Veteran Patriots CB ready more than ever to step up as the No. 1

FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - OCTOBER 17: Jalen Mills #2 of the New England Patriots looks on at Gillette Stadium on October 17, 2021 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - OCTOBER 17: Jalen Mills #2 of the New England Patriots looks on at Gillette Stadium on October 17, 2021 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) /

Patriots veteran CB Jalen Mills is ready to accept his role of stepping into the No. 1 with the latest season-ending injury of CB Malcolm Butler.

It should come as no surprise that the key to any successful New England Patriots defense starts with a No.1 cornerback. Over the past few years, the Patriots have fielded many legitimate No.1 cornerbacks: Stephon Gilmore, J.C. Jackson, and Malcolm Butler. From 2017 to 2020, it was Gilmore chasing and taking the No.1 WR threat.

Eventually, in 2021, these roles were successfully transferred to undrafted FA Jackson. Gilmore was traded last year to the Carolina Panthers and Jackson is not brought back in FA these leave a gaping hole in the Patriots’ secondary.

These roles have yet to be clearly filled, however, veteran CB Jalen Mills appears to be having a phenomenal training camp. Prior to training camp, many suspected he would be the No. 2 corner on the team behind Super Bowl XLIX hero Malcolm Butler. Sadly, Butler suffered a season-ending injury during training camp which has opened up opportunities for Mills going forward.

Top Corners in Training Camp for the Patriots

Jalen Mills and Jonathan Jones have emerged as the top options on the outside. Mills lined up as No. 2 just a season ago while Jones played a slot before getting injured mid-season. Terrence Mitchell and rookie Jack Jones have made strides as well proving to possibly be an asset in the secondary.

Patriots HC Bill Belichick will find a way to utilize these unique talents in certain packages throughout the season. He appears to not be worried about any titles or players in particular. Many understand Belichick has a unique and unorthodox ideology and approach to things, so this shouldn’t come as any surprise that he doesn’t care which number corner or receiver one is as long as they produce.

"“Defensively you have who you have and you play with who you play with,” Belichick told reporters on August 16, 2022. “Number them however you want that doesn’t make any difference to me. You have to put 11 guys out there and they have to play well together, whoever those 11 guys are. Number one, number two, number one tackle, number two corner, I’m not sure. I’m confused about that.”"

Belichick’s thoughts on Jalen Mills

Through training camp, the most consistent CB appears to be Mills. In 2021, the Pats acquired Mills in the offseason during free agency. Mills suited up for 80.4% of the team’s defensive snaps last season. The only teammates who played more snaps were Jackson and safety Devin McCourty, according to Pro Football Reference.

While playing a significant amount of snaps for the Pats last season, he was often targeted heavily in the passing game. He gave up 37 receptions on 65 targets for 404 yards and a team-high seven touchdowns. One can agree that these numbers don’t appear encouraging, however, Belichick speaks highly of his improvement this summer. Belichick’s cosigning is significant because he simply just doesn’t give out many!

"“Jalen’s a very hard-working kid, smart, has a lot of position flexibility,” Belichick said about him on Tuesday. “We’ve used him primarily on the outside, but he’s played inside, he’s played safety. Probably can play any of those positions pretty well, but our depth at safety right now looks like that’s OK, so he’s worked primarily outside.“But he can play inside and we’ve done that by matchup, too, that type of thing. If the guy he’s on goes in the slot, he would go inside and things like that.”"