Patriots Positional Outlook: Safety Group Loaded With Talent, Questions

Will Devin McCourty be back?


February 22, 2022

As the NFL calendar officially flips to 2022, we’re taking a position-by-position look at the New England Patriots roster. We’ll examine which players stood out in 2021, which ones have some work to do this offseason and which ones could be leaving town. Next up: safeties.

Kyle Dugger
Adrian Phillips
Joshuah Bledsoe
Cody Davis
Justin Bethel

Devin McCourty

The Patriots in 2021 had one of the best safety groups in the NFL, but 2022 could be a different story — for better or for worse.

The primary starters — Dugger, Phillips and McCourty — all played great, finishing the season ranked 31st, 8th and 14th, respectively, among all safeties by Pro Football Focus. Dugger and Phillips tied for second on the Patriots in tackles with 92 apiece, while McCourty ranked eighth with 60. The trio also combined for 11 interceptions, with Dugger and Phillips both logging four and McCourty finishing with three.

So, it was a great campaign, one that helped Phillips land a three-year extension and put Dugger on the map as one of the NFL’s most promising young safeties. However, how this group looks next season remains to be seen, as the 34-year-old McCourty is set to become a free agent this offseason.

The potential for McCourty to leave is worrisome, but fans nevertheless should feel good about the future of the safety position in Foxboro. Dugger has star-caliber talent, and Bledsoe, a rookie, earned rave reviews from coaches and teammates after his late-season return to practice. Also, while not listed on the safety depth chart, hybrid defensive back Myles Bryant played very well this season and can play the position when called upon.

With that said, let’s look at some of the top storylines concerning Patriots safeties in 2022.

1. Will McCourty be back? Finding a new franchise free safety is one thing, finding a new quarterback of the defense is another challenge entirely. McCourty, who hardly ever misses a snap, let alone a game, is a future Patriots Hall of Famer and one of the most consistently strong performers on the roster. He reportedly plans to play in 2022, but it’s unclear how much he’ll be looking for in free agency. Ultimately, if the money is reasonable, the Patriots should do what it takes to bring McCourty back.

2. Will the Patriots look for a successor? Even if McCourty returns, New England probably needs to find his eventual replacement. Dugger primarily plays strong safety and also sees plenty of snaps in the box. The Patriots love moving Phillips all over the secondary, and Bledsoe projects as a similarly versatile defensive back. So, there really isn’t a great in-house option for a free safety of the future. It might be a position New England targets in the 2022 NFL Draft.

3. Can Dugger take a big leap in Year 3? Dugger has the ability to be New England’s version of Jamal Adams, if not better. He possesses electrifying talent and is capable of making plays few safeties can make. But will he reach his potential? Dugger still is guilty of some head-scratching plays and at times looks a bit gunshy. If he starts playing with even more confidence and takes a big leap next season, the Patriots could have a superstar on their hands.

Thumbnail photo via Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports Images
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