Throughout this weird offseason I’ve maintained that the New England Patriots built this 90-man roster with two things in mind: versatility and competition. They were (and still are) looking for versatile players who can compete with each other to fill the open spots on the roster. Perhaps no position group embodies that philosophy quite like the safeties. You will see why in this tier.
Before you start reading check out all of the others. We only have the special team guys left so this is your last list with some substance to it.
- Running backs
- Wide receivers
- Tight ends & Fullbacks
- Offensive line
- Defensive line
Here is the list.
Devin McCourty — There has been one constant on the Patriots’ defensive side of the ball for the last decade, Devin McCourty. Patrick Chung spent one year in Philadelphia, Dont’a Hightower didn’t get to New England until 2012, and the next longest tenured Patriot defender after that is special teams linebacker Brandon King. McCourty has been the model of consistency in New England for 10 seasons now. He runs not just the safety group, but the entire secondary.
Kyle Dugger — The easy explanation here is, “He’s a second round pick,” but I believe Dugger has a real chance to contribute this year. Even if everyone stays healthy, Dugger’s versatility will give him an edge over some other guys for playing time. He can play in the box like Chung and even spent time as the single high safety in Lenoir Rhyne’s defense. He’ll most likely enter the season as a plug-and-play guy, taking most of the reserve snaps. He will also see a ton of time on special teams, and as the primary punt returner.
Patrick Chung — I feel like Pat Chung’s career gets overlooked a bit when we talk about New England greats. After returning to the Patriots following a disappointing campaign in Philly, he transformed himself into a different kind of safety: he moved into the box and became the primary cover guy on opposing tight ends, a role in which he has played very well. He slots to fill the same spot again this season.
Fringe Roster Guys
Adrian Phillips — I believe, like most people, that Phillips is your Duron Harmon replacement. He’ll play that robber role on the backend of the defense in certain packages and will contribute a ton in the kicking game (he’s a 2018 special teams All-Pro). He was close to being a “Roster Lock” but he’s coming off a season riddled with injuries and there are four other guys competing for this role. You never know who can shine during training camp, but it will most likely be Phillips.
Terrence Brooks — Brooks and Cody Davis are fighting it out for the fifth and final safety/special teams spot. Brooks is higher on the tier because he is the incumbent and has made the team before. His shot is really showing something on defense in camp because Davis has a major edge in the special teams department. Brooks was the fourth safety last year but only played 26.2% of the team’s defensive snaps. Now that he’s slotted down to fifth at the highest he will need to show out come July.
Cody Davis — Right now, before camp starts, Davis is my pick to secure that final safety spot. That obviously means nothing because we haven't seen anything yet but he has been an excellent special teamer in his career, and that is valued in New England more than perhaps anywhere else.
Adarius Pickett — Pickett has a cool football story. He battled from being a special teamer to number one safety at UCLA in his five seasons in Los Angeles. He has a “do-it-all” kind of game and makes plays. That is why he’s here and not in the “No Chance in Hell” category. Making plays is how you earn yourself a roster spot and I believe he has a bigger knack in doing so than the next man on our tier. He’s still a long shot, but has a higher ceiling than a no-chancer.
Camp Body (No Chance in Hell)
Malik Gant — This one was tough. Gant got the redshirt last season as the Patriots saw enough good that they decided he needed to stick around after his leg injury in the preseason finale. His story is similar to Pickett’s, he started at Marshall as a walk on and ended up earning a spot as a starting safety. Unfortunately I just don’t see him getting enough opportunities to prove himself. His versatility may get him some sort of opportunity but I believe it could also stretch him too thin. I don't see it for Gant.
No Chance List
- Brian Lewerke
- Gunner Olszewski
- Sean Riley
- Isaiah Zuber
- Devin Ross
- Najee Toran
- Courtney Wallace Jr.
- Terez Hall
- Lenzy Pipkins
- Malik Gant
That will do it for the safeties (and the entire defense.) I will have a defensive tier on my Twitter page as soon as this blog comes out. I’ll hit you guys with the special teamer at the end of the week then scramble to find something else to write about. Let me know who you guys think will earn reserve roles in the comments and follow me on twitter @KeaganStiefel.