New England Patriots: 5 Second-year Players who Need to Step-up in 2016

Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports /
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Second-year safety Jordan Richards:

New England Patriots
Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports /

Second round draft pick Jordan Richards was a typical Bill Belichick draft pick: a player undervalued by 31 other teams but seen as a perfect fit to the defense Belichick runs in New England. The NFL draft analysts had a field day ridiculing the Patriots for reaching for the Stanford safety considered by many to be a day three pick. However, like third round draft pick Geneo Grissom, the value to the Patriots defense is higher for the player due to their unique skill set.

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Richards is neither an oversized run-stuffer nor a fleet of foot speedy centerfielder which caused him to be placed lower on many draft boards. What Belichick saw was a player who fit his defense in the same role as veteran Patrick Chung: strong enough and tough enough to play the run, smart enough to make big plays in zone coverage in the passing game, and enough short-space quickness to compensate for lack of straight line speed in covering running backs and tight ends in single coverage.

Most Patriots fans would be surprised to find out that Richards played over 230 snaps and over 20% of the defensive snaps last season (per ESPN).  In addition to being a regular on special teams, the rookie was a regular in the dime package helping cover running backs and tight ends. Richards did not show up on the highlights, but for a safety that often means they did their job and forced the play in another direction.

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In 2016 the Patriots already are all set with their top three safeties with Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung and Duron Harmon all under contract already. However, Richards is still being groomed to step in eventually. With another season of being entrenched in the defense should help Richards with his biggest strength–his intelligence. Another year of training camp could hone his instincts and let him step in and take a larger role on defense.