Patriots Give ‘Hard-Hitting’ Safety a Second Chance to Make the Roster

Getty Bill Belichick

The New England Patriots signed free-agent safety Malik Gant on Tuesday. They made room for the 24-year-old out of Marshall by releasing running back Tyler Gaffney.

Gant had a strong training camp with the Patriots before he suffered a leg injury back in September 2019. He was released in 2020, but apparently, Bill Belichick has seen something he likes in the physical 6’2″ 204-pound safety.

What are Gant’s chances of making the 53-man roster, and is this the end for Gaffney?

The Word on Malik Gant

Gant doesn’t project as a player taking Devin McCourty or Adrian Phillips’ spot–at least not permanently. While his aggressive style could prove effective against the run, he looks more like a player who would make the biggest impact on special teams.

Coming out of college, Gant’s penchant for hitting was noted in most scouting reports. Here’s what’s Lance Zierlein said about Gant’s pro prospects:

Hard-hitting safety with coverage limitations on the back-end and in man-to-man, but an infectious aggression in run support that is never in short supply. Unlike some safeties who are content to linger from behind the action, Gant has no desire of inaction and comes rushing into the box looking to bang. Gant is a responsible and aware in coverage, but is relatively untested by top-end talent. He’s too tough and consistent as a run-thumper to overlook and could factor as a backup down safety with eventual starting talent who shines on special teams.

With the way Belichick likes to use his safeties against the run, it is easy to see why Gant would have a player archetype the Patriots like. Depth is always a plus at any position, but especially at New England’s S/LB spot.

As it is, you’d have to think of him as a long shot to make the roster.

Why Was Tyler Gaffney Expendable?

Damien Harris is the unquestioned starter at running back. If he can remain healthy, he’ll get the bulk of the work out of the backfield. If Sony Michel remains on the roster, he makes for a more than capable backup, although the second part of the Patriots’ two-headed backfield monster will likely be Rhamondre Stevenson in the long run.

There is also veteran, third-down specialist James White. His spot on the roster is a virtual lock. Second-year running back and kick returned J.J. Taylor has also seemingly secured himself a roster spot with his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield and to be a part of the return team.

With so many bodies that figure to be available to the Patriots at running back, Gaffney, who projected more as a backup to White and Taylor, was deemed expendable.

At 30 years old, and having bounced around the NFL with multiple teams, and even spending some time playing professional baseball, Gaffney might be done on the gridiron.

We’ll see if he makes an appearance later in the season as a member of the Patriots practice squad.

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