The acquisition of Aqib Talib makes the New England Patriots a lot stronger; there’s not much debate to that. However, what is not as easy to decide is which players should be starting for the Pats and where they should be lined up. Should Devin McCourty play safety? How does Alfonzo Dennard fair out in the slot? Is Patrick Chung better than Steve Gregory? Those are a few of the burning questions, and they are certainly difficult ones to answer.
First off, let me start by saying that I think Devin McCourty is still the best DB on the Patriots. Talib has more natural talent, but he is more of a wild card when looking at him play-by-play. It’s really close, and the only thing set in stone is the fact that Talib will be starting at cornerback. McCourty can successfully play at either corner or safety, but I would rather play him at corner at this point in time.
This isn’t because of McCourty’s skill-set, because he might actually be better at safety. The real reason is Kyle Arrington, because starting McCourty at safety means starting Arrington or Marquice Cole. I like the thought of Cole playing in the nickel, but nobody is sold on him yet. As for Arrington, I don’t want to see him starting at all. McCourty is playing at corner unless if Cole can prove himself in the slot.
That would mean starting Alfonzo Dennard in the slot, which isn’t a problem at all. He’s a very physical corner who can succeed both outside and inside, and he’s been a quality rookie thus far. If he does struggle in the slot, then that would mean a move for McCourty to safety in order to shift Dennard to the outside and bring in Cole or Arrington in the slot. It could also mean an outright benching for Dennard if the safeties play well as is.
At the safety position, I think rookie Tavon Wilson is a must-start for the New England Patriots. He’s already the best cover safety on the team, and he is a sure tackler back there. Wilson does blow assignments at times and gets burned, but he overall limits receivers to a low Y/C. The rookie is also excellent as the “money” linebacker against TEs, and I think he is the best safety on this team.
The real question for me is at the other safety position. I really want to say that Patrick Chung deserves to start over Steve Gregory, but I can’t bring myself to do it. I love Chung since he was a great player for the Oregon Ducks, but he doesn’t combine well with Wilson. A rookie safety needs to have a less mercurial counterpart starting next to him, and I view Gregory as that player. Chung offers better run support, but that’s not what the Patriots need with that beast front seven. Wilson is a talented young safety, but he needs Gregory- a better coverage safety than Chung- to help him out at the back.
I could also see both Gregory and Chung starting with Wilson taking on the “money” role in nickel and dime packages, and that is something that works as well. Heck, it would be interesting to see the Pats get creative and use Wilson as a nickel safety. The loss of Ras-I Dowling limits the Patriots options in the slot somewhat, but I like the group going forward as long as the safeties can stay healthy.
Who do you guys think should be starting in the secondary for the New England Patriots? As always, I love hearing all responses and getting into some great football discussions.
You can follow Joe Soriano on Twitter @SorianoJoe.