The New England Patriots look to have one of the top secondaries in the NFL during the 2017-18 season.
We've already gone over the cornerback position, which features studs Malcolm Butler and Stephon Gilmore, but it doesn't end there when it comes to defending the pass.
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The safety position is another strength for New England, and one that should continue to excel in 2017.
And with Gilmore, the safeties can focus on surveying the field and playing to strengths than dedicating consistent safety help on a given opposing player.
Devin McCourty, one of the best free safeties in the game, should be even more effective reading the quarterback this year and putting himself in position to break up passes and make tackles.
And Pat Chung can do what he does - which is a lot. Whether he lines up at safety, linebacker, blitzes, stacks the box, etc., Chung rarely ever comes off the field on defense.
Opposing teams throw a lot on the Patriots because they're usually playing from behind. Opponents threw on them 596 times in 2016, the 7th most in the NFL. But the Patriots defense did well in limiting big plays, and that's got a lot to do with the safeties. According to sportingcharts.com, the Patriots allowed 27 passes of 25 yards or more in 2016, the 10th fewest in the NFL.
Devin McCourty, Pat Chung, Duron Harmon, Jordan Richards, Nate Ebner, Brandon King
On a defense and secondary that always seems to be changing with Bill Belichick, McCourty is the consistent force back there - and for good reason. After changing from cornerback to safety in 2012, McCourty has vaulted to the top of the free safety charts. He finished 2016 with 83 combined tackles, a forced fumble, interception, and seven passes defended.
When the Patriots took Chung back after he went to the Eagles for the 2013 season, not many people thought much of it. But after three seasons with the Patriots, it's safe to say Chung blew everybody's expectations out of the water. The versatile safety has 261 combined tackles over his last three seasons with the Pats.
To make it short, Duron Harmon's growth at the safety position has allowed McCourty to freestyle a bit more and Chung to slide up a bit more. The Patriots will go with three safeties at the same time, and they trust Harmon to take on the more traditional free safety role. He just signed a four-year, $17 million deal over the offseason after a very strong 2016.
Is this the year Jordan Richards makes the leap? The 2015 third-round pick has had a quiet two seasons in New England but could be ready for an expanded role. It will be an important training camp for the third-year pro. The Pats need a dependable fourth safety if someone goes down.
Nate Ebner is listed at safety for the Patriots but has really made his mark on special teams. Simply put, the former rugby star is built for hitting dudes. Brandon King is a special teams stud, too.
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