Leading up to the first day of training camp, we’re going to look at the most important Patriots, counting down from 10 to 1. We’ve advanced to number four today and yes, because it’s my list, it’s a little offbeat. But when you read, I think you’ll understand why.
4. MALCOLM BUTLER. OR LOGAN RYAN. OR BRADLEY FLETCHER. OR TARELL BROWN. OR SOMEONE CURRENTLY NOT ON THE ROSTER.
Why? The Patriots won a Super Bowl last year. They won it, in part, because they finally had an elite secondary. Having Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner and Kyle Arrington slotted at 1, 2 and 3 gave Matt Patricia more flexibility to call whatever he wanted and trust it would be executed on the back end. Now those guys are gone, and to say the corner position is a massive question mark would be a colossal understatement. I have no idea who will start in Week One. I have no idea who will be starting when the playoffs roll around. It could be an entirely different crew from early September to January. You know. I know it. The American public knows it.
Previous Performance: Throw it all out. The top four corners are no longer on the roster. Now I could give a damn about Alfonzo Dennard, but the other three?? I cry my big fat head to sleep on my pillow every night. Watching Revis play was football porn. You never had to sweat the technique (shoutout to Eric B & Rakim) and it was clear -- despite the idiots yammering on sports radio -- that he played at an elite level from start to finish. Browner’s insertion into the lineup brought swagger and physicality and smarts that he still doesn’t get enough credit for. Butler’s Super Bowl interception doesn’t happen without Browner alerting him to the play and then making that wicked jam. So what’s left? Butler is the “it” corner but he played a limited role overall. Ryan regressed. Brown just signed and is coming off the broken foot and Fletcher had one of the worst years a corner has ever. But don’t worry. It’ll be fine . . .
Questions surrounding the player: How quickly can these youngsters and retreads come together? Can any emerge as a legit number one option (and I’m not talking in the Leigh Bodden mold, either)? Can Fletcher rediscover the form that in 2013 had him close to getting a lucrative contract extension from the Eagles? Will Butler and Ryan avoid the all-too-common step back or flatline trajectory that most of the Pats young corners have fallen into? I need a drink . . .
Overall Outlook: Until they show me they can do it, I won’t believe they can. There is potentially good football in this group, but there’s also the potential that one or two of these guys will be forgotten by the end of camp, let alone the end of the season.