One of the newest additions to the New England Patriots in 2020, veteran safety/special teamer Adrian Phillips could make a big impact this year.
Adrian Phillips just feels like the prototypical New England Patriots defensive player under Bill Belichick, doesn’t he?
Phillips went to a blue-chip college football program (Texas) but still went undrafted in 2014.
He got scooped up by the then-San Diego Chargers that year and was involved in a dizzying number of transactions with that team — getting alternately released, signed, released again, signed again, put on the practice squad, promoted to the active roster, etc. — at least 13 times between June 2014 and October 2015.
Thirteen times … can you imagine?
Phillips’ trajectory with the Chargers was definitely an overall upward one, however. He played in just three regular season games as a rookie in 2014, nine games in 2015, 14 games in 2016, 15 games in 2017, and all 16 games in 2018.
It wasn’t until 2017 that Phillips finally really got his feet under him as a regular starter for the Bolts during their first year in Los Angeles. He played that season as the No. 3 safety behind Jahleel Addae and Tre Boston (sort of like how Duron Harmon had played as the No. 3 safety behind Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung for most recent years with the Pats).
2018 was Phillips’ real breakout year, however. He earned a Pro Bowl nomination as the AFC’s designated special teams player standout and was also named First-team All-Pro for his contributions in that phase of the game.
Additionally, Phillips played in his first full season as the No. 3 safety –earning seven starts along the way — and amassed a career-high 94 tackles and 10 passes defended. He also had one forced fumble and one interception that year.
Unfortunately, Phillips missed nine games last year after breaking his arm in Week 2. He returned later on in the year but his impact down the stretch for L.A. was minimal.
Belichick signed him to a two-year contract this past spring to replace Harmon, who was traded to Detroit as part of a salary dump.
Best-case scenario projection for 2020
Phillips certainly has some big shoes to fill in replacing Harmon.
Harmon played in all 16 games during six of his seven years as a pro in New England, displaying remarkable durability and consistency. While never the flashiest of players, he still made a name for himself around Boston as being “The Closer” for the team due to his knack for coming up with game-sealing interceptions, oftentimes in the playoffs.
Phillips probably won’t be expected to have that same kind of impact right out of the gate, but that’s still certainly the best-case scenario for him this year and beyond. If he can tally even just a couple interceptions over the course of the year — especially if they come in big, critical moments — he’ll be lauded as an excellent replacement for Harmon.
Worst-case scenario projection for 2020
Phillips is just a year younger than Harmon, so he doesn’t necessarily offer any value there in terms of getting younger at the position.
To be optimistic, he does have less overall mileage on his body after having played less snaps over his career than Harmon.
To be pessimistic, he also hasn’t had the same kind of high-level experience during his off-again, on-again relationship with the Chargers that Harmon had with the Patriots.
The worst-case scenario for Phillips is that he finds himself irrelevant in New England this year.
From a team standpoint, this is a low-risk signing — especially after Belichick used his top draft pick last April on a safety in Kyle Dugger. Even if Phillips struggles in pass coverage and becomes a liability alongside McCourty and Chung, Belichick can turn to Dugger (or veteran Terrence Brooks even, who was solid last year).
Even on special teams, Phillips will need to make his mark fast. There are plenty of guys there (Matthew Slater, Justin Bethel, etc.) who have just as much experience and pedigree — if not more so — than Phillips when it comes to the third phase of the NFL game.