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 most experienced players.
Name: Devin McCourty
Position: Free safety
Jersey number: 32
Opening day age: 32
Size: 5’10, 195 lbs.
2018 review: Devin McCourty’s 2018 season began with the Patriots bringing his twin brother on board: in March, the club acquired cornerback Jason McCourty via trade from the Cleveland Browns and thus reunited the two for the first time since their days at Rutgers. The McCourty twins would go on to play key roles in New England’s journey towards its sixth title, with Devin once more serving as the team’s starting free safety.
In this role, the veteran was among the league’s best players at his position — a durable and productive defensive back capable of wearing numerous hats in the Patriots’ scheme-flexible defense. As such, he appeared in all nineteen of the club’s games in 2018 and was on the field for 96.3% of its defensive snaps during the regular season (1,004 of 1,043) and 98.4% during New England’s three playoff contests (185 of 188).
McCourty, who finished the season ranked as Pro Football Focus’ eleventh best safety, was successful no matter the role he played: he moved between deep centerfielder, two-safety back, or slot defender closer to the line of scrimmage on a regular basis. Due to his experience, vision, intelligence and range, the Patriots were able to use McCourty in different ways to get creative with the lineups and matchups in the secondary.
The team captain yet again proved himself to be a playmaker in what was a challenging role. While he did surrender 5 touchdowns, he only allowed 24 of 42 targets in his area to be completed for 232 yards. Of the incompletions, five were broken up by him with a sixth being intercepted and returned 85 yards for a touchdown in week eight against the Buffalo Bills. McCourty also registered two fumble recoveries on the year.
On top of it all, the 31-year-old also saw regular action on special teams. He played 184 kicking game snaps during the regular season (of 453; 40.6%) and added 30 more in the playoffs (of 92; 32.6%). He also had five tackles, as he again showed his value as a jack-of-all-trades: McCourty made an impact no matter how the team used him and did his job well even when forced to play different spots.
2019 preview: While there has been some speculation about a potential retirement during the week leading up to the Super Bowl, McCourty returned for his tenth season in the NFL; his tenth as a core player in the Patriots’ secondary. Despite turning 32 in August and being on the books with an $13.44 million salary cap hit in 2019 — the second highest on the team behind only Tom Brady — McCourty is a lock to be on New England’s roster again.
After all, the elder statesman of the team’s defense is still one of the NFL’s best defensive backs and an integral member of not just New England’s defense but also the club’s kicking game units. Furthermore, the team captain is also one of the leaders on the team. Considering this skill set in combination with the on-field versatility and consistency he brings to the table, McCourty will once again see more than 95% of defensive snaps.
His 2019 campaign therefore projects to look similar to his last six ever since he switched from cornerback to full-time free safety following the 2012 season: the veteran will be one of the premier safeties in the league and a key player on New England’s defense — one capable of lining up both as a deep-field safety and as a man-to-man coverage option closer to the line of scrimmage. No matter the coverage the Patriots run, McCourty can play it at an exceptionally high level.
As such, he continues to be a valuable member of New England’s team as a whole. And even though finding a suitable long-term successor (maybe slot cornerback Jonathan Jones?) will have to be on the team’s agenda sooner rather than later, the time to make those decisions has not yet arrived; McCourty is as reliable a player as he has ever been since making the move to safety.