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’ fourth safety:
Name: Jordan Richards
Position: Strong safety / special teamer
Jersey number: 37
Opening day age: 25
Size: 5’11, 210 lbs.
2017 review: After playing almost exclusively on special teams in 2016, Jordan Richards entered 2017 as a potential roster casualty. Not only did he survive cut-downs, he even saw his role grow to become a semi-regular on defense again – as had been the case during his 2015 rookie campaign: the former second-round draft pick appeared in all 19 of New England’s games last season as a fourth safety and fixture in the kicking game.
Overall, Richards played 272 of a possible 1,060 defensive snaps during the regular season (25.7%) and added 44 more during the playoffs (of 216; 20.4%). The results were a mixed bag to put it mildly: While the Stanford product was serviceable as a run defender and finished with nine run-stops and a forced fumble, he struggled versus the pass. All in all, he was targeted 16 times and surrendered 14 catches for 154 yards and a touchdown.
Richards, who was ranked as the 80th best safety last season by Pro Football Focus, had particular issues in the Patriots’ biggest games: In the regular season battle for AFC supremacy against the Pittsburgh Steelers, he was unable to stop a long pass-and-run late in the fourth quarter. Richards also failed to make a positive impact during Super Bowl 52 and was one of the players regularly and successfully targeted by the Philadelphia Eagles.
While the third-year man had issues as a defender, he was again a core member of the Patriots’ special teams units and played 68.5% of kicking game snaps during the regular season (309 of 451) as well as 80.9% during the playoffs (72 of 89). Being used on all four units, Richards registered a combined six tackles and played a key role in New England’s kicking game groups being among the best in the game.
2018 preview: Entering the final year of his rookie contract on a salary cap hit of $1.18 million, Richards is in the same situation he was in last year: making the team is far from a guarantee even though the Patriots did not add any significant competition during the offseason. This year again Richards needs to prove that his contractual value aligns with his role as a depth defender and core special teamer.
Along the way, the 25-year old will also need to beat out a pair of second-year safeties in Damarius Travis and David Jones. Both spent last season on the practice squad and could challenge Richards’ standing on the roster. However, the veteran’s special teams productivity, experience, and ability to sub in on defense – even though the results were underwhelming in 2017 – still give him a leg up on his competition.
Fellow special teams aces Nate Ebner, coming off a torn ACL, and Brandon King – he of zero defensive snaps in three NFL seasons – could also impact Richards’ chances of making the team. Ultimately, though, it would not be unexpected to see the ex-second rounder sticking around for one more year in New England as a depth defensive back and four-unit kicking game player.