With the Patriots’ 2018 season done, we’re going to take a look back at the team by position, and provide a few thoughts as to what they might need at that spot moving forward. So far, we’ve put the offense under the microscope, as well as the special teamers. Our defensive snapshots kicked off with the defensive line, and then proceeded with the linebackers. Now, we’ll finish things off with the defensive backs.
2018 depth chart: Cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore (45 tackles, 2 INTs, 1 sack), J.C. Jackson (24 tackles, 3 INTs), Jason McCourty (70 tackles, 1 INT), Jonathan Jones (56 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 3 INTs), Keion Crossen (14 tackles), Duke Dawson, Eric Rowe (IR); Safeties Devin McCourty (82 tackles, 1 INT), Patrick Chung (84 tackles, 1 INT), Duron Harmon (38 tackles, 4 INTs), Obi Melifonwu (3 tackles)
Contract status: Gilmore (signed through 2021), Jackson (signed through 2020), Jason McCourty (free agent), Jones (restricted free agent), Crossen (signed through 2021), Rowe (free agent), Dawson (signed through 2021), Devin McCourty (signed through 2019), Chung (signed through 2020), Harmon (signed through 2020), Melifonwu (signed through 2019).
Overview: We can sing the praises of the linebackers and defensive line all day, but the defensive backs were the stingiest defensive unit of the year from start to finish. A big part of that was Gilmore, who had one of the best seasons of any defensive back in recent franchise history, taking on the best receivers in the league on a weekly basis and capping his year with a key interception in the Super Bowl.
After leading the league with 18 pass breakups – New England Patriots CB Stephon Gilmore finished the regular season as the highest-graded cornerback pic.twitter.com/z4So5vdGeX
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) January 8, 2019
It was also the work of the rest of the secondary. There were struggles -- like that first Kansas City game -- but there was a ton of good, especially late in the year. Jason McCourty, who overcame a slow start to become a vital piece of the puzzle by the midway point, and Jackson, who emerged as a starter by the end of the season (even if his occasionally handsy play made Patriots fans a little nervous). Jones and Crossen played excellent complementary roles as special teamers and backup cornerbacks — remarkably, Jones was just one of eight guys in the league to finish the year with at least three interceptions and 1.5 sacks. The veteran safeties rose to the occasion in the biggest moments, with Chung and Devin McCourty playing big roles down the stretch and into the playoffs. Meanwhile, Harmon saw his minutes reduced late in the year, but still managed to come up with big plays when needed, including an impressive PBU late in the Super Bowl.
Going forward, there will almost certainly be changes to this group, but for what it was able to do this year, they deserve one final acknowledgment.
[caption id="attachment_463492" align="alignnone" width="1000"] Devin McCourty's pick-six was a highlight. (Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff/Getty Images)[/caption]
By the numbers: 7 - We’ve referenced this before, but it bears repeating — this past year, Gilmore became just the seventh player of the Bill Belichick-Tom Brady Era to land a first-team All-Pro nod, a Pro Bowl nomination and a Super Bowl ring, all in one year. He joins a group that features Ty Law, Richard Seymour, Adam Vinatieri, Rob Gronkowski, Darrelle Revis and Matthew Slater.
A few thoughts about the position moving forward: