It was another big day for the New England Patriots’ secondary at practice on Monday. They’ve made life for Brady and the Patriots receiving corps difficult this summer.
With so much depth and talent, the Patriots will likely have some tough choices ahead. Who’s safe, who’s out, and who could make things interest?
SAFE: CB Jason McCourty, CB Stephon Gilmore, CB Jonathan Jones
It’s a fair assumption that all three of these guys are assured of making the roster pending injury. The trio were major contributors last season, with Jones really coming into his own as the season progressed. McCourty made a game-saving pass breakup in the Super Bowl against Brandin Cooks. As for Gilmore, he was an All-Pro and is considered one of the top corners in the game.
BUBBLE: CB Keion Crossen, CB JC Jackson, CB Joejuan Williams
This is where it gets a little trickier. There’s obviously not enough space on the roster for the Patriots to keep everyone, but it’s deciding who to keep that will prove most difficult. All three of these guys are NFL-caliber players, but can the Patriots finesse enough space to keep them all?
Crossen helped shut down Kansas City wideout Tyreek Hill in the AFC Championship last year, was a key contributor on special teams, and even had a pair of PBUs in the first exhibition game against Detroit. His speed was a factor into him making the roster after a shaky preseason a year ago and he did not disappoint.
Jackson was undrafted due to some off-field issues but proved to be as valuable as a first-round pick showcased in his coverage ability. He’ll likely stay, but him playing in the preseason opener was a sign that he is not safe just yet.
As for Williams, he has the size to help cover tight ends one-on-one, it’s refining his skills that will need work. The Patriots traded up to pick him in the second round, a move that should cement his status on the team. He has performed well in practice too, with four PBUs and two picks in his last three practices.
OUT: CB Duke Dawson, CB D’Angelo Ross, CB Ken Webster
The last two are no surprise, but Dawson’s career seems to have fizzled out after being selected in the second round of last year’s draft. He was injured last year, and never recovered enough to be considered for game action despite being activated off injured reserve midway through the year. His first preseason action was underwhelming as well.
Webster is a long shot anyways, especially given his delayed start to camp on his way back from injury. D’Angelo Ross was waived with an injury designation after a decent camp, and he’ll revert to IR if and when he clears waivers. It wouldn’t be a shock if one of these guys makes the practice squad, and that could be Dawson.
SAFE: S Devin McCourty, S Patrick Chung, S Duron Harmon
Another trio of starters locked into making the final roster. All three have played in New England for several years and their experience is irreplaceable in the defense. Chung is working his way back from a broken arm suffered in the Super Bowl as well as offseason shoulder surgery. He is closing in on a return and should be ready for the start of the regular season. McCourty and Harmon, both Rutgers alums, are among the best at their craft in the league.
BUBBLE: S Terrence Brooks, S Obi Melifonwu, S Nate Ebner
Ebner came off the PUP list on Monday but it’s likely his workload will still be limited for the next couple weeks. Primarily a specialist, it would be tough to justify keeping him along with guys like Matthew Slater and Brandon Bolden, but New England has a little extra time to make that decision.
As for Brooks and Melifonwu, the two have been inconsistent throughout much of their career and are primarily special teamers. However, Melifonwu is 6-foot-4 so it would be tough to cut a guy loose like that who could prove vital on deep coverages. They have a little more proving to do, but Brooks and Melifonwu could be the final two safeties added to the roster.
OUT: S Malik Gant, S AJ Howard
It’s not for lack of skill, but rather too many established players in their way. Both Gant and Howard were undrafted a year apart, and despite consistent reps, they still are long shots to make the roster. Howard isn’t far off, however, with his tackling, limiting of yards after the catch, and special teams production.