What may the future hold for the “Big Nickel” three-safety defensive system of the New England Patriots when Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung retire?
The New England Patriots have heavily relied on their three-safety “Big Nickel” defensive packages to better match up with the evolving offenses in today’s NFL. This defensive sub package that works well for the Patriots includes four defensive linemen, three safeties, two cornerbacks, and two linebackers.
To better explain the importance of the safety position in New England, the Patriots used their top trio of safeties — Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, and Duron Harmon — at the same time in Super Bowl LII for 63 of 75 defensive snaps.
The three-safety system allows the Patriots to better defend and cover the field against pass-happy, three-receiver formations, while also being able to quickly stop the run.
Over the years, McCourty, Chung, and Harmon have been the three main safeties for the Patriots.
But considering that McCourty and Chung are nearing retirement and Harmon is now out of New England, what is the future of the three-safety big nickel defensive system going to look like for the Patriots?
The future is now for the New England Patriots when it comes to safeties
To start, Adrian Phillips is extremely versatile, has plenty of experience floating around as the hybrid safety-linebacker, and is going to fill the void of Harmon as the third safety on the depth chart. His two-year contract will keep him in New England through his prime years until 2022, and gives the Pats some positive hope for the near future of their safety position.
The next important factor to the future of the Patriots’ safety unit is the development and progression of Kyle Dugger, the team’s top draftee in 2020. Dugger is also a hybrid strong safety that is reminiscent of what Chung brings to the table. He is both built and poised to take over for Chung as the team’s strong safety in the very near future.
Considering that he was drafted 37th overall, the Patriots envision Dugger being part of the future in New England.
And the same goes for cornerback Joejuan Williams, who the Pats traded up in the second round of the 2019 NFL Draft to select 45th overall.
In hopes of getting Williams on the field more in his second year, the Patriots requested that he learn the safety position this season. The tremendous size and strength of Williams also provides great depth to the safeties, as he is one of the tallest defensive backs in the NFL (6’3, 212 lbs).
If Williams’ transition to play safety goes smoothly, the future of the position will be in great condition for the New England Patriots moving forward after McCourty and Chung retire, with Dugger and Williams taking over.
It’s worth mentioning that other safeties that make up the roster in New England are Brandon King, Terrence Brooks, and Cody Davis, while Malik Gant and Adarius Pickett are more so just practice squad players than anything else.
All in all, with more offensive talent on the field than ever before, defenses around the NFL are using more nickel packages to better defend the spread and to match up with the bigger receivers and more talented tight ends that seem to enter the league every year.
It’s fair to say with the amount of talented defensive backs that New England has running around that the Patriots are well prepared to defend any type of receiver-happy offensive formation.