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 undrafted rookie signings.
Name: Malik Gant
Position: Strong safety
Jersey number: TBD (offseason #66)
Opening day age: 22
Size: 6’2, 200 lbs.
2018 review: Malik Gant entered his redshirt junior season as a starter in Marshall’s secondary: a physical safety excelling against the run, he went on to appear in all thirteen of his school’s games in 2018 and proved himself a versatile playmaker — one capable of lining up all over the formation, reacting quickly to plays (especially close to . the box) and being competitive in one-on-one coverage tight ends and bigger slot receivers.
Marshall’s coaching staff certainly knew how to use Gant’s skill set and the numbers reflect it: not only did he lead the team with two interceptions on the year, he also broke up an additional eight passes, registered a sack and three quarterback hits. A high-motor player that also saw regular action in the kicking game, Gant also added 95 tackles — nine of which for a loss of yardage — to his résumé.
His success in 2018 led him to be named first-team All-Conference USA and prompted Gant’s decision to enter the NFL draft despite another year of college eligibility. While he did not necessarily stand out during the scouting combine and ultimately went unselected in the draft, Gant managed to put himself on the radar of at least one team at the next level — the one that just so happened to come off a Super Bowl win.
2019 preview: The Patriots added Gant with their first wave of undrafted free agency signings to add depth to an already crowded secondary. What should help the rookie carve out a role, however, is his skill set: while not the most natural deep safety, he has the tools to function in a rotational strong safety/hybrid linebacker role at the next level and a potential special teamer from day one on.
Many of Gant’s attributes are similar to those of current Patriots strong safety and team captain Patrick Chung: both are physical and have strengths against the run, bring experience in coverage to the table, and have a knack for making big plays. The main difference, of course, is that Chung is far more polished and experienced — but Gant certainly has the athletic skills to potentially back up the 31-year-old.
What he will have to do in order to earn that role is to beat out Obi Melifonwu: the former second-round draft pick was New England’s number two strong safety down the stretch last year, but is far from a lock to make the team in 2019. If Gant, a younger option with more than just one year left on his contract, can push the veteran for playing time in preseason and practice, it would not be a surprise to see him eventually emerge as the winner.
But even if he does not, the practice squad would also be a suitable destination for the 22-year-old. Either way, Gant should find himself on a team’s pay roll this season based on his skills and upside. Ideally, that team is the Patriots.