When he's talking about his own team, Bill Belichick doesn't typically toss around compliments cavalierly. He'll talk up opposing safeties and punters week after week, but his own guys have to work a little harder for their podium plaudits.

That's why it raised some eyebrows when Belichick called Patrick Chung "one of the best players in the league" back in 2018.

"Chung, I've talked about Chung a lot," Belichick said at the time. "The guy is a really good football player. He's one of the best players in the league, one of the best players on our team. He does a lot of things very well and has done them that way for a long time. We're lucky we have him. He's an outstanding player in all the things that he does. We put a lot on him, and he always comes through."

Belichick has called Chung one of the best tacklers he's ever coached, and Chung is consistently mentioned in the same breath as other core Patriots when Belichick waxes poetic about toughness or work ethic.

But Chung's importance to the Patriots has been highlighted in more tangible ways than compliments from his coach; he's signed four contract extensions with the team since re-signing in New England in 2014 after a year abroad with the Eagles.

Does all that equal a Patriots Hall of Fame nod, eventually? Let's delve a little further into Chung's qualifications.

A second-round pick in 2009, he was part of a wave of young additions that helped reboot the Patriots dynasty along with fellow second-round pick Sebastian Vollmer and 2010 selections Devin McCourty and Rob Gronkowski. Julian Edelman, another member of the 2009 draft class, of course made his presence felt a handful of years after being taken in the seventh round.

Chung was a Week 1 starter in his second season and remained a near every-down player until midway through 2012. It was then that he started to see his snap-count dialed back, and he played a total of three defensive snaps in two playoff games that year before the Patriots lost at home to the Ravens in the AFC Championship Game.

A free agent after the season, Chung signed with the Eagles, reuniting him former Oregon coach Chip Kelly, but that relationship didn't last long. He was released after the 2013 season and came back to the Patriots with the promise that things would be different in his second go-round under Belichick. 

"For a combination of reasons -- I'd say a big part of it [being] mistakes that I personally made -- it just didn't work out the way that we had hoped it would," Belichick said of Chung's first four years. "But we got it right the second time."

 

No longer used as a deep safety -- Patriots fans will remember he was on the scene with Sterling Moore when Eli Manning threw the pass of his life to Mario Manningham in Super Bowl XLVI -- Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia deployed Chung closer to the line of scrimmage almost exclusively. There they could take advantage of Chung's aggressive demeanor, his tackling, and his desire to be closer to the action to use him as the queen piece on their defensive chess board week after week.

Need him to cover tight ends or running backs? Chung could do that. Want him to play in the slot? Done. He's a safety by trade but he's actually become a model of the new-age linebacker in the NFL. He can be found at the second level of the Patriots defense on a weekly basis, filling gaps in the running game and playing like an off-the-ball 'backer at about 210 pounds -- athletic enough to cover in the passing game but stout enough to swallow up runs in his direction.

Chung has rarely come off the field over the last four seasons, with his defensive playing-time percentages not dipping below 89 percent since 2015, yet he's found it in his reserves to serve as a core special-teamer as well. He's even returned kicks and punts in emergency scenarios.

Never made a Pro Bowl. Never been an All-Pro. But as one of only three defensive starters for each of the team's last three Super Bowl wins -- along with Devin McCourty and Dont'a Hightower -- Chung has undoubtedly been one of the most critical cogs in Belichick's defensive machine since his return from Philly. To me, that's a team Hall of Famer.

 

He's missing some of the personal honors many other team Hall of Famers have been given, you say? 

One of the subjects of one of our most recent Debates, Kevin Faulk, proved you don't have to have Pro Football Hall of Fame credentials to be considered exemplary of the traits necessary to don a red jacket. Like Faulk, Chung's on-the-field leadership and his fit in a vital role to championship teams makes him worthy. Like Faulk, who had a hard time early in his career getting a stranglehold on a role, the redemption portion of Chung's story might help his cause.

The only question (in my mind) is . . . when? 

There's already a bit of a logjam to enter the Hall. Patriots greats like Mike Vrabel and Richard Seymour -- players with championships and individual accolades to their names -- have waited years for their inductions. Vince Wilfork, Logan Mankins, Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski all should get in quickly after they're eligible. Then there are players who are still active -- Tom Brady, Adam Vinatieri, Stephen Gostkowski, Matthew Slater, Edelman, McCourty and Hightower -- who should be voted in in short order.

With only one player getting selected every year, all those names may all get their day before Chung. But just because he'll have to wait doesn't mean he's any less deserving.

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