The New England Patriots have had great secondary play for the past three seasons. With the combination of long-time veterans in the McCourty Twins, Stephon Gilmore, and Patrick Chung to go with young ascending talents like J.C. Jackson and Jonathan Jones, the team has put up historically great numbers against the pass. However, most of these players will likely be either on another team or potentially out of the NFL by the start of the 2022 season.
Of the mentioned players, only Jones is under contract after this coming season. Even he will enter the final year of a three-year extension signed before the 2019 season, though.
So, in order to offset what could be a potential mass exodus in their secondary, perhaps adding more young talent to the group is the answer for the Patriots. Fortunately for them, finding a great cornerback won’t be necessarily prohibitive in their current draft range. One such player who could be available will be coming out of a program that Bill Belichick trusts.
Name: Patrick Surtain II
School: Alabama (Junior)
Week 1 Age: 21
2020 Stats: 13 games, 32 tackles (18 solo), 10 pass deflections, 1 interception, Rose Bowl Defensive MVP
Size: 6’1” 202
Expected Draft Range: 1st/Top 15
Strengths: Surtain is the son of former NFL corner Patrick Surtain Sr, who had a lengthy career at the same position with the Miami Dolphins and Kansas City Chiefs. The younger Surtain has the ideal length and speed to be an effective boundary cornerback and excelled at the position for three seasons in Nick Saban’s defense at Alabama. His length and football IQ play well in a press-man system, which the Patriots also like to run. He has some experience playing in the slot, with him playing the majority of the 2019 opening week game against Duke there.
Been waiting to see this from Patrick Surtain II. Big corner but most of the time he played with no urgency to get off blocks. Noticed it several times in the zoom film session. Blows up the play here and forces the fumble. GREAT rep.— Crocky (@eric_crocker) January 23, 2021
Played nickel this entire game. (2019 Duke) pic.twitter.com/ZdCuWFBKfE
Weaknesses: The one question mark for Surtain is his timed speed, which only likely affects his projected ceiling as opposed to floor. Since the Senior Bowl is out of the question for the junior defender, the NFL Combine would have been his best chance to showcase his overall movement skills to some degree. Since there is no Combine this year, however, the times that scouts get on Pro Days will matter even more. If he ran 4.3-4.4 speed, I probably would put him in the Top 10.
His technique was extremely consistent. LSU/Auburn receivers didn’t challenge his movement skills. So questions about hips, feet, click and close, were not answered. Sound consistent technique showed up. Not 100% sure but I think I’m seeing a lack of suddenness and twitch.— Crocky (@eric_crocker) January 19, 2021
Those are big questions looming over Surtain in the pre-draft process because that is very much the difference between a cornerback who needs to be hidden in a scheme like a Logan Ryan or Malcolm Butler versus a corner like Stephon Gilmore who forces your opponent to play differently. It could very well be the reason that teams pass on him in the top-10 and give him a chance to fall all the way to New England at No. 15.
Why the Patriots should draft him: With the vast majority of the players in the secondary scheduled to hit free agency after the 2020 season, it is best to have a replacement at the ready when it happens. Surtain comes from one of the top college programs headed by one of Bill Belichick’s best disciples, so there is less of a transition to the Patriots defense than taking a corner out of a different program. Cornerbacks with Surtain’s length, speed, athleticism, and football IQ are very rare and we’ve seen what Belichick can do with those type of players over the years.
The Patriots’ defense is at its best when it can cover guys with just its secondary and have the liberty to scheme pressure up front with the linebackers.
Why the Patriots might not draft him: The biggest impediment is simply how the board will unfold. Surtain could go as early as the fifth overall selection, but could easily also drop as far as New England depending on how the teams ahead of them evaluate the quarterback and wide receiver classes. Another thing will be if the Patriots project Surtain to be a viable CB1. With the 15th overall pick, they shouldn’t draft a cornerback they are not sure is going to be that level of player with plenty of options at other positions to get some blue-chip talent onto a team lacking just that.
Who would he have to beat out: All the players mentioned at the top of the article are safe, so that means Surtain would have to compete with Joejuan Williams, a former second-round pick just two years ago who hasn’t been able to stand out, and possibly Myles Bryant and D’Angelo Ross for the third boundary cornerback role. The rest of the CB room would be fighting for depth and special teams roles. Surtain’s roster spot would be safe, though, and he would see rotational work early on as the Patriots figure out where to best play him.
2021 Role: Surtain would immediately see playing time in the kicking game on the coverage units and field goal block team, while also serving in a reserve/third boundary corner role — possibly competing against the aforementioned Williams, Bryant and Ross. He will see time both outside and possibly in the slot for a team looking to find a long-term role for him as a starter on defense.
2022 and later role: The idea is to have Surtain ready to be the CB1 when Stephon Gilmore and possibly J.C. Jackson leave via free agency. Another possibility to consider is what the team does with ascending Jackson: after leading the team with nine interceptions and having built a reputation for being a ballhawk — being among the league leaders in interceptions since entering the league as an undrafted free agent in 2018 — the Patriots certainly will need to figure out his market soon. If they are able to reach an extension then Surtain becoming a CB1 would not be as high a priority. It is more of a return on investment question, although having another potential elite cornerback duo is definitely enticing as it frees up resources to out-scheme the opponent like we saw the Patriots do back in Super Bowl 53.
Final thoughts: With an uncertain depth chart at the cornerback position after this season, adding someone who can contribute over the next five seasons in the defense is very important. By adding Surtain in the draft, the Patriots would put themselves in good position to develop another corner to take over the top role once Stephon Gilmore leaves. Top cornerbacks are hard to find in the NFL and typically require paying a premium price with a combination of draft capital and/or money to get.
The Patriots have done a solid job of developing corners in the past decade with Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan, J.C. Jackson and Jonathan Jones, and even elevated Stephon Gilmore from borderline Pro Bowler to potential Hall of Famer. Surtain has NFL bloodlines and grew up around that environment, so he should have an easier transition to the NFL culture than your average prospect.