The New England Patriots currently have the maximum of 90 players on their active roster. However, only 53 of them will be able to survive the cutdowns on September 1 and ultimately make the team. Over the next weeks, we will take a look at the players fighting for those spots to find out who has the best chances of helping the Patriots recapture the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
Today, the series continues with a member of the Patriots’ starting safety trio.
Name: Duron Harmon
Position: Free safety
Jersey number: 21
Opening day age: 27
Size: 6’1, 205 lbs.
2017 review: Early during last year’s free agency, the Patriots re-signed Harmon to a $20.0 million contract that will keep him in New England through the 2020 season. The first year of this deal already showed why keeping the former third-round pick was a good investment: He again served as the Patriots’ number three safety and was a valuable and durable member of the team’s secondary.
Harmon appeared in all 19 of the team’s 2017 games and provided a mix of solid deep-field coverage, playmaking ability, and leadership. Overall, the Rutgers product was on the field for a career-high 702 of the Patriots’ 1,060 defensive snaps during the regular season (66.2%) before adding an additional 131 (of 216; 60.6%) over New England’s three postseason contests.
As usual, Harmon was a productive defensive back for the Patriots: Forming a solid core at the safety position with Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung, he finished the year with a combined 29 tackles as well as a team-high five interceptions. Furthermore, he registered eight pass deflections and allowed only two of ten passes thrown towards his coverage areas to be completed – for only nine yards.
Harmon, a first-time team captain in 2017, again proved to be a reliable and productive player as he once more came up with multiple big plays. None of those plays was bigger, arguably, than his game-sealing interception against the Pittsburgh Steelers in week 15. The end zone pick was a perfect example of Harmon reading the play correctly and being in a position to capitalize.
2018 preview: Entering the second year of his aforementioned contract, Harmon is on New England’s books with a salary cap hit of $3.75 million – very good value for a player of his caliber and role as a de-facto starter on the defense. As such, the 27-year old, who changed jersey numbers this offseason, will again see considerable playing time and be on the field for around 60% of the Patriots’ defensive snaps.
As has been the case in the past, the Patriots will use Harmon as a deep safety in single-high or two-deep schemes. As the team’s fifth defensive back, he will also provide both depth and scheme flexibility and allow New England to move Devin McCourty all over the formation to create coverage advantages. After all, Harmon is the only safety on the roster coming close to McCourty’s elite skill set as a centerfield player.
This, in turn, allows New England to diversify its defensive schemes and take advantage of Harmon’s intelligence and abilities to read and react to plays. Consequently, he will again play a key role on the Patriots’ defense in 2018 – one that may not get the broad recognition it deserves but is an important one nevertheless – and come up with big plays.