The New England Patriots have one of the best rosters in the league, and no position is better or deeper than cornerback. From an All-Pro starter to unmatched depth, New England’s cornerbacks are as good as anyone in the NFL. Unfortunately, New England will have to make some hard decisions in the coming months. With OTA’s now underway, let’s break down the Patriots cornerbacks and who could make their way onto the Week One roster.
Taking a Look at the New England Patriots Cornerbacks
The Star(s): Stephon Gilmore, J.C. Jackson, Jason McCourty
Stephon Gilmore is the best of the bunch, but all three of these players should be among the better starters in the league. Gilmore had a solid inaugural season in New England but took his play to another level in 2018. Appearing in all 16 games, Gilmore finished the year with two interceptions, 20 passes defended, and a 56.3 passer rating when targeted. He capped off his All-Pro season with the game-sealing interception in Super Bowl LIII and ended the year as the top-ranked cornerback, per Pro Football Focus. Entering his age-29 season, Gilmore should remain one of the NFL’s elite cornerbacks.
J.C. Jackson is the latest undrafted free agent destined to develop into a star. Jackson started 2018 at the bottom of the depth chart but gradually worked his way onto the field. The Maryland product had a nose for the ball, finishing the year with three interceptions in just five starts (13 games). Nobody would argue he was the best cornerback in the league, but Jackson finished 2018 with a league-best 42.0 passer rating when targeted. Jackson should only improve with more time in the league and could join Gilmore to form one of the best cornerback duos in the league.
Patriots cornerback J.C. Jackson allowed the lowest passer rating when targeted among NFL CBs this season. pic.twitter.com/53kcTEGj3j
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) February 3, 2019
Jason McCourty could easily be the best third cornerback in football. Despite being on the wrong side of 30, McCourty proved that he still has quite a bit of football left in his tank. McCourty played in 80% of the defensive snaps, finishing the season as PFF’s sixth-ranked cornerback. While the eye test doesn’t agree with that elite ranking, McCourty was an above-average starter who made arguably the best play in Super Bowl LIII. Look for him to start situationally and be a major contributor on the defense.
The Slot: Jonathan Jones, Duke Dawson
This should be one of the most fascinating battles in all of training camp. Former undrafted free agent Jonathan Jones began his career on special teams but has slowly developed into a dependable slot cornerback. While he’s not on the level of Jackson or Gilmore, he’s a dependable starter who has improved on an annual basis. He’d be the unquestioned top slot option on most rosters.
However, Jones has a challenger in the enigmatic Duke Dawson. Dawson, a 2018 second-round pick out of Florida, essentially missed the entirety of his rookie season with a neck injury. The rookie started the season on the short-term injured reserve but re-joined the active roster midway through the season. However, Dawson couldn’t get on the field thanks in large part to Jones’ play.
Given the impressive amount of talent on the depth chart, these two players could be fighting for one spot on the roster. Jones is entering the final year of his contract while the coaching staff clearly thinks highly of Dawson. Don’t be surprised to see New England trade Jones if Dawson is able to put together a strong training camp and preseason.
The New: Joejuan Williams
Despite their impressive depth at cornerback, thePatriots selected cornerback Joejuan Williams with their second pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. It’s easy to see why they did that, as Williams is a big, physical cornerback who can match up against the biggest receivers in the league. In many ways, he’s Brandon Browner all over again.
New England will use Williams any time they need to match up against a big, physical receiver. Back in 2014, the Patriots would often line Darrelle Revis up against a team’s second-best receiver while Browner and a safety took the top receiver. This strategy worked wonderfully against teams like the Detroit Lions and San Diego Chargers, and New England has the personnel to do it again.
Williams probably won’t be able to cover quick, speedy receivers, but that won’t be a problem. Thanks to New England’s plethora of riches at cornerback, they’ll be able to play matchups and take down any wide receiver group in their way.
Patriots Cornerbacks Fighting for Depth: Keion Crossen, Ken Webster, D’Angelo Ross
Keion Crossen performed well on special teams as a rookie but might be on the wrong end of the numbers game. New England already has five locks for the Opening Day roster and it’s hard to imagine the Patriots carrying more than five or six cornerbacks. Crossen was one of New England’s core special teamers and looked ok on defense, but that might not be enough.
Seventh-round rookie Ken Webster is a phenomenal athlete who probably is competing for a special teams role. He has the physical gifts to develop into an NFL-caliber cornerback, but he still is raw as a prospect. Undrafted free agent D’Angelo Ross stands little to no chance of cracking the roster but could land on the practice squad.
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