FOXBORO – Maybe you were introduced to the name “Rashaan Melvin” last Sunday. Or maybe you first heard it last January.
Whichever the case, you haven’t yet heard the name associated with lockdown cornerback play. And that ensures you’ll be hearing Rashaan Melvin’s name even more.
With rookie corner Justin Coleman already ruled out for Monday, Melvin will be in the crosshairs as the Patriots third cornerback against the Bills.
Last week, after Coleman had to leave the thriller against the Giants, Melvin played 36 snaps. Late in the game, Giants quarterback Eli Manning kept going to the matchup between Melvin and wide receiver Dwayne Harris. Among the results: a second-and-12 pass interference penalty in the third quarter, a 30-yard completion to Harris on third-and-3 on the Giants final drive and then an 18-yard completion on second-and-5 that put the ball at the Patriots 5-yard line.
Prior to Sunday, Melvin played eight defensive snaps.
It was Melvin’s most high profile work since the AFC Divisional Playoff against the Patriots last January. That was when Melvin was with the Ravens and Tom Brady went 12 for 15 for 224 yards and two touchdowns throwing in Melvin’s direction, according to the stats site Pro Football Focus.
That night took the shine off of what had been a pretty decent late-season for Melvin. Pressed into service by Ravens injuries, Melvin was called up from their practice squad in December and wasn’t awful. But he got undressed by Brady.
Back with the Ravens for the start of this season, Melvin took three penalties and allowed a touchdown in a rout by the Bengals in September. All that happened in one quarter. He was benched and released soon after. The Patriots picked him up after releasing veteran Bradley Fletcher.
Melvin is a bigger guy – 6-foot-2. But he’s very slightly built at 194 pounds.
On Saturday, the 26-year-old didn’t signal any nervousness about his role against Buffalo.
“I feel very comfortable (in the system),” he said. “A lot of my teammates have been helping me out, helping me learn the defense, helping me learn the system and it’s all about going out there and doing it and helping the team compete.”
Asked about the Giants game, Melvin said, “I felt I went in and did a pretty good job. But it’s all about being consistent and taking advantage of the opportunities when you go out there and making plays.”
It’s a challenge to go from sideline spectator to front-and-center target as Melvin did last week after Coleman had to leave the game with his hand injury. Some players revel in it. Some get steamrolled. Melvin was closer to the latter but he survived. If it weren’t for Malcolm Butler’s pass breakup, the ensuing offensive drive by the Patriots and Stephen Gostkowski’s 54-yarder, though, Melvin’s performance would have been discussed in greater depth all week.
Against the Bills, you have to figure Melvin is going to wind up on crafty Robert Woods or the shifty Chris Hogan as Butler checks the Bills’ top target, Sammy Watkins.
Melvin understands he’s got to be better than he was against the Giants.
“As a player you want to improve every week,” he said. “At practice, we work all week to get better and you want to go out in the game and be perfect. That’s part of the game. You’re not gonna be perfect but you go out there and compete at a high level.”
We spent a lot of time in the offseason scrutinizing the Patriots cornerback situation. As it’s turned out, the starting corners have been more than fine. It’s the third cornerback spot that’s proven to be a challenge. Fletcher washed out quickly when it came clear he was a downfield liability. Coleman was a nice surprise. An undrafted rookie (as Melvin was in 2013), Coleman was a little raw in terms of technique but his makeup speed when he was beat and physicality when the ball is in the air are very good. But now he’s down and it might not be a short-term situation. So here comes Melvin.
He’s not going to be allowed to slide on by Monday night. Not after last Sunday, not after the Bengals game back in September and not after last January. The only way for Melvin to stop the attention will be to force incompletions.