New England Patriots: Top Position Battles on Defense Heading into Training Camp

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Nov 1, 2014; Eugene, OR, USA; Stanford Cardinal safety Jordan Richards (8) and linebackers Blake Martinez (4) and A.J. Tarpley (17) swarm Oregon Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota (8) in the first half at Autzen Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports

At the strong safety position the Patriots added rookie second round draft pick Jordan Richards, to the competition between incumbent Patrick Chung and 2012 second round draft pick Tavon Wilson. Chung was not expected to become the starter after he was re-signed by the Patriots after he spent 2013 in Philadelphia. Chung not only stepped in at strong safety, he excelled stepping up in run defense and playing well in coverage.

Feb 1, 2015; Glendale, AZ, USA; Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch (24) runs the ball against New England Patriots strong safety Patrick Chung (23) during the first quarter in Super Bowl XLIX at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

Chung was the top draft pick for New England in 2009 when he was taken 34th overall. Chung played sparingly as a rookie and in 2010 was used at free safety, strong safety and even slot cornerback. Chung missed much of 2011 due to a foot injury and in 2012 a shoulder injury kept him out of action for extended time during the season and Devin McCourty took over at safety forcing Chung to the bench. In 2013 he signed a three year, $10 million contract to rejoin his college coach Chip Kelly in Philadelphia.
Although Chung started ten games for the Eagles, it was clear he was not a fit at free safety in the Eagles defense. Despite being just five-foot-eleven and 212 pounds Chung excels playing close to the line of scrimmage. He is able to chase down running backs and stick with tight ends and backs in coverage.


Jordan Richards was drafted in the second round and was one of the surprises of the 2015 NFL Draft when Belichick drafted him at #64 overall. Many draft analysts had him going in the fourth round or later–certainly not at the end of the second round. However, Richards was a highly intelligent player who made plays despite average speed and size at Stanford. He is versatile, strong, and excelled in the short-space quickness drills such as the the three cone and short-shuttle drills.


Jan 18, 2015; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots safety Tavon Wilson (27) tries to get the crowd loud during the fourth quarter against the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

Tavon Wilson was a surprise second round draft pick by New England in 2012. Wilson played almost 500 snaps as a rookie but was on the field just 22 snaps in 2013. Last season he did get playing time at safety intermittently and played well in limited opportunities getting on the field for 188 snaps. Wilson is strong and athletic and a force on special teams. Although he struggled mightily when asked to play free safety, he is big enough and athletic enough to thrive at free safety.


By the end of the season as as second round draft pick the expectation should be that Richard will start taking away snaps from holdover Patrick Chung at strong safety. Belichick likely sees Richards as the complement to Devin McCourty at safety in the future to be the bigger, closer to the line of scrimmage strong safety for the foreseeable future. However, Chung just signed a contract extension and may not be ready to step aside. Wilson looms as a physical presence at strong safety or in the sub package. All three are capable of making big plays with their zone coverage abilities and big hitting ability near the line of scrimmage.

Next: Position Battle #3: Coverage Linebacker