With opening day still three months away and the mandatory portion of the initial wave of offseason workouts over, we have entered the more quiet parts of the NFL offseason. However, while the football world seemingly turns slower these days it does not stop.
During workouts and OTAs, players still have a chance to lay the foundation for 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 Patriots' depth defensive backs.
Name: Will Likely
Jersey number: 33b
Opening day age: 22
Size: 5’7, 175 lbs.
2016 review: Before tearing his ACL during the sixth game of the year, Will Likely served as one of Maryland's starting cornerbacks, while also being used as a kick returner and part-time wide receiver. On defense, the versatile Likely registered 32 tackles as well as one sack, one fumble recovery and three pass breakups.
He also was productive as a returnman, running back eight kickoffs for 219 yards (27.4 yards/return) as well as eight punts for a total of 26 yards (3.3 yards/return). Likely did not enjoy the same success on offense: He carried the ball twice for a combined 15 yards and caught one pass, losing five yards in the process.
Due to his knee injury, which forced him to miss the remainder of his senior season, as well as his short statue, Likely ultimately went undrafted in 2017. He remained on the open market until early June, when the Patriots signed him to a contract.
2017 preview: When New England brought him aboard, Likely became the ninth cornerback on the roster. As such, he faces an uphill battle for practice reps and as a result a spot on the team’s roster or practice squad. What does not help him is his height: At 5’7, Likely is the smallest defensive back currently under contract by the Patriots – which limits his usage to the coverage of smaller receivers.
His best chance of making either the team or the practice squad does therefore probably not come on defense (or offense, for that matter) but in the return game. New England lacked a constant presence at kickoff or punt returner the last few seasons and could turn to Likely. After all, the 22-year old has been among college football’s best returnmen throughout his time in Maryland.
If he can build on this experience, he might have a chance to earn a spot as a special teamer and nickel cornerback. Thus, Likely’s most prominent competition for a spot on the roster might be former second round pick Cyrus Jones. Like Jones, Likely saw some kick return reps during minicamp. And while Jones is still the favorite to win a spot on the 53-man roster, a solid summer – without any medical setbacks – might be enough to earn Likely one of the 10 practice squad positions.