Patriots Draft Fits: Defensive Backs

Current Situation: Cornerback starters are Stephon Gilmore, Jason McCourty, and Jonathan Jones, with JC Jackson and JoeJuan Williams as key reserves. The starters at safety are once again Devin McCourty and Pat Chung, with Adrian Phillips and Terrance brooks providing depth.

Level of Need: Low

SHS Take: The Pats are well-stocked at corner for years to come, but safety is another story. McCourty and Chung are getting into their 30s, and Duron Harmon was moved early in the off-season. I would imagine Jason McCourty would move to safety to help replace the loss of Harmon, but he isn’t getting any younger either. Adrian Phillips will have a sizeable role as Chung’s backup and a hybrid linebacker, and Terrance Brooks should continue his role as a valued reserve. The Patriots should be in on another coverage safety at some point early in this draft or the next to groom as McCourty’s replacement.

Early Round Fits

Xavier McKinney – Safety, Junior, Alabama, 6’0″, 201 lbs

McKinney is Belichick’s dream defensive back. He’s extremely versatile, an excellent leader, and came from a certified FOB (friend of Belichick) in Nick Saban. From deep safety, to the slot, to even linebacker, McKinney can be a swiss army knife in the secondary. An excellent tackler and blitzer, McKinney excelled playing close to the line of scrimmage and could help to replace some of the things Jamie Collins did for the Patriots last season. If the Pats implement a similar defensive scheme as 2019 next year with cover zero on passing downs, McKinney would be an ideal fit. The Georgia native won’t be around long, and the Patriots would probably need to take him at 23 if they want to bring him into the fold.

Projection: Top 25

NFL Comparison: Malcolm Jenkins

Damon Arnette – Cornerback, Redshirt Senior, Ohio State, 6’0″, 195 lbs

Arnette is a do-it-all corner, with the ability to play both slot and outside, and also transition between zone and man coverage with ease. An extremely physical and competitive player, Arnette possesses many of the skills necessary to succeed in the Patriots secondary. The former Buckeye tackles very well for the position and is a willing contributor in run defense. His talent alone would typically have him as a top 20 pick, however concerns regarding his character, including controlling his emotions on the field, have him falling further than his play would indicate. The potential for Arnette is sky-high, he simply needs to be placed in the right scheme with good developmental coaching.

Projection: Late 1st to Early 2nd

NFL Comparison: Marcus Lattimore

Mid Round Fits

Antoine Winfield Jr. – Safety, Redshirt Sophomore, Minnesota, 5’9″, 203 lbs

The son of former All-Pro corner and Vikings legend, Winfield Jr. is an excellent play-making safety that can play either spot at a high level. An instinctive player, Winfield Jr. has fantastic ball skills, (7 interceptions in 2019) and is seemingly always around the ball. Clearly undersized at just 5’9″, the former Gopher’s lack of length certainly shows up from time to time, but it isn’t uncommon for undersized safeties to succeed at an NFL level. Despite size limitations, Winfield Jr is an excellent athlete and really helped his draft stock at the combine, running a 4.45 forty time.

Projection: Early 3rd to Mid 4th

NFL Comparison: Tyrann Mathieu

Darnay Holmes – Cornerback, Junior, 5’10”, 195 lbs

A great athlete and notoriously hard worker, Holmes fits the profile as a classic Patriots cornerback. He’s more quick than fast and is undersized for the position, which makes him a perfect fit for the slot in the NFL. The former Bruin is exceptional when it comes to short and intermediate routes, but does not possess the top-end speed to compete with receivers downfield with consistency. He is also a very solid tackler and has solid ball skills. The Pasadena native also adds value as a kick returner, with a 93-yard touchdown on his resume at UCLA.

Projection: Mid 4th to Mid 5th

NFL Comparison: Kenny Moore

Late Round Fits

Shyheim Carter – Cornerback/Safety, Senior, Alabama, 5’10”, 195 lbs

Another Alabama prospect, Carter isn’t as highly touted as McKinney, but he still brings a lot to the table. He’s very versatile, playing the Star position at Alabama which essentially means moving back and forth between deep safety and slot. Carter is undersized and is not a fantastic athlete, but is very instinctual, and has a knack for making play and being in the right spot. As a developmental safety/slot corner, Carter would be an intriguing player to use in dime or dollar packages on obvious passing downs once he adjusts to the NFL.

Projection: Early 5th to Late 6th

NFL Comparison: Andrew Sendejo

Tanner Muse – Safety, Redshirt Senior, Clemson, 6’2″, 227 lbs

A fascinating prospect with excellent size, Muse also ran a 4.41 forty at the combine, displaying his tantalizing athleticism. Muse is big enough to play a hybrid linebacker role, and also has the straight-line speed to play a strong safety role. His athletic ability will almost certainly make him a special teams ace but will need to improve his lateral quickness and coverage ability if he wants to be a factor on defense. Muse would be a classic late-round pick as a guy who immediately plays special teams and develops into a solid role a few years down the line.

Projection: Late 5th to Late 7th

NFL Comparison: Adrian Phillips

*All stats and measurables via NFL.com and Walter Football

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