The Patriots have long had one of the deeper safety groups in the league. Their trio of Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, and Duron Harmon see extensive playing time together as part of Bill Belichick's "big nickel" package due to their collective football IQ and sound tackling.
But it wouldn't come as a shock to see Belichick and Nick Caserio look for safety help in this year's draft class. Both Chung and McCourty are in their thirties, and the team could be looking for insurance at a position that is critical to the functionality of their defense.
There are a handful of safeties who meet the criteria the Patriots typically look for in the draft at this position: good tackling, intelligence, and explosive athletic ability. Let's get to the list . . .
PROTOTYPICAL PATRIOTS - Previously in the series:
- QBs: Rosen, Lauletta check plenty of boxes
- TEs: Time to pick up some Gronk insurance
- WRs: Adding more options to a crowded field
- RBs: They can always use a good one
- OL: Daniels, Wynn would build on interior strength
- LBs: Vander Esch, Evans offer different strengths
- DEs: Hubbard, Ejiofor look like Belichick's type on the edge
- DL: Could Belichick dip into 'Bama pipeline for interior DL help?
- CBs: Ward, Alexander check every box at corner
PROTOTYPES IN RANGE
MINKAH FITZPATRICK, ALABAMA, 204
The Patriots would have to climb the board to draft Fitzpatrick, but he looks like he could be the ideal successor to Patrick Chung whenever the Patriots feel like they have to make that move. His intangibles are off the charts, and he should excel in the slot, which is becoming a more important position in NFL secondaries with ever passing year. Need someone to blitz from the "star" spot? Need a matchup player for slot receivers and tight ends? Want a sub linebacker or a strong safety? He could do it all, and coming from 'Bama he'd be a seamless fit in New England.
DERWIN JAMES, FLORIDA STATE, 6-2, 215
If we had a separate category for players who physically could be considered a prototype "plus," James would be the lone member. He breaks the typical Patriots safety mold because of his unique frame and ridiculous athleticism. He ran a 4.47-second 40, jumped 40 inches in the vertical and 132 inches in the broad jump. He still has technique issues he can clean up, but as a do-it-all chess piece for a defense? Someone who can jump routes as a box safety, play the run, and rush the passer better than some edge players in this draft? He's in a class all his own. If the Patriots want him, they'll probably have to get into the top-10 to get him. Unlikely as it is, they have the draft capital to do it.
JUSTIN REID, STANFORD, 6-1, 207
Another Swiss Army knife in the secondary, Reid has the size to play safety and the athleticism (4.4-second 40, 36-inch vert, 128-inch broad, 6.65-second three-cone, 4.15-second short shuttle) to play all over Bill Belichick's secondary. He may over-pursue at times, but if he polishes his game in a consistent role at the next level, he has the traits to be special. Given the program he's coming from and given his athleticism and versatility, he's one of the best Patriots fits in the draft class regardless of position.
JESSIE BATES, WAKE FOREST, 6-1, 200
Another solid athlete at the position who projects as a versatile safety with good ball skills thanks in part to an extensive baseball background, Bates may not be as refined as some others at this position -- his been critiques for his technique -- but his ability to change direction is NFL-caliber.
GODWIN IGWEBUIKE, NORTHWESTERN, 5-11, 213
Athletically, Igwebuike is everything the Patriots like in their safeties. Blazing 40 (4.44 seconds), explosive jumps (35.5-inch vert, 128-inch broad) and good change-of-direction skills (6.56-second three-cone, 4.12-second short shuttle). He has good size (Patrick Chung is listed at 5-11, 215), he's not afraid to hit, he's smart, and if he doesn't contribute as a strong safety quickly, he'll at least provide special teams value. Igwebuike was no stranger to the kicking game at Northwestern.
TARVARIUS MOORE, SOUTHERN MISS, 6-1, 199
Moore lit up his pro day, stomped it out, then torched it again, and again, and again. He dominated every event, running a 4.32-second 40 and a 6.95-second three-cone. He also jumped 133 inches in the broad and 38.5 inches in the vertical. He had eight pass breakups, per Pro Football Focus, and he could be a Day 2 pick as a free safety.
DANE CRUIKSHANK, ARIZONA, 6-1, 209
Specimen. Cruikshank ran a 4.41-second 40, jumped 38.5 inches in the vertical and showed good change-of-direction skills with a 6.89-second three-cone at this year's combine. He needs work defensively, but he has all the measurables (and the aggressiveness) to factor in as a special-teamer right away.
SIRAN NEAL, JACKSONVILLE STATE, 6-0, 206
With enough speed (4.56-second 40) and plenty of explosiveness (40.5-inch vertical, 122-inch broad), Neal could put his toughness to use as a box safety at the next level. He has experience at both safety and corner, and he could be a Day 3 special-teams option with upside defensively.
IMPERFECT BUT INTRIGUING
RONNIE HARRISON, ALABAMA, 6-2, 207
Harrison is oh-so-close to being a prototype at this spot. The school, the size, the explosiveness (34-inch vert, 120-inch broad) -- they all check out. His speed might be a concern, though. He didn't run the 40 at the combine and then checked in with a less-than-ideal 4.63 at his pro day.
QUENTON MEEKS, STANFORD, 6-1, 209
Meeks played corner at Stanford, but his speed and size may force a shift to safety at the next level. If he makes that move and takes to it . . . he'd end up as a very solid athlete on the back end. He checks just about every Patriots requirement physically and athletically compared to the top-100 picks the Patriots have made on safeties in the past. The son of a coach and a good tackler, coming from a well-respected program, Meeks could be a fit in New England on Day 3.
QUIN BLANDING, UVA, 6-2, 207
Blanding isn't the athlete the Patriots typically like to draft when they're looking for safeties, but he was incredibly productive for the Cavaliers, making 502 tackles in four years as a starter, and playing in a whopping 98 percent of the defensive snaps. You've heard Belichick say it before: Availability is more important than ability.