ESPN reveals Patriots’ strongest position for the 2024 season

PFF like the Patriots linebackers, but ESPN believe there's an even stronger unit in New England. Maybe things aren't all that bad after all?
New England Patriots v New York Giants
New England Patriots v New York Giants / Al Bello/GettyImages

The Worldwide leader in sports, ESPN, recently ranked all the projected starting lineups in the NFL, and there’s good news and bad news for Patriots fans. 

First, the bad news is that they rank the Patriots 27th heading into the 2024 season. That seems to be in line with most people's expectations, but still, there is not much reason for optimism. Well, this is where the good news comes in. 

ESPN senior writer Mike Clay is high on the Patriots' safeties. He believes that Jabrill Peppers’ expanded role (due to all the injuries) has improved him as a player. And let’s face it, Peppers was pretty great, to begin with. 

The fantasy football expert also notes that Kyle Dugger, who played a career-high 1,069 snaps in 2023, has the ninth-most interceptions in the league in the last three seasons.  

But Clay mentions Marte Mapu as another reason to be cheerful about the Patriots’ safety room in 2024. Mapu is the second-most exciting second-year Patriot behind Christian Gonzalez, but he’s not a safety or traditional safety anyway. 

Mapu is more of a Jamal Adams-type safety. He could line up in the defensive backfield, but he’ll do his best work close to the line of scrimmage or defending in the slot. 

However the Patriots choose to deploy him Mapu should feature more than he did in his rookie year. When he began his preseason campaign in 2023 the California native was rehabilitating a torn pectoral muscle that had required surgery. 

As a result, the then 23-year-old was always playing catch up. Even though the former Sacramento State Hornet was involved in all 17 games of the 2023 season he only played on 18% of the defense’s snaps and 47% for the special teams. 

But they aren’t the only three safeties on the Patriots’ roster heading into training camp.

The Patriots young and hungry safeties put the position over the top

Dell Pettus, an undrafted free agent out of Troy, and Jaylinn Hawkins, a free agent signing who finished the 2023 season as a Charger, amongst others. Joshuah Bledsoe and Brenden Schooler are technically also safeties. But they could be competing for one spot on the special teams unit.  

Pettus is an interesting prospect, as he is a tough tackler but can be found wanting in coverage. With the new kickoff rules, Pettus could find a spot on the special teams unit, but it seems unlikely he’ll play many snaps with the defense. 

Panama native Jaylinn Hawkins is the mirror image of Pettus. They are similar sizes, but Hawkins is good in coverage, although he can sometimes miss open-field tackles.

Missouri alum Bledsoe heads into his third season after only appearing in one game in 2023. It wouldn’t be a shock if he’s one of the first players to be cut. Former college wide receiver and safety Schooler, on the other hand, played 89% and is in line to take over from Matthew Slater as the Patriots' special teams maven. 

Rookie Marcellas Dial is listed as a defensive back, but he looks better suited to a safety role than at cornerback. The South Carolina product struggles in coverage and takes bad angles when he’s in a zone shell. He will need a strong preseason campaign to make the 53-man roster. 

With highly regarded safeties like Peppers and Dugger playing in the backfield alongside Christian Gonzalez, Alex Austin, and Jonathan Jones, who figure to be lining up as cornerbacks or at nickelback, the Patriots’ backfield is poised for a big season in 2024. 

If the defensive front can start converting pressure into sacks, the Patriots will give plenty of quarterbacks sleepless nights. And if (that’s a big if) the offense can chew up some clock and matriculate the ball down the field, the Patriots will finish higher than ESPN expects, in 27th place. 

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