The Patriots may soon find themselves back in the cornerback market even after adding free-agent cover man Stephon Gilmore this offseason.
There's no guarantee that Malcolm Butler will be in the fold in New England in 2017, and even if he is, it's safe to say that no team -- no matter how flush with cover men they may be -- will turn its nose up at a good player at the position. It's simply too important.
PHIL PERRY'S PROTOTYPICAL PATRIOTS DRAFT PREVIEW
- DEFENSIVE ENDS: Basham's power, effort would fit on the edge
- DEFENSIVE TACKLES: Look to the SEC
- CORNERS: Griffin's athleticism makes him intriguing
- SAFETIES: Sure tacklers from Florida, Michigan look like fits
- LINEBACKERS: McMillan, Anzalone make sense
- SLOT CORNER: King's agility, toughness, seem ideal
- MOCK DRAFT: Version 1.0
This year's draft class is loaded with talented corners, which means that Bill Belichick and his staff could watch a first-round player slip deep into the second round or later. If that's the case, they may make a move to add to a group that already features Gilmore, Butler, Eric Rowe, Cyrus Jones and special teams standout Jonathan Jones.
What do the Patriots typically like to draft at cornerback? They have a track record of grabbing great athletes with sound footwork who are willing tacklers. If you have experience playing man-to-man as well as zone, that's a plus. If you can play inside and out, that will also earn you points. Of course, production in big-time conference and special teams ability won't hurt you either.
There are so many draftable corners in this year's class that we've broken them up into two groups: Those who look like they'd be better fits primarily in the slot with the Patriots, and those who look like they could handle responsibilities outside the numbers for Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia.
We handled the outside guys yesterday, and today we'll provide you with some names who could make their livings inside.
This is the fourth installment of a 12-part pre-draft series where we're looking into Prototypical Patriots at a variety of positions. To catch up on our first few cracks at this, head here for boundary corners, here for linebackers and here for safeties.
Chidobe Awuzie, Colorado, 6-feet, 202 pounds: Awuzie could conceivably play just about anywhere in the secondary, but the slot may be where he settles. An explosive athlete (third-best broad jump among all defensive backs at this year's combine) with the quickness and agility to plaster good route-runners on the inside (6.81-second three-cone, 4.14-second 20-yard shuttle), he has experience both inside and out. The Patriots might be turned off by his inconsistencies as a tackler (33 missed tackles in three years, according to Pro Football Focus) -- which almost forced his name off this list -- but they would appreciate his position flexibility and his aggressive style of play. As a blitzer from the inside, he had eight sacks, six hits and 17 hurries over the last two seasons, per PFF.
Desmond King, Iowa, 5-foot-10, 201 pounds: King seems to be among the best nickel fits for the Patriots given his agility (third-best three-cone for defensive backs at this year's combine), lateral movement (top-15 in the shuttles), instincts (14 picks in the last three years) and tackling ability (11 missed tackles in 176 solo attempts). A four-year starter in coach Kirk Ferentz's program, he held quarterbacks to a rating of below 50.0 in each of the last two seasons, and PFF compares his game to Logan Ryan's. King plays with an edge that should serve him well inside, though he may have to dial back the attitude a touch in New England. He picked up 11 penalties over the last two seasons, including five personal fouls, per NFL.com. King received extensive experience as a returner in college.
Jourdan Lewis, Michigan, 5-foot-10, 188 pounds: Identified as someone who could handle slot duties thanks to his tackling (missed 13 tackles of 114 attempts in three years, per PFF), his eagerness to play the run, and his ball skills (six picks, 28 pass breakups in three seasons), Lewis could find himself knocked off New England's draft board completely after being charged with one misdemeanor count of domestic violence stemming from an alleged incident in March with his then-girlfriend. Lewis pleaded not guilty, and the case is scheduled to go to trial July 10. Patriots chairman and CEO Robert Kraft has been staunchly opposed to drafting players who have a record of violence against women.
Johnathan Ford, Auburn, 5-foot-11, 205 pounds: Ford has the length (30-inch arms) and strength (20 reps of 225 pounds) to sort through crowds near the line of scrimmage and stop ball-carriers in their tracks. Combine his thirst for contact with his speed (4.34-second 40-yard dash at his pro day), and he looks like an immediate contributor on special teams. A three-year starter and versatile option in Auburn's secondary, he played some safety in addition to his responsibilities in the slot. He also helped return kicks as well as cover them for the Tigers.
Jalen Myrick, Minnesota, 5-foot-10, 200 pounds: A solidly-built corner who can disrupt timing of bigger players at the line of scrimmage, Myrick can also turn and run with burners. He had the second-best 40-yard dash of any player at this year's combine (4.28 seconds) and checks most other boxes in terms of the athleticism that the Patriots like at the position (37.5-inch vertical, 4.22-second 20-yard shuttle, 7.06 three-cone). Myrick's tackling isn't thought to be outstanding, but his physical profile and his special-teams potential may be worth a flier in the later rounds.
Xavier Coleman, Portland State, 5-foot-10, 189 pounds: This small-school prospect put up some impressive testing numbers at his pro day (4.50-second 40, 40-inch vertical, 125-inch broad jump, 6.85-second three-cone at his pro day) that could put him on some team's radar as a late-round selection or a priority free agent. Coleman, a team captain who was named a first-team All-Big Sky honoree last season, underwent open-heart surgery in high school.