The New England Patriots are far from an uncompetitive team, but they do not have the security they once had with both Bill Belichick at the helm and Tom Brady under center.
In this new era of Patriot football, there is one area of the roster that the national media are particularly concerned with.
“The Patriots’ starting outside cornerbacks are Jalen Mills and either Terrance Mitchell or the recently unretired Malcolm Butler, as things stand right now,” ESPN’s Ben Linsey wrote Wednesday. “That talent doesn’t line up with what New England has done on defense in recent years, including last season, when it ranked second in Cover 1 rate. It doesn’t require much imagination to see that cornerback group getting exposed in a man-heavy scheme. That could force the Patriots into more zone coverage in 2022.”
The secondary is not only full of new faces, but missing their star from season’s past, J.C. Jackson. With the former top corner spending his days in Los Angeles sporting a hefty new contract from the Chargers, the Patriots patched up their secondary with a mix of affordable corners on short-term deals and rookie draft picks.
Butler, Mitchell and rookie fourth-round pick Jack Jones will fight to work primarily on the outside. Mills is at his best when he’s moving around the formation, but the Patriots might be forced to subject him to a purely outside role as well, out of necessity.
Jonathan Jones is an above-average slot corner, but the concern here remains on the boundary. The Patriots spent a third-round pick on cornerback Marcus Jones, but is another player best suited to remain on the inside. That said, he might be tasked with following specific players wherever they align when facing opponents like the Miami Dolphins, who have Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle. In that scenario, New England will have to match speed however they can.
For the Patriots, Jack Jones remains the biggest unknown, and thus provides the biggest hope. Should he exceed expectations, the slimmest member of the defense could provide stability to a defense that is not as veteran-laden as it is accustomed to being. Butler could provide the same type of security should he return to form after missing the 2021 season.