Can they evolve? It’s the question that will be asked of every unit in Foxborough, and the safeties are no exception. With the defensive collapse ending the 2021 season for the Patriots.
The secondary will be a vital piece of the puzzle. However, with the acquisition of Jabrill Peppers and the young elements present in Adrian Phillips and Kyle Dugger, rounded out by the veteran presence of Devin McCourty, the safeties unit should improve over the offseason. So let’s dive in and break down what we may see from them this year!
Foundation Of The Patriots Safeties
We start here with Devin McCourty has been a career Patriot since 2010 and is one of the best safeties the Patriots have had. His career has produced 93 defended passes, 26 interceptions, and 800 tackles. His experience in the Patriots system has proven valuable, as has his work ethic and intelligence.
On the field, he has shown an excellent awareness of how a play is progressing and where the ball is. That has resulted in many meaningful pass breakups, tackles, and interceptions, many of which have saved potential touchdowns. However, at his current age, and in general, he’s not an athletic freak, and probably the biggest weakness in his recent game is that he won’t be able to keep up with the faster NFL receivers in a battle of raw speed. However, with his anticipation, he likely won’t need to, and he’s the stable anchor of this system.
This year, he’ll have to continue taking a leadership role on the team and being one of the leaders in constructing defensive players for the safeties to succeed in 2022.
Best Patriot Signing Of 2020
Like McCourty, Adrian Phillips also injects a lot of experience into New England’s core of safeties, having played eight meaningful years in the NFL, both as a Patriot and as a Charger. With 360 tackles, 27 passes defended, and 11 interceptions, he has had a relatively successful career.
As a player, he is a physical player and a good tackler. His game tape shows his excellent vision for the field, and throwing in his direction was not a good idea last year. Despite his experience, he is still swift and agile and can keep up with the speed and directional changes of most receivers.
In his career, he hasn’t been on the ball as much as some of the star safeties in the league, with only 11 interceptions in his career. However, the fact that four interceptions happened in 2021 should be an encouraging sign for Patriots fans. He played a prominent role in the defense and had several game-altering plays, the most notable of which came against his former team in the form of a pick-six that clinched the game against the Chargers.
His growth is noticeable, and he is on a great trajectory; and he will need to continue on that trajectory and disrupt the rhythm of opposing passing games even more than last year. So look for him to be a considerable contributor in 2022 and for him to stamp his name as one of the better safeties in the league.
Future Of The Patriots’ Safeties?
Kyle Dugger is by far the youngest player in the group of potential starting safeties in Foxborough. He has started his career quite well, though, and in two years with the team, he has had 136 tackles, a defended pass, and four interceptions. With all four interceptions happening in 2021, he improved tremendously on the field from year one to year two.
Both as a Patriot and in college at Lenior-Rhyne, Dugger has impressed with his speed agility and acumen for significant contact. While he hasn’t touched the ball too often as a Patriot, he also hasn’t left too many openings either, and he is an excellent tackler who hasn’t allowed too many players to get behind him.
To elevate the team this year, however, he will need to get after the ball more. With only one pass deflection in his career, he hasn’t quite adapted to the progression of a play in the NFL. His tape has shown that while his awareness is improving, he has relied on his speed quite a bit so far, and he will need to become more cerebral with his approach to elevate his level even further.
Finally, The Patriots Add A Wild Card
Any fan of college football remembers how much of a menace Jabrill Peppers was at Michigan. His natural eye for the field, the ball, and the player, as well as his raw athleticism, made him a terrifying guy to target. While he hasn’t quite ascended to that level in the NFL, he has been very productive, with 360 tackles, 25 pass deflections, and four interceptions in just 60 games.
He adds a unique skill set to the group of safeties with his size and physicality. He almost has the build of a leaner linebacker, but with exceptional speed, and has shown the ability to get in the backfield and get sacks and tackles in shorter yardage situations. He will need to generate more turnovers, though, with only four career interceptions.
One of the challenges and potentially something that has limited his productivity a tad is his versatility. It’s somewhat challenging to figure out how exactly to use him. Still, likely the best way is as a situational player who lines up in multiple ways to make the most of his abilities in the secondary and his ability to make big hits. With three safeties capable of playing a more conventional role, there is certainly the flexibility to do more with Peppers.
The Bottom Line For The Patriots
While it was an up-and-down 2021, the safeties group in Foxborough looks to improve this season. The group has an exciting mix of skillsets, and if the coaching staff can figure out the best way to use them, they can cause some serious havoc.
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