Patriots Offseason Analysis: Defensive Backs

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After Darrelle Revis went back to the Jets in the offseason following the 2014 Patriots Super Bowl victory, we were left with Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan as our starting cornerbacks. This was a little disconcerting considering that Revis is arguably the best cornerback in the league and that Malcom Butler was entering only his second year in the league.

However, Patriot Nation was riding off of a historical Super Bowl victory that was saved by undrafted rookie Malcolm Butler’s goal-line interception with 26 seconds left in the game. When the game commentators announced that it was Butler who made the play, there were undoubtedly quite a few fans who had never heard of him before.

Butler immediately made himself a Boston sports hero and legend, no one will ever forget what he did to get Tom Brady and the Patriots their 4th Lombardi Trophy. In the following offseason, there was quite a bit of buzz and speculation about Butler. He would presumably become a starter for the team, along with another young player, Logan Ryan.

Coming into the season with a huge void to fill, Butler quickly showed that his Super Bowl winning interception was not a fluke. He played more snaps than anybody on the team (besides Tom Brady), led the team with 15 passes defensed, and had 67 tackles and 2 interceptions. After a stellar second year in the league, he was selected to the Pro-Bowl.

He went from working at Popeye’s, to winning a Super Bowl, and then to being a Pro-Bowler, the latter two while having an undrafted rookie’s contract and salary. Now, Butler rightfully wants a new contract to replace his current $600,000 one.

Some thought that he was going to holdout after he missed the team OTA’s this offseason, however it is more likely that he will keep the current contract, and then negotiate a new one after this season when he is a restricted free agent. Since this is technically a contract year for him, one would think that he will strive to progress as an elite cornerback in the NFL.

Starting opposite of Butler is Logan Ryan, who is entering his 4th year in the league after being drafted by the Patriots 83rd overall in the 3rd round in 2013. Although he has had struggles in the past, he performed rather well last season after becoming a starter. He had very similar numbers to Butler, racking up 74 tackles, 14 passes defensed, and an impressive 4 interceptions.

Ryan fits in perfectly with the Patriots, considering Coach Bill’s love for players out of Rutger’s University. In fact, fellow defensive back Duron Harmon (safety) was Ryan’s 4 year college teammate while playing for the Scarlet Knights. They were drafted just 8 spots between each other, and it has been a dream come true to continue their chemistry at the NFL level.

Another apparent lock at the cornerback position is rookie Cyrus Jones who was drafted 60th overall in the second round out of Alabama. After playing running back, slot receiver, and cornerback in high school, he started out as a wide receiver for Alabama. In his sophomore year of college, he switched to cornerback and performed rather well, he would stay at this position and eventually become a starter.

In addition to playing cornerback, he was also a punt returner for the Crimson Tide, a rather prolific one at that. In his senior year, he returned 4 punts for touchdowns, a university single season record. For his impressive performance as a defensive player and a special team’s player, he was recognized for several awards, including All-SEC honors, SEC Special Teams Player of the Week, Defensive MVP of Cotton Bowl, and etc.

If you know anything about the kind of players that coach Belichick loves, you would know that he absolutely loves versatile players who are willing to prove their worth and ability in anyway the team requires. Being able to perform in all 3 phases of the game certainly put Cyrus Jones on the team’s radar during the draft process. His youth, ability, and versatility have definitely locked him a spot on the team’s 2016 roster.

Aside from Butler, Ryan, and Jones, who are all certain to be starters or on the roster, several players are fighting for the last cornerback position. These players are E.J. Biggers, Justin Coleman, Darryl Roberts, and Jonathan Jones.

Biggers has played 7 NFL seasons with Tampa Bay, Washington, and most recently, Philadelphia. None of his 7 seasons have been overly impressive and has only had one season where he started more than 6 games. It is not readily apparent as to why the team signed him, but perhaps he will add a much needed veteran presence in the cornerback squad if he makes the team.

Coleman entered the league as a rookie free agent in 2015 with the Vikings but never played for them as he was released a few months after signing with them. He was picked up by the Patriots as somewhat of a utility player, and was used on special teams and in nickel situations on defense. He played in his first postseason game last season against the Kansas City Chiefs and had a clutch pass break up on a 3rd down Alex Smith pass in the red zone.

Roberts was drafted 247th overall in the 7th round in the 2015 draft by the Patriots out of Marshall, but unfortunately he severely injured his wrist in the preseason opener and was placed on the IR for the remainder of the season. His chances of making the team appear grim due to the fact that he will be competing against 3 other healthy rookies for the last spot.

One of the other 3 rookies who have a shot at making the team is Jonathan Jones who signed with the team after being a relatively productive 4-year starter at Auburn University.

If one thing is for sure in terms of the cornerback position, it’s that the future is bright, given all the youth that the team has accumulated. It can only get better from here, barring any serious injuries to the likes of Butler, Ryan, or Jones.

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