The New England Patriots, who will be off until training camp starts in late July, currently have 90 players on their active roster. However, only 53 of them will be able to survive the cutdowns on August 31 and ultimately make the team. Over the course of the summer, we will take a look at the players fighting for those spots to find out who has the best chances of helping the Patriots defend their Super Bowl title.
Today, the series continues with one of New England’s veteran players:
Name: Duron Harmon
Position: Free safety
Jersey number: 21
Size: 6’1, 205 lbs.
2018 review: Duron Harmon’s 2018 did not start well: coming off a Super Bowl loss, he was detained in Costa Rica after a combined 58 grams of marijuana were found in his luggage on a flight into the country from Fort Lauderdale. The incident did not result in any discipline from the NFL, however, and by the time preparations for the upcoming season started everything was back to normal for the veteran defender.
In general, Harmon’s 2018 season looked a lot like his first five since entering the league as a third-round draft pick in 2013 (the main difference might very well have been his jersey number, as he switched from #30 to #21 after the arrival of cornerback Jason McCourty). He again served as the Patriots’ number three safety alongside Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung, and was once more a valuable and durable member of the team’s secondary.
In this role, he appeared in all nineteen of the Patriots’ combined regular season and playoff games in 2018, and provided a mix of solid deep-field coverage, playmaking ability, and leadership. Overall, the Rutgers product was on the field for 636 of the Patriots’ 1,043 defensive snaps during the regular season (61.0%) before adding an additional 61 (of 188; 32.4%) over New England’s three postseason contests.
As usual, Harmon was a productive player as a versatile rotational defensive back for the Patriots: forming a solid core at the safety position with McCourty and Chung, he finished the year with a combined 38 tackles as well as four interceptions; tied for the team-lead with All-Pro cornerback Stephon Gilmore. Furthermore, he surrendered only one touchdown into his coverage area and allowed just 7 of 13 passes to be completed for 90 yards. He also recovered a fumble.
All in all, Harmon once again lived up to his nickname ‘The Closer’ as a player coming up with big plays in big moments. All four of his interceptions, for example, came either in the second or fourth quarter — right before halftime or the end of regulation. His biggest moments of the season, however, might have come when the spotlight was the brightest: in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl 53, on back-to-back plays.
With the Patriots up by seven, he first helped break up a potential touchdown pass from Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff to wide receiver Brandin Cooks. Then, on the very next play, he blitzed from the secondary to force an ill-advised pass. Stephon Gilmore was able to step in front of it to record what turned out to eventually be a game-clinching interception. And while Harmon did not show up on the stat sheet for either play, his impact was very much felt.
2019 preview: Entering the third season of a four-year, $20 million contract he signed with the Patriots in 2017, Harmon will be on the club’s books in 2019 with a salary cap hit of $4.75 million. Considering his role as a versatile playmaker and part-time starter in one of the NFL’s best secondaries, the deal represents very good value and is still reflective of Harmon’s role on the team: he is a core member in the defensive backfield.
As such, he is expected to again see considerable playing time and be on the field for around 60% of the Patriots’ snaps. Harmon, as has been the case in the past, will once more be used as a deep-field defender in single-high or two-deep coverage schemes by the Patriots; he will also give the club both depth and flexibility at the safety position that will allow Devin McCourty to be moved around the formation to create coverage advantages.
After all, Harmon is the one safety on New England’s roster whose skill set is coming closest to McCourty’s as a rangy centerfield player. This, in turn, allows the Patriots to diversify their schemes and take advantage of Harmon’s intelligence, experience, and abilities to read and react to plays. Consequently, he will again play a key role on New England’s defense in 2019 — and likely come up with big plays when the team needs them.