No one seems to have a full set of details for what exactly happened on April 21, 2012 in Lincoln, Neb., but that doesn’t much matter anymore. Alfonzo Dennard fell all the way to the Patriots in the seventh round and the gamble paid off for New England.
Dennard emerged as a starting cornerback in 2012 and he won’t miss any time on the field due to his conviction of felony assault on a police officer. That clears up the Patriots’ secondary to some extent, but don’t think they’re done adding pieces just because Dennard, Aqib Talib and Kyle Arrington will all be back to their rightful places at right, left and slot cornerback respectively.
Dennard was a quality starter in 2012, but the Patriots saw first hand with Devin McCourty that a sophomore slump is not out of the question for any player. Talib will certainly be the starter on the left side of the field in Week 1, but the former Buccaneer has never played a full 16-game season during his five-year career because of suspension and injury.
If either Dennard or Talib falters, that leaves Arrington to play outside and Marquice Cole to man the slot, which weakens both the outside and inside positions. Unless, of course, Ras-I Dowling can stay healthy for more than a few games. But if the key to the Patriots’ depth at secondary is dependent on Dowling’s health, well, that’s not good. (Dowling is a great player and if he ever gets his injury issues under control could still be a future starter in New England. But until that happens you can’t include him in any concrete plans.)
The lack of a quality third outside corner, plus the fact that Talib is only locked up for one year, is why the Patriots need to add one more piece at cornerback before the season starts. With limited funds to spend in free agency (and a lack of solid options left), the best place to turn is in the draft, where there’s another solid class at cornerback.
With the unpredictability of the 2013 class (seriously, have fun with those mock drafts, guys. It might be easier to mock draft the 2014 class at this point), the only corner who’s essentially guaranteed to be off the board by the time the Patriots pick is Alabama product Dee Milliner.
After Milliner, Xavier Rhodes, Desmond Trufant, Jamar Taylor, Johnthan Banks, Blidi Wreh-Wilson, Darius Slay and D.J. Hayden (plus others) will fall off the board in some impossible to predict order. For the Patriots, it’s even tougher to guess how they pick if they go defensive back at No. 29. Prior to 2011, they seemed to prefer smaller, faster cornerbacks, who were typically under 6-feet. Recently, though, they seem to like the Talib/Dowling types who can fight with bigger wideouts at the line of scrimmage.
That still leaves all of the above options open. It’s never wise to go chalk when talking about Bill Belichick drafting a defensive back. It would have been hard to predict McCourty going No. 27 overall in 2010 and Dowling No. 33 in 2011 and downright impossible to guess Tavon Wilson would be drafted No. 48 overall in 2012. Still, past history suggests they would love to have a player like Trufant, Taylor or Wreh-Wilson.
We all said the same thing last year, but with Talib, Dennard, Arrington and McCourty all back next year, plus either Wilson, Adrian Wilson or Steve Gregory starting at the other safety position, the New England secondary should be better regardless in 2013 than last year’s or 2011’s group. Some added depth behind Dennard, Talib and Arrington certainly wouldn’t hurt.
Photo via Facebook/Alfonzo Dennard