Until the NFL and the players put aside their difference and realize how much the game means to fans, the players will be locked out and free agency is on hold. Litigation between the league and the players is set to be heard in court on April 6. The draft will take place no matter what, but hopefully there is a new CBA before then. Throughout the past week, I have been evaluating each position on the Patriots’ roster, looking at its strength, depth, and need. I also included possible free agent signings at the position (should free agency ever get started) and possible draft picks. Today’s position audit looks at the cornerback position.
Current Players on the Roster:
- Devin McCourty, Leigh Bodden, Kyle Arrington, Darius Butler, Jonathon Wilhite, Tony Carter, Thad Turner
Possible Free Agent Pick-Ups:
- Drayton Florence, Richard Marshall, Chris Carr, Stanford Routt, Drew Coleman
Possible Draft Picks:
- Brandon Harris (Miami), Jimmy Smith (Colorado), Aaron Williams (Texas), Kendric Burney (North Carolina), Rashad Carmichael (Virginia Tech)
The strength of the cornerback position lies heavily on two factors: Leigh Bodden’s recovery from a season-ending injury and the development of the younger players. If Bodden is able to fully recover and return to the same form he had in 2009, then he and 2010 rookie sensation Devin McCourty will make a formidable starting pair of corners. If he does not, the Pats could struggle finding a consistent starter opposite McCourty. Kyle Arrington was the starter opposite McCourty much of the season and did well, but he was exposed against team’s with strong passing attacks. Darius Butler is a wild card in this mix. He has the talent to be a starter but he hasn’t been able to put it together. He was given the chance early on but was pulled in favor of Arrington. Butler and Jonathon Wilhite may be competing for one spot as a nickel or dime corner if Bodden is fully recovered. Of course, an improvement in the pass rush will equal an improvement in the secondary, as the corners will not have to cover as long.
I don’t foresee the Pats making a splash in free agency for a corner, though they could sign someone like Chris Carr or Stanford Routt to add depth to the nickel spot, which has taken on a greater importance with so many teams going with multiple receiver sets. I do see the Patriots drafting a corner in the mid rounds, with the second round being the earliest they draft one (though another first-round corner wouldn’t surprise me after last year). All of the corners listed above as possible draft picks are looked at as solid nickel corners that are projected to go in the middle rounds. Brandon Harris from Miami and Colorado’s Jimmy Smith would be late first/early second-round picks that could develop into future starters. Smith, at 6’2″, may be a little too tall for the Patriots’ liking but he has good speed. The Pats like smaller corners who generally have more fluid hips, essential for covering wide receivers. Aaron Williams from Texas and VA Tech’s Rashad Carmichael are players that I think could be targeted between rounds 2 and 4, particularly Williams, who has experience covering slot receivers and is good at taking away crossing routes that have killed the Pats at times.
Previous Position Audits: