It’s Hype Week at SB Nation and we’re looking at the players and positional groups on every team that fans should be excited to watch in 2017.
New England Patriots fans have a lot to be excited about heading into 2017. Their team is the reigning Super Bowl champion, their quarterback is playing some of the best football in his career, and their roster has never had better depth under head coach Bill Belichick.
Young players like EDGE Trey Flowers and RG Shaq Mason are prepared to take a major leap in production. Every offensive skill position has a ton of talent and a bunch of new toys for fans to watch while on the edge of their seats.
If you’re amped to watch WR Brandin Cooks and WR Julian Edelman on the same field, or to see how TE Rob Gronkowski looks coming back from injury, or whether running backs like Mike Gillislee, Rex Burkhead, James White, and Dion Lewis are the real deal, I can’t blame you. All of those players deserve the attention.
But I’m most excited to watch the Patriots cornerbacks in action because I think they have the chance to be the best in the NFL.
CB Malcolm Butler is coming off an All Pro season and has improved in each of his three seasons in the league. He’s entering a contract year and is as hungry as ever at 27 years of age. He’s already one of the top five or ten cornerbacks in the league and he’s still getting better.
Opposite of Butler is new signing CB Stephon Gilmore. Gilmore often shadowed the #1 receiver during his time with Buffalo and ranks in the top ten of the league in passes defended since entering the league in 2012. The Bills struggled to provide a solid safety behind Gilmore- he often played on an island in Rex Ryan’s defense, just like Darrelle Revis did with the Jets- so look for FS Devin McCourty to allow Gilmore to be even more aggressive at attacking the football.
Butler and Gilmore provide the Patriots with two #1 cornerbacks in their prime for the first time in the Bill Belichick era (Ty Law and Asante Samuel overlapped in 2003-04, but Samuel was not yet a ballhawk and Law was on his way out). Butler can handle the shorter and slower receivers, while Gilmore can cover everyone else. This will be a tandem that can play man coverage at a high level and can match-up well against every receiver duo in the league.
As exciting as it will be to watch Trey Flowers potentially emerge as a superstar edge defender, or to see Brandin Cooks flying down the field, I’m eager to watch Butler and Gilmore shut down opposing receivers for sixty minutes every week.
And when you add in the fact CB Eric Rowe is in the middle of his first offseason with the Patriots (remember that he was acquired after the preseason) and should build off his strong inaugural season in New England, and that Jonathan Jones is looking like a solid contributor in the slot, and that Cyrus Jones can only improve after his disappointing rookie season, the Patriots cornerbacks could challenge for the title of best in the league.
If McCourty can have an encore performance as an All Pro safety and SS Patrick Chung can regain his elite form from 2014-15, this could be the most talented secondary Belichick has ever fielded.