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 team captains.
Name: Patrick Chung
Position: Strong safety
Jersey number: 23
Size: 5’11, 215 lbs.
2018 review: The 2018 season started and ended in style for Patrick Chung. The story of his tenth year in the league and ninth with the Patriots — he spent 2013 with the Philadelphia Eagles — essentially started in mid-March, when the veteran defender and the club agreed to a two-year contract extension worth $7.8 million. The deal ran through the 2020 season and was shaped to reflect Chung’s role in New England: he is a core defender.
2018 was a perfect example of that. Chung, who was voted a team captain for the first time in his career, again filled his role as the Patriots’ undisputed starting strong safety — a valuable player that serves as a defensive back/linebacker hybrid — admirably and was again a durable and reliable contributor: he played the fourth-most defensive snaps on the team and appeared in eighteen of New England’s nineteen games over the course of the season.
If not for a concussion suffered in the second week of the regular season that also forced him to sit out the Patriots’ next game, Chung certainly would have been on the field for more than his 887 regular season snaps (of 1,043; 85.0%). Nevertheless, he made the most of his comparatively limited playing time: the former second-round draft pick was a productive and physical presence in the Patriots’ defensive backfield.
His role looked like it did ever since he returned from Philadelphia in 2014. Chung played primarily close to the line of scrimmage as a quasi-linebacker when the Patriots were in a nickel or dime formation, and in coverage of tight ends, slot receivers and running backs. The three-down defender played the same role in the postseason, when he was on the field for 149 of the Patriots’ 188 snaps (79.3%). If not for a broken arm suffered in Super Bowl 53, Chung likely would have played 100% of New England’s defensive playoff snaps.
Chung’s defensive statistics are proof of his versatile skill set and usage by the Patriots. All in all, he finished the year with 97 tackles — the second most on the team behind Kyle Van Noy — and also regularly showed up as a pass rusher: Chung registered a half-sack, three quarterback hits and five hurries. Furthermore, he recovered a fumble and was active as a coverage player. Chung allowed only 56.9% of passes thrown his way to be completed (37 of 65) for 359 yards, four touchdowns and an interception.
On top of it all, the 31-year-old also was a regular member of the Patriots’ special teams units. Over the course of the season, he played 228 of a possible 545 snaps in the kicking game (41.8%) and registered a combined five tackles. And even though his special teams statistics are not outstanding, they still played a role in New England ending the 2018 season as Super Bowl winners.
2019 preview: Coming off another productive season as the team’s top strong safety, the Patriots and Chung agreed to a new contract: the two sides agreed to add an additional year to the defender’s existing deal that brings its total value over the next three seasons to $11.8 million. Chung’s role in 2019, when he hits New England’s books with a $4.5 million cap hit, is therefore projected to remain unchanged.
Chung will again serve as a starter in the Patriots’ defensive backfield and as the club’s top option as a box-safety — despite breaking his arm in early February. As such, the three-time Super Bowl winner will again see regular playing time on defense and special teams. Even though he is getting up there in age, Chung is projected to play around 90% of New England’s defensive snaps as well as an additional 40-ish% in the kicking game yet again.
Once more, he will be a key player on the Patriots from stopping the run and defending the underneath areas in the passing game, to playing on all four units in the kicking game, to serving as an off-field leader and team captain. New England has one of the best secondaries in all of football, and Chung’s role in it is a big reason for that — something that is not expected to change in 2019.