If the New England Patriots decide to carry just five cornerbacks, then it all comes down to rookie Alfonzo Dennard and former New York Jets CB Marquice Cole for that 5th slot behind Devin McCourty, Kyle Arrington, Ras-I Dowling, and Sterling Moore.
Cole had a big game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last night with six tackles and two passes defended, even though he could have added a pick or two. In any case, Cole displayed good coverage skills and is pressing hard to gain a roster spot. If Cole ends up getting on the 53-man roster above Dennard, then it isn’t a travesty given that Cole has played well, but it isn’t the best decision.
Here’s the thing, Dennard is a young, physical safety with a high amount of upside and has all the tools to be a legitimate starting cornerback in this league. Cole does not. He’s the safer bet to be a veteran depth guy, but Dennard can be that type of player down the road. It’s all about relative value, and Cole’s true value to the Patriots- or any team, for that matter- is solid veteran depth. Dennard, on the other hand, can play in the slot, outside, or as a safety and has a high amount of talent with his ability to lockdown receivers by sticking to them after pressing them at the line of scrimmage.
Some say that Dennard is a better fit at safety due to his speed, but he’s faster than his combine times and better than what he showed at the Senior Bowl. He was terrific value in the seventh-round because of the always over bloated character concerns that cropped up due to his arrest (boneheaded decision, not a bonehead player).
In the end, I would put both of them on the roster and keep six corners while cutting off Justin Francis from my 53-man roster projection. He, once again, showed me nothing in a preseason game. Doing well in training camp is one thing, but not getting pressure during a preseason game overcomes the good of disrupting the pocket in camp.
For as good as Marquice Cole has been in the preseason, he wasn’t exactly great against the Bucs and was targeted heavily for a reason; he wasn’t locking down receivers as good as people think. Still, he did well, provides value on special teams, and is a versatile defensive back. The difference is that Alfonzo Dennard has more upside and talent, gives the Patriots a physical corner who presses receivers and sticks to them, and he is a versatile DB in his own right.
You can follow Joe Soriano on Twitter @SorianoJoe.