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’ defensive team captains.
Name: Devin McCourty
Position: Free safety
Jersey number: 32
Opening day age: 30
Size: 5’10, 195 lbs.
2016 review: Devin McCourty is one of the best free safeties in the NFL and his 2016 season is further proof of that. As a centerpiece of one of the league’s premier secondaries, he appeared in all 19 of the Patriots’ 2016 games and almost never left the field: McCourty played a team-high 97.8% of snaps during the regular season (1,021 of 1,044) and was the only defender to play each of the unit’s 187 postseason snaps.
When on the field, McCourty was once again highly efficient in whichever role the coaching staff asked him to play – and the statistics are partly able to reflect this. Overall, he finished the year with 92 tackles and saw 41 pass attempts sail towards his coverage areas; 24 of them were completed (58.5%) for 231 yards two touchdowns. McCourty also registered two interceptions and five pass breakups.
What the veteran offers to the Patriots’ defense goes beyond the stat sheet, though. He also is a leader on and off the field, as evidenced by him being voted a team captain for the sixth straight season. Furthermore, he has a major schematic influence on the way New England is able to align and play defense because of his unique skill set.
Thanks to his vision, intelligence and range, the Patriots can play an aggressive man coverage scheme on the outside, while McCourty’s versatility allows the coaching staff to get creative with the secondary lineups. The former first round pick has seen time as a deep centerfielder last year, he played in two deep safety sets, as a slot defender and closer to the box. In short: McCourty did it all at an exceptionally high level.
2017 preview: Despite turning 30 in August and being on the books with a $10.9 million salary cap hit in 2017 – the third-highest on the team –, McCourty is a lock to be part of the Patriots’ opening day roster. He is still one of the NFL’s best defensive backs, after all, and an integral member of New England’s secondary and defense as a whole.
Bringing leadership, versatility and consistency to the table, McCourty will once again rarely leave the field and thus be among the team leaders in playing time. As the longest-tenured Patriots defender, he will also serve as a key communicator within the defensive backfield and lead the unit both on and off the field. Seeing him voted team captain for another season also seems just like a formality at this point.
All in all, Devin McCourty’s eighth year in the NFL projects to look similar to his last four (ever since he switched from cornerback to full-time free safety following the 2012 season): He will be one of the premier safeties in the league and a key player on New England's defense. And it would not be a surprise to see it end in another Super Bowl championship.