New England Patriots linebacker Dont’a Hightower praised fellow rookie Tavon Wilson in a Q&A that can be read in full on ESPN Boston. When asked about Wilson, Hightower said, “Definitely a steal. He’s a great player – athletic, smart, fast, hard-hitting, definitely a guy behind me that I can depend on to be a safety, a guy back there who is going to stop them from making big plays. I feel like he’s definitely doing everything everyone in this organization has asked him to.”
I couldn’t agree more, and Wilson has already stopped offenses from being able to make plays. He is already the Patriots best safety in coverage, and I think he is going to have a big role in Sunday’s game against the Baltimore Ravens.
The Ravens have figured out that they have a versatile and talented tight end in Dennis Pitta, mainly because they finally figured out how to use him correctly. In fact, the way to use Pitta is similar to the way the Patriots use currently injured star TE Aaron Hernandez. Play him in the slot and split him out wide; don’t use him as a traditional tight end.
Pitta is a talented TE with a high amount of upside, and the Ravens are now able to tap into that upside by using him in this role. What he has been able to do this year is remarkable, as Pitta has been stretching defenses vertically and opening up play for his teammates. In fact, he has been outplaying Anquan Boldin early on in the year and has received 23 targets thus far; making him Joe Flacco’s favorite target in the early going.
Now what does this have to do with Wilson? Well, Wilson is one of those safeties who can play as a “money” linebacker, which is a role given to safeties versatile enough to cover some of the top pass-catching tight ends in the NFL. Wilson did this against Jimmy Graham and the New Orleans Saints, as well as against Jared Cook and the Tennessee Titans.
A player with above-average ball skills but even better pure coverage skills, Wilson has the makings of a solid safety and is already developing into the Pats weapon of choice against top pass-catching TEs. Pitta has been playing like an elite receiver for the Ravens this season, and it’s going to be up to Wilson to show his great football IQ that allows him to be good at covering this quick into his NFL career. It’s not going to be an easy battle for him, but Hightower is right on when he lists Wilson’s qualities. He’s a dependable safety who also shores up the back line and is clearly their best bet when covering the deep half of the field. That will also be vital against the strong-armed Flacco and the speedy Torrey Smith.
The Pats are better in underneath coverage and will do everything they can to make Flacco play underneath, especially since Flacco had a below-average outing when the Philadelphia Eagles schemed against him in this manner.
You can follow Joe Soriano on Twitter @SorianoJoe.