016 Pro Bowl campaign in New England. After all, Gilmore’s supporting cast in the secondary as well as on the coaching staff are superior to what he enjoyed in Buffalo. It would therefore not be a surprise to see him reach the potential which he displayed in spurts in the past and deliver his best season yet.