Prototypical Patriots: Investing in future with defensive backs?
The numbers are there, depending on where you look. How a team fares in coverage appears to have a greater impact on winning and losing than its pass-rush does. The thinking? Tough coverage is harder to circumvent than an aggressive pass-rush. A quick-hitting passing game can negate even the game's best rushers. Outside of running pick plays and screens, it's harder to eliminate coverage players from the equation on a snap-to-snap basis.
Do the Patriots subscribe to that line of thought? Follow the money. They paid Stephon Gilmore at the top of the market. They paid Darrelle Revis handsomely for one season back in 2014. Devin McCourty received a lucrative extension. Chandler Jones and Trey Flowers -- two of the best at their positions when it came time to think about second contracts -- did not.
So even though the Patriots are well-stocked in the secondary for 2019, don't be surprised if they continue to invest in the back end of their defense to pick up cost-effective options playing some of the most valuable roles in football. Here are the safeties and corners we've identified as fits in this year's draft class.
AMANI HOOKER, IOWA, 5-11, 210 POUNDS
There are certain players who make our "Prototypical" series based largely on the program from which they came. Though there's a good relationship between the Patriots and the Hawkeyes, that's not the case here. Hooker is a versatile box safety with good instincts and great athleticism (37-inch vertical, 6.81-second three-cone, 4.1-second short shuttle) who could end up as a Patrick Chung type wherever he goes.
JUAN THORNHILL, UVA, 6-0, 205 POUNDS
Thornhill played both corner and safety at Virginia, giving him some of the versatility that the Patriots covet in the secondary. Regardless of where he aligns, his athleticism will play. He clocked a 4.42-second 40 and posted ridiculous jumps of 44 inches in the vertical and 141 inches in the broad jump.
2019 NFL Draft Highlights: DB Juan Thornhill, Virginia
CHAUNCEY GARDNER-JOHNSON, FLORIDA, 5-11, 210 POUNDS
Gardner-Johnson is the third safety who checks every box for the Patriots in terms of the measurables. He's built like Chung, he played all over the secondary -- deep safety, strong safety, slot -- in the SEC, and he can move. His 4.48-second 40, 36-inch vertical, 117-inch broad and 7.03-second three-cone time are all in the range of safeties the Patriots have drafted in the first three rounds over the last decade.
2019 NFL Draft Highlights: Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, Florida
JOHNATHAN ABRAM, MISSISSIPPI STATE, 5-11, 205 POUNDS
How much do the Patriots value explosiveness? Abram is perhaps the most explosive hitter in this year's draft class. He appears to have the demeanor to be the kind of player who could be a tone-setter for any locker room he enters at the next level.
While his speed is good (4.45-second 40), his jumps were less-than-stellar (33.5-inch vert). The Patriots may not care if they feel he can take on a hybrid safety-linebacker role. He's met with the Patriots pre-draft, and the Patriots of the Midwest (Detroit) have shown interest as well.
2019 NFL Draft Highlights: S Johnathan Abram, Miss. State
DARNELL SAVAGE, MARYLAND, 5-11, 198 POUNDS
Savage isn't the quickest safety in the class based on some of his testing, but he has tremendous instincts that show up on film, and he's one of the fastest players in the draft to boot (4.36-second 40). He is the kind of athlete (39.5-inch vert, 126-inch broad, 7.03 three-cone) who could play either safety role if asked, and he's thought of as a defensive back with an "above-average coverage IQ," according to NFL.com's Lance Zierlein. Sounds like a Patriots type, even if he's not overwhelming anyone with his size.
MARVELL TELL, USC, 6-2, 198 POUNDS
This would be purely an athletic projection, but Tell tested so well that he'd fit just about any team's physical profile (though he's extremely slight). His 42-inch vert, 136-inch broad, 6.63-second three-cone and 4.01 short shuttle are head-scratchers they're so good. The three-cone alone might get him drafted by New England. His struggles tackling might take him off their board entirely.
WILL HARRIS, BC, 6-1, 207 POUNDS
The Patriots were at Boston College's pro day, though they were represented there by offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia and defensive front-seven assistant DeMarcus Convington. That doesn't mean they wouldn't be intrigued by Harris, who has good size and elite athletic ability (4.41-second 40, 36.5-inch vert, 123-inch broad, 6.91-second three-cone, 4.12-second three-cone).
ZEDRICK WOODS, OLE MISS, 5-11, 205 POUNDS
Speed on speed on speed. And he's from the SEC? Woods could be a fit for the Patriots as a late-rounder. He started for three years for the Rebels and he was timed as the fastest safety in Indy at this year's combine (4.29 seconds). Even if he's only viewed as a special-teams prospect, that could make him worthy of a selection at One Patriot Place.
SAQUAN HAMPTON, RUTGERS, 6-0, 206 POUNDS
Because Greg Schiano has long since left the Scarlet Knights, the Rutgers-to-Foxboro train is acquiring cobwebs. But Hampton, like Woods, is a next-level athlete who could end up with a special teams role and be given a chance to develop. His 4.48-second 40 and 125-inch vertical numbers are enough to get him drafted.
DEIONTE THOMPSON, ALABAMA, 6-1, 195 POUNDS
Thompson's athleticism has come into question as he was not able to run during the pre-draft process due to a wrist injury (three-point stance is tough on a bum wrist). His 33-inch vert didn't do much to put to bed any questions about his explosiveness. He hails from a great program, though, and he has enough good tape to warrant a Day 2 selection.
DAVID LONG, MICHIGAN, 5-11, 196 POUNDS
While the Patriots are more focused on explosiveness at the safety position, generally, they love to see good quicks from their highly-drafted corners. That's what Long brings to the table. He checks every box -- the only corner in this class to do so -- that we looked for physically when comparing this year's class to Patriots corners taken in the first three rounds. Long may be a slot defender, and the Patriots just drafted one of those in Duke Dawson, but his 6.45-second three-cone time and 3.97-second short shuttle still might be worth a pick if Bill Belichick want to pour more into his secondary.
KENDALL SHEFFIELD, OHIO STATE, 5-11, 193 POUNDS
It'll be interesting to see what happens with Sheffield. He played under renowned defensive backs coach Greg Schiano at Ohio State, but some of his tape leaves serious question marks. His athleticism is undoubtedly NFL-ready (39-inch vert, 128-inch broad, 4.06-second short-shuttle, 6.69-second three-cone), and the Patriots may see him as a value pick if Schiano were to sign off on the choice.
JULIAN LOVE, NOTRE DAME, 5-11, 195 POUNDS
The Patriots have often sought corners with 40 times under 4.5 seconds so Love (4.54) may not fit quite as snugly as some others. But otherwise his movement skills are everything the Patriots would want. Combine those skills with rock-solid technique, an ability to play man and zone, and good instincts? Could be a Patriot.
2019 NFL Draft Highlights: CB Julian Love, Notre Dame
ISAIAH JOHNSON, HOUSTON, 6-2, 208 POUNDS
Johnson's 6.81-second three-cone is a tick slower than the elite number the Patriots like from their corners in that event (6.75 seconds), but otherwise he's a big-time all-around athlete (4.40-second 40, 38-inch vert, 129-inch broad). Add in the fact that he's among the biggest corners in the draft class and an ascending prospect (he played receiver for two years at Houston), and he's among the more intriguing fits for New England.
AMANI ORUWARIYE, PENN STATE, 6-2, 205 POUNDS
Oruwariye could be in the conversation for the Patriots at the end of the first round or into the second because of his combination of size and athletic ability. His 6.82-second three-cone is good enough, especially with his frame, and at the Senior Bowl he had the highest win rate of any corner in 1-on-1s, according to Pro Football Focus.
2019 NFL Draft Highlights: CB Amani Oruwariye, Penn St
JUSTIN LAYNE, MICHIGAN STATE, 6-2, 192 POUNDS
Justin Layne's three-cone time might be too slow (though still solid at 6.90 seconds) for the Patriots to draft him early, but he's another height/weight/speed prospect from the Big 10 at this spot who has impressed the people at PFF. His coverage grade ranked him No. 9 in their system among Power 5 corners in 2018.
GREEDY WILLIAMS, LSU, 6-2, 185 POUNDS
Considered one of the top corners in the class -- and likely putting him out of range for the Patriots at No. 32 -- Williams has the length and speed (4.37-second 40) to turn into an elite man-to-man corner at the next level. If he happens to fall, the Patriots could bite.
I'd be a little more surprised if they jumped at the chance to take either of the other two highly-projected corners in this class -- Washington's Byron Williams and Georgia's Deandre Baker -- because they don't meet New England's athletic standards at the position.
2019 NFL Draft Highlights: CB Greedy Williams, LSU
COREY BALLENTINE, WASHBURN, 5-11, 196 POUNDS
Ballentine is another player who's three-cone time is very strong (6.82 seconds), if not quite as strong as the Patriots have drafted up high. In the middle rounds, though? He could be a steal. He's a Division 2 prospect, but the high-school track star's athleticism is impressive (4.47-second 40, 39.5-inch vert, 135-inch broad) and he should at the very least serve in a special-teams role early.
JOEJUAN WILLIAMS, VANDERBILT, 6-4, 211 POUNDS
With rare size to match up with bigger-bodied receivers, one could certainly envision the Patriots overlooking Williams' 40 time (4.55 at his pro day) and taking him in the first couple of rounds. Belichick himself noted recently that at some point the Patriots are going to have to keep up with the trend of receivers getting bigger and bigger, answering with a longer coverage option.
Williams isn't afraid to get physical, he's refined in his ability to play press, and he was effective in zone as well last year for Vanderbilt. He comes from a program Belichick respects, and the Patriots have reportedly done a tremendous amount of work on him leading up to the draft. Helping his cause? He had good -- though not flawless -- performances against top-end talent like Ole Miss' A.J. Brown and Notre Dame's Miles Boykin.
2019 NFL Draft Highlights: DB Joejuan Williams, Vanderbilt
KEN WEBSTER, OLE MISS, 5-11, 203 POUNDS
The Rebels are just churning out athletes, apparently. Webster tied Greedy Williams last year with a passer rating allowed of 58.1 due in part to his speed and explosiveness (4.43 40, 43-inch vert, 133-inch broad). He has a shoplifting arrest on his record and he suffered a serious knee injury in 2016 so he's far from a perfect prospect. But if he can be had as an undrafted player -- as J.C. Jackson was a year ago -- there may be value there.
SEAN BUNTING, CENTRAL MICHIGAN, 6-0, 195 POUNDS
According to PFF, Bunting gave up 17 catches on 374 coverage snaps and allowed a completion percentage in the 30s when targeted. That's extremely good production for a corner regardless of the conference. He may be thin, but his speed (4.42-second 40) and explosiveness (41.5 inches) make him a rare athlete at the position.
JAMEL DEAN, AUBURN, 6-1, 206 POUNDS
Dean's agility won't wow anyone. But he blazed in the 40 (4.30 second) and jumped 41 inches in the vertical. No sign of health issues there, and he started 22 games over the last two years, but unfortunately for him he has had years of his young career taken from him because of knee problems (he sat out 2015 and 2016). But if the Patriots feel he's a value play in the middle rounds -- as Malcolm Mitchell was thanks to his knee issues a few years ago -- then maybe he ends up in New England because his frame and explosiveness is hard to find.