Why Alex Austin could be a key player for the Patriots in 2024 

New England Patriots v Buffalo Bills
New England Patriots v Buffalo Bills / Rich Barnes/GettyImages

Medieval alchemists used to say, “In filth, it will be found.” Swiss psychiatrist Carl Yung changed that quote in the 20th century when he said, “That which you most need will be found where you least want to look.”

The Alchemists were talking about gold, but Yung may have been talking about cornerbacks (ok, maybe not). In 2023, the Patriots may have found a cornerback worth his weight in gold.

They had to look for Alex Austin, not in filth, but on the waiver wire. We first need to relive parts of the traumatic 2023 season to understand how they unearthed this gem. 

After the disastrous 2023 season, Jerod Mayo and Co. find themselves in an odd position heading into the 2024 season. The Patriots’ defense was ranked 15th in the league last year for the number of points they allowed per game. Without context, that is only moderately impressive, but when you consider they were missing their best two players for 13 games, it’s a lot more impressive.

In 2023, the Patriots’ injury reports featured 27 different defensive players. Seven of those were cornerbacks! That’s how Alex Austin began his career in New England. 

The Bills drafted Austin in the seventh round of the 2023 draft but waived him on the 29th of August. In hindsight, if the Bills had kept Austin, they may not have needed to trade for Rusul Douglas in October. Douglas had a stellar season in Buffalo, though. 

Austin’s second stop was Houston. The Texans signed him the day after Buffalo waived him, but they would then waive him themselves on the 14th of October. He eventually signed with the Patriots on the 2nd of November. 

Why Alex Austin could be a key player for the Patriots in 2024 

The Patriots were in the market for extra cornerbacks in November after losing the ones they drafted. Having taken three, none were still active in New England by the 20th of October. Isaiah Bolden and Christian Gonzalez were on the season-ending injured reserve list, while Ameer Speed was placed on waivers the previous day. 

Even J.C. Jackson, who had returned as part of a trade with the Chargers, was inactive in Week 10. He would only play three more games before eventually being placed on reserve/ non-football in late December. 

All those issues now mean only four Patriots cornerbacks have more experience than second-year corner Austin. Former Raider Azizi Hearn is still on the roster, but he was signed to the practice squad last year and failed to make the active roster. Marcellas Dial is a rookie who, like Hearn, might not make the active roster this season.  

Christian Gonzalez impressed at the start of his rookie season but only played 228 snaps of professional football in the regular season. Gonzalez dislocated his shoulder after just three games and one quarter. The Oregon product said in a press conference this week that his shoulder injury was in the past, but once a shoulder has been dislocated, there’s a 90% chance it will dislocate again. 

Isaiah Bolden’s serious head injury meant he didn’t play a single game in the regular season. Part-time rapper Marcus Jones started four games back in 2022 but only played 54 snaps last year before suffering a torn labrum.  

Marco Wilson only played one game for the Patriots but had previously featured in 44 for the Cardinals before they released him on Boxing Day. Only three players in the league allowed more receiving yards than Wilson in 2023, though, and he only played 15 games in Arizona last season.  

Shaun Wade played only 29 snaps on defense in his two years in Baltimore but 348 in a Patriots uniform last season. 

Alongside Jabril Peppers and Kyle Dugger, Jonathan Jones is the most important part of the defensive backfield. The 30-year-old has played 115 games for the Patriots. He’ll line up opposite Gonzalez in Week 1. But if the injury gods are as cruel in 2024 as in 2023, it will be another stressful season, and Austin will have chances to step up. 

Austin only started one game in 2023, against the team that drafted him, the Bills. He ended that game with an interception. After playing five games in the NFL, opposing quarterbacks only have a 35.4 passer rating when they target Austin.

As inexperienced as Austin is, the experience of working with four different coaching teams in a little over seven months will give him a unique perspective. Very few 22-year-olds can say they’ve been coached by Sean McDermott, DeMeco Ryans, and Bill Belichick!

Christian Gonzalez is the only Patriots cornerback younger than Austin, but the much-traveled Austin will be able to offer plenty of advice to those around him. 

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