There are many new faces on this Patriots team compared to last year. The Pats acquired four guys from trade, fifteen from free agency, and nine from the NFL Draft. They also lost nine players from trade and free agency and had three players retire.
In this new series, I will be looking at every player from each position leading up to training camp. For this part of the series, I will take a look at the cornerbacks. The Patriots lost a key-piece to their secondary this past off-season with the departure of Malcolm Butler. New England then went on to add one CB via trade, two by draft, and one as an undrafted FA.
Stephon Gilmore #24 (2017-Present):
Stephon Gilmore is entering his seventh year in the NFL and second for the Pats. Gilmore was the 10th overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft by the Buffalo Bills. He played five seasons in Buffalo, recording 225 tackles, 62 PBUs, and 14 interceptions. Gilmore’s final season in Buffalo was his best; he started 15 games and had 5 INT. He was voted as a Pro-Bowler for this season. Gilmore then signed a five-year, 65-million dollar contract with the Pats.
His career in New England started off rocky and he missed three games due to a concussion. Once he came back to the Pats, he played like the elite corner he was in Buffalo. In the 13 games in which Gilmore played, he notched 2 INT and 50 tackles. Gilmore started all three games in the playoffs, amassing 10 tackles and 6 PBUs. He also had the play of the game in the AFC Championship – a crucial pass deflection on fourth-down to seal the victory.
Stephon Gilmore made one heck of a play. DB clinic. pic.twitter.com/V5z2a5v3ew
— Brad Galli (@BradGalli) January 21, 2018
Gilmore’s contract will be debated with Pats fans for his entire tenure with the team. It is a lucrative deal, but it also gives the Patriots a legitimate number one cornerback to anchor the secondary. He showed he can cover the best wide-receivers in the game last year and will almost certainly make the roster next season.
Jason McCourty #30 (2018-Present):
Jason McCourty is in his tenth year in the NFL and first for the Patriots. He was the 203rd overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft by the Tennesse Titans. McCourty played his first eight years in the NFL for Tennesee and played in 108 games over that span. He had 13 INT, 496 tackles, and 2 TD in his career for the Titans. McCourty was released by Tennessee after refusing to take a paycut. He was rumored to have interest in going to New England that offseason, but the Browns gave him a better offer. McCourty started in all 14 games he played and had 65 tackles, 3 INT, and 1 TD. His career in Cleveland was cut short as the Browns looked to revamp their roster with younger talent. McCourty was traded to New England in the 2018 offseason for a sixth round pick.
— Rutgers Football (@RFootball) October 15, 2017
With McCourty coming in, the Pats have a guy that can replace Butler’s role on the team. As he gets older, McCourty continues to excel at zone defense, and read the QB better than many of his peers. He and his twin brother Devin will look to team up against opposing offenses this upcoming season. McCourty has a highly-likely chance of making the team due to his ability to read the pass.
Eric Rowe #25 (2016-Present):
Eric Rowe is entering his fourth year in the NFL and third for New England. The 2015 47th overall pick in the draft started his career in Philadelphia. After playing all 16 games for the Eagles in 2015, he was traded to the Patriots. Rowe’s career in New England began in 2016 but he only played in 9 games due to injury. He had 26 tackles, 8 PBUs, and 1 INT. Rowe also contributed with 11 tackles and 1 INT in the playoffs. His next season was riddled with injury; he only played in 8 games. In those contests, he had 14 tackles and 2 PBUs.
— Casey Baker (@CaseyBake16) August 26, 2017
Rowe’s play in Super Bowl LII against Philadelphia frustrated a lot of Pats fans. He was getting beat off the ball and let up big plays consistently. Overall, Rowe has the potential to be a good nickel corner, but I would not be shocked if Belichick released him.
Jonathan Jones #31 (2016-Present):
Jonathan Jones is an undrafted free agent out of Auburn University. He is now entering his third year in the NFL, all for New England. Jones has appeared in all 32 regular season games for the Patriots in his two-year tenure with the team. In his first year he had a small role, mostly as a special-teamer, and had 6 tackles, 1 FF, and 1 PBU. His next year was a quiet, breakout year as he started four games and saw increased snaps at corner. He had 36 tackles, 1 sack, 8 PBUs, and a game-winning INT against the Chargers.
— Casey Baker (@CaseyBake16) October 29, 2017
Jones will take a big step this upcoming year as Malcolm Butler is no longer with the team. He is going to have to show that he can continue to get better and become a consistent starter for the team. Jones has a very good chance of making the team.
Duke Dawson (Rookie):
Duke Dawson was the 56th overall pick by New England in the 2018 NFL Draft. He was also the highest picked defender taken by the Pats. Dawson hails from four years with the Florida Gators. In those four years, he played in 32 games and had 81 tackles, 6 INT, 3 TD, and 17 PBUs. His senior season was his best; he had 34 tackles, 4 INT, and 9 PBUs. Dawson was selected as first-team All-SEC.
Two of Duke Dawson’s four INTs last season were very Duron Harmon-esque. pic.twitter.com/s4muMRbETo
— Zack Cox (@ZackCoxNESN) April 30, 2018
Dawson could be pushed into a starting role as a rookie very early in the season. His talent is definitely there – it’s just of matter of how soon he can begin covering elite WRs. I can not see the Patriots cutting Dawson. After all, he was their highest defensive player selected.
Ryan Lewis #27 (2017-Present):
Ryan Lewis is entering his second year in the NFL, both for New England. Lewis was an undrafted free agent out of Pittsburgh before he was picked up by the Arizona Cardinals. He did not play a snap last year and was waived by Arizona. New England then snagged him. Lewis’ college career consisted 30 games, 103 tackles, 1 sack, and 2 INT, including one of off Deshaun Watson.
Lewis will have a very tough time trying to make the Patriots 53-man roster. The Pats have a lot of young-depth at the position that have a sizable advantage over Lewis. He could be riding the practice squad for the second year in a row.
Cyrus Jones #41 (2016-Present):
Cyrus Jones is now in his third-year in the NFL and for the Pats. The former 60th overall pick has not lived up to expectations so far. His first year in the league he played 10 games, both at returner and cornerback. As a corner, Jones only had 7 tackles and 0 INT or PBUs. It only got worse for the college-standout when he muffed 5 balls as a returner. He looked to improve in his next season, but a torn ACL sidelined him before he could even get started.
— alabamavault (@alabamavault) May 18, 2018
Jones had so much potential coming out of college, but it has yet to pan out in the NFL. Sometimes, teams need to realize that a pick can be a waste and ties have to be cut. I believe Jones will not make the roster due to his inability to keep up with WRs off the ball and his poor returning skills.
Keion Crossen (Rookie):
Keion Crossen was the 243rd overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. He spent his time in college as a two-sport athlete for the FCS School, Western Carolina. Crossen was a two-year starter for the Catamounts and played in 46 games. He amassed 165 tackles, 3 INT, and 19 PBUs in his career. Crossen also holds the school-record for fastest 100-meter dash, timing in at 10.33 seconds.
— Catamount Athletics (@Catamounts) November 5, 2016
Crossen is a dynamic player in the secondary for the Pats. His ability to play man defense on elite, shifty receivers will be something to look for in training camp. Overall, he will still have a tough time making the roster, but he could impress the right people with his return skills.
J.C. Jackson (Rookie):
J.C Jackson is an undrafted rookie out of the University of Maryland. Jackson started his college career in Florida, but a shoulder injury saw him transfer to JUCO. After his time in JUCO, he went to Maryland and played two seasons for the Terps. In those two seasons, Jackson played 24 games and had 80 tackles, 4 INT, and 13 PBUs. Jackson decided to forgo his senior season and enter the 2018 NFL Draft.
Watching #Patriots UDFA signing CB JC Jackson today. His work in zone coverage impressed me the most. Great at diagnosing route concepts, finding receivers and breaking on the ball. This was a terrific play to come off his assignment to break up this pass. pic.twitter.com/D6c9xsoM8B
— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) May 1, 2018
Even though undrafted players usually start at a disadvantage, Jackson is off to a strong start for New England. He got a lot of reps across Gilmore during OTAs, which is a good sign for the youngster. If Jackson continues to bring his intensity to training camp like he did in OTAs, I think he has a fair argument for a spot on the roster.
Jomal Wiltz #22 (2017-Present):
Jomal Wiltz is now in his second year in the NFL, both for the Patriots. After spending his first two years in college at JUCO, Wiltz signed with Iowa State. In his two seasons for the Cyclones, Wiltz had 90 tackles, 2 INT, and 17 PBUs. His senior season afforded him an honorable mention for the All-Big Ten team.
Wiltz is going to have a very hard time making the roster for the Patriots. The only way Wiltz has a chance is by wowing the coaches with his special teams ability. However, he’s to be considered a long-shot at best.
Overall, the Patriots have a lot of depth at cornerback this year. Watch closely to this group of guys as there seems to be some interesting battles brewing.