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New England Patriots 2019 roster breakdown: #24 CB Stephon Gilmore

Arguably the NFL’s best cornerback, Gilmore returns for another season as the Patriots’ number one.

Super Bowl LIII - New England Patriots v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

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 the best defenders in all of football.

Name: Stephon Gilmore

Position: Cornerback

Jersey number: 24

Age: 28

Experience: 7

Size: 6’1, 200 lbs.

2018 review: Stephon Gilmore entered the second season of the five-year, $65 million contract that he signed with the Patriots during 2017’s free agency with high expectations. After all, he established himself as a true shutdown cornerback over the second half of the 2017 campaign. A reliable and durable defensive back with a knack for the big play, he regularly showed his abilities to cover the NFL’s best offensive weapons one-on-one.

2018 was a continuation of that, and more. Gilmore appeared in all sixteen of the Patriots’ regular season contests and was on the field for a combined 1,014 of New England’s 1,043 defensive snaps (97.2%) — the most of all Patriots defenders and a clear improvement over his 77.0% playing time share a year earlier. What also improved was his performance as he became even more consistent as a coverage player than he already was in 2017.

Gilmore proved himself a cornerstone of the Patriots’ defense and the club’s top cornerback from week one on. Looking more confident than during his first year in the system, the 28-year-old surrendered only 37 pass completions on 90 targets during the regular season for just 403 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions. He also registered a sack, two forced fumbles, and one recovery. In short: Gilmore was the playmaker he was paid to be.

Playing some outstanding football as a press-man boundary defender also capable of guarding zones or playing from the slot, Gilmore finished the 2018 regular season as the highest-graded cornerback in the NFL by advanced analytics website Pro Football Focus. On top of it, he was also named a first-team All-Pro for the first time in his career, and showed why he very much belonged in the conversation of the best cornerbacks in the NFL right now.

The playoffs were further confirmation of that: Gilmore rarely left the field during the Patriots’ three postseason games, and missed only three of his club’s combined 188 defensive snaps (98.4%). His durability was not his only strength: going against some of the best the league had to offer last season — from Keenan Allen to Sammy Watkins to Brandin Cooks — Gilmore was able to elevate his game even further.

With the exception of a coverage breakdown against Allen in the divisional round and a long pass given up to Watkins in the AFC title game, Gilmore was essentially in lock-down mode all postseason long. Overall, he surrendered just 4 receptions on 16 targets for 133 yards. He did give up a touchdown, yes, but he also came away with two interceptions — the second of the which the game-clincher in Super Bowl 53. It doesn’t get much better than that.

2019 preview: Entering the third year of his contract, Gilmore’s role is set in stone: he will again serve as New England’s number one cornerback and thus allow the Patriots to essentially remove one offensive player from the equation. Consequently, the two-time Pro Bowler will therefore rarely leave the field again and form the core of New England’s secondary alongside safeties Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung.

Gilmore brings an impressive athletic skill set to the table and has shown the ability to function well within the Patriots’ secondary and its coverage schemes — whether they dictate him to play his speciality, man-to-man, or to line up in zone. Barring injury, Gilmore should therefore be expected to play more than 95% of New England’s defensive snaps yet again while oftentimes (but not exclusively) going against the most talented and physically imposing wide receivers the Patriots will face.

Last year, Gilmore was up to this task and showed that he was capable of standing up to whichever challenge he faced. And if judged by the few open practices so far this spring, 2019 should be more of the same: the veteran cornerback will continue to be one of the NFL’s true shutdown cornerbacks and live up to his $9.17 million salary cap hit — a number that was slightly brought down earlier this offseason by converting parts of Gilmore’s salary to a signing bonus.

The contractual change — the second within the last nine months — should not be seen as anything more than a business decision, though: Gilmore is still the Patriots’ best coverage player, and arguably also the best cornerback in all of football.