Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots figured out that the NFL’s obsession with up-tempo offenses isn’t just a passing craze.
Belichick typically likes to get ahead of the trends, and when the league zigs, he and the Patriots zag. The Patriots held strong in their attempt to build their defense to stop the run for years, but this year, they finally bought in and paid top dollar for one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL.
Adding Darrelle Revis created a logjam on the depth chart at cornerback, but that’s a great problem for the Patriots to have, and it should only push the players on the roster more.
Over the next two weeks, NESN.com will look at each position to see how the Patriots’ depth chart stacks up now that the draft and the undrafted free-agent signing period are over. We’ll break down roster locks, players on the bubble and practice-squad candidates.
Check out the Patriots’ stacked depth chart at cornerback.
Roster locks: Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner, Alfonzo Dennard, Logan Ryan, Kyle Arrington
On the bubble: Justin Green, Jemea Thomas
Practice squad candidates: Malcolm Butler, Travis Hawkins
Revis adds a whole new element to the Patriots’ defense, and obviously he has been inserted as the team’s No. 1 cornerback, tasked to cover the opposing team’s best receiver.
Browner’s four-game suspension to start the season likely will force the Patriots to carry six cornerbacks coming out of training camp, which should allow either Green, an undrafted free agent in 2013, or Thomas, a Patriots 2014 sixth-round pick, to earn a roster spot. It would help the team’s versatility that Thomas can play safety.
Dennard likely will start the season as the team’s No. 2 cornerback, though Ryan and Arrington will compete for that role in training camp. All three players also will compete for the role as the Patriots’ nickel/slot cornerback once Browner returns.
Belichick said after the draft that Ryan will see snaps at safety during the spring and summer, but whether he sticks there or earns the starting role is another question. If the Patriots’ goal is to put the best 11 players on the field, the second-year Rutgers product proved in 2013 that he should be one of them.
Green has some competition for the final roster spot at cornerback, and he had a solid — if brief — rookie campaign. He came in as an unheralded rookie free agent but earned a spot on the practice squad and was called up to the 53-man roster by the playoffs.
Butler and Hawkins appear to be odd men out for the 53-man roster, but they always can crack the practice squad with a solid spring and summer.
Hawkins, who comes from Football Championship Subdivision power Delaware, is undersized at 5-foot-10, but he has solid bulk at 192 pounds and made an impressive showing at his pro day, running a 4.37-second 40-yard dash with a 6.80-second three-cone, 34-inch vertical leap and 10-foot-8 broad jump. Hawkins transferred from Maryland after the 2010 season.
Butler lacks ideal size (5-foot-10, 187 pounds) athleticism (4.62-second 40-yard dash) and a Division I pedigree, but there must be something Belichick saw during rookie minicamp in the Division II West Alabama product in order for the Patriots to sign him.
The Patriots have the deepest group of cornerbacks in the league, and the battle for roles during the summer should make each player even better. It finally will be difficult to throw on the Patriots in 2014.