To say that losing J.C. Jackson is a blow to the New England Patriots’ cornerback depth chart would probably be an understatement. Not only was he the team’s number one option at the position and as such responsible for regularly going up one-on-one against opposing wide receivers, his departure also leaves the Patriots’ quite thin at cornerback.
Quite thin indeed, and a look at the current position depth chart after Jackson’s free departure to the Los Angeles Chargers shows just that.
The players listed here align primarily over the outside receivers. J.C. Jackson and fellow former ex-Patriot Stephon Gilmore both played primarily on the outside, even though they also moved into the slot on occasion.
The Patriots spent the majority of the 2021 season with Jackson and Jalen Mills manning the outside cornerback spots. The group was pretty good, which speaks for both players. That said, Mills did not perform at the same level as his teammate and showed little that would suggest he could take over the CB1 role moving forward.
At the time being, however, he is exactly that. The Patriots will add more players to the equation, but for now Mills stands as the top outside option on the team’s roster. Former second-round draft pick Joejuan Williams, who has disappointed ever since his arrival in New England in 2019, as well as 2021 rookie/trade acquisition Shaun Wade round out the group.
Justin Bethel, meanwhile, is primarily a special teamer. He projects as a “break glass in case of emergency” player on defense.
The players listed here align primarily in the slot, or sometimes even back deep in a safety setup. Their skillset is slightly different than that of the outside cornerbacks: quickness is more important than straight-line speed, for example.
Compared to the outside group, the Patriots’ top slot cornerback duo of Jonathan Jones and Myles Bryant is actually quite serviceable. That said, it is not without its questions either.
Jones, for example, is coming off a season-ending injury: the 28-year-old hurt his shoulder last October and later had to undergo surgery. He is expected back for offseason workouts, but his outlook is a bit fuzzy nonetheless. Bryant filled in for him down the stretch last year, but he was inconsistent despite some encouraging moments.
Then, there is 2021 draft pick Joshuah Bledsoe. The sixth-round selection was used primarily in the slot during his senior year at Missouri, but he also has experience playing at safety. With him having missed his entire rookie campaign after undergo offseason surgery on his wrist, time will tell whether or not he will factor into the cornerback mix moving forward.
On the whole, however, he and Jones form a better group than the Mills-Williams-Wade-Bethel quartet above. Unfortunately for the Patriots and their defense, that is not saying much.