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New England Patriots 2018 roster breakdown: #24 CB Stephon Gilmore

New England’s best cornerback is in line for a second-year jump.

NFL: New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

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 the Patriots’ number one cornerback.

Name: Stephon Gilmore

Position: Cornerback

Jersey number: 24

Opening day age: 27

Experience: 6

Size: 6’1, 190 lbs.

2017 review: On the first day of 2017’s free agency period, the Patriots made a huge splash when they signed unrestricted free agent and former Buffalo Bills first-round selection Stephon Gilmore to a five-year, $65 million contract. The message the deal sent was clear: Gilmore would be New England’s number one cornerback for the foreseeable future. During his first year with the team he was just that – at least in part.

As a day-one starter, Gilmore appeared in 13 of the Patriots’ regular season contests. Missing three games with concussion and ankle issues, the 2016 Pro Bowler played a combined 816 of New England’s 1,060 defensive snaps (77.0%) through the first 16 games of the year before adding 216 through the playoffs. Going against the NFL’s best teams in the postseason, Gilmore did not leave the field even once.

Gilmore started his Patriots tenure slowly and struggled over the first four games of the year. Coming from a primarily zone-based coverage scheme, the veteran oftentimes looked lost and had issues reading plays and communicating with his fellow defensive backs. He showed some slight improvements in week five before missing the next three games due to the aforementioned injuries. After his week nine return, however, Gilmore was lights out.

Over the Patriots’ final 11 games, the high-priced free agency addition looked like a completely different player: Routinely going one-on-one against opposing top wideouts, Gilmore turned into the shutdown cornerback New England was investing in. Looking visibly more confident and able to carry out his assignments without any issues, he became arguably the team’s most consistent defender through the season’s home stretch.

The stat sheet from Gilmore’s season therefore still looks good despite the early season struggles. All in all, he gave up 41 of 83 passes thrown his way (49.9%) for 580 yards and three touchdowns – all while registering two interceptions and 13 pass breakups. In short: Gilmore was productive during his first year in New England and, after overcoming some early-season adversity, showed his potential and upside.

2018 preview: Entering the second year of his contract, Gilmore’s role on the Patriots defense is set in stone: He will again serve as the team’s number one cornerback, trying to build on an encouraging second half of the 2017 season. And if the few open practices of this year’s organized team activities and mandatory minicamp are any indication, he is well on his way to do just that and make the famous second-year jump.

The 27-year old will therefore rarely leave the field: After all, he brings an impressive athletic skill set to the table and has shown the ability to function well within the Patriots’ secondary and its man-coverage schemes. Barring injury, Gilmore should be expected to play more than 90% of New England’s defensive snaps and usually go against the most talented and physically imposing wide receivers the Patriots will face this upcoming season.

Last year, Gilmore was mostly up to this task and grew more comfortable in the role as the season progressed. 2018 should be more of the same: Ideally, the 6’1, 190 lbs cornerback will establish himself as one of the NFL’s true shutdown cornerbacks and live up to his $12.5 million salary cap hit, which is the second highest on the team behind quarterback Tom Brady’s $22.0 million.