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 one of the Patriots’ team captains.
Name: Devin McCourty
Position: Free safety
Jersey number: 32
Opening day age: 31
Size: 5’10, 195 lbs.
2017 review: 2017 showed again that Devin McCourty is still one of the NFL’s elite safeties. As a core member of the Patriots’ secondary, he appeared in all 19 of his team’s games and rarely ever left the field: the veteran played 1,029 of 1,060 defensive snaps during the regular season (97.1%; second most on the team) and added 200 more during New England’s three-game playoff run (of 216; 92.6%).
McCourty was mostly successful in whichever role he played last year – no matter if he lined up as a deep centerfielder, in two safety sets, or as a slot defender closer to the line of scrimmage. Because of his vision, intelligence and range, the Patriots were again able to play an aggressive man coverage scheme, while McCourty’s versatility also allowed the coaching staff to get creative with the secondary lineups and matchups.
The seven-time team captain also played a key role in helping New England’s defensive backfield overcome its early-season growing pains: After chemistry was an issue through the first regular season games, McCourty’s presence as an experienced leader and communicator was important for the unit to find together and play at the level it should given the group’s talent.
The former first-round pick led by example: McCourty finished the year with a combined 111 tackles and saw just 20 of the 42 pass attempts sail towards his coverage areas get completed (47.6%) for 175 yards and three touchdowns. Furthermore, the veteran registered an interception and seven pass breakups as well as fumble recovery – all while also playing a combined 28.1% of special teams snaps (152 of 540).
Even though his eighth NFL season did not bring him his third Super Bowl ring, McCourty therefore still had a pretty successful season.
2018 preview: Despite turning 31 in August and being on the books with an $11.94 million salary cap hit in 2018 – the third-highest on the team –, McCourty is a lock to make the Patriots’ roster this season. He is still one of the NFL’s best defensive backs, after all, an integral member of New England’s defense and kicking game units, as well as one of the emotional leaders of the entire team.
Considering the versatility and consistency he brings to the table, McCourty will once again be on the field for more than 95% of defensive snaps and among the team leaders in playing time. The longest-tenured Patriots defender will again 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 a ninth straight year also seems to be a simple formality at this point.
All in all, Devin McCourty’s ninth year in the NFL projects to look similar to his last five (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 – a unit that will try to bounce back from a disappointing Super Bowl performance. McCourty, playing alongside his twin brother, will play a big part in making that happen.