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Is Jalen Mills New England Patriots Best CB?

New England Patriots cornerback Jalen Mills is poised to become the team’s top option at perimeter corner in 2022.

FOXBORO — New England Patriots cornerback Jalen Mills is entering the 2022 NFL season under a brighter spotlight than the previous year.

Though he may have inherited such a spotlight by default, Mills is apparently welcoming the attention. 

More importantly, he is eager to accept the responsibility.

Following the departure of second-team All-Pro cornerback J.C. Jackson [who signed a multi-year mega deal with the Los Angeles Chargers early in the offseason], New England’s cornerback position was in need of some assistance. As a result, the team agreed to deals with cornerbacks Terrance Mitchell and Malcolm Butler, and selected cornerbacks Marcus Jones and Jack Jones in the 2022 NFL Draft.

Still, many continued to contend that the Pats still lacked a true top option at perimeter cornerback.

As the Patriots get set to wrap up their second week of training camp, it appears that Mills is ready to fill that spot.

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“Locked in,” Mills told reporters regarding his positional focus at the conclusion of Thursday’s practice. “Same, just playing corner. You never know within our defensive scheme; I come in one week and they might say, ‘Play in the slot.’ Or it might just be, like you’re saying, play outside. So, I always keep myself refreshed, whether it’s nickel or [on the] outside. But as of right now, yeah, I’ve just been focusing on the outside.”

Contrary to the belief of some within the national media circle of defensive back experts, Mills has been quite effective as a perimeter corner in New England. Though Mills almost exclusively played the role of the second option at outside cornerback in 2021, he remains a defensive back capable of aligning in each spot within the secondary. When he signed with the Patriots as a free agent in March 2021, Mills was a primary candidate to align as the Patriots’ third perimeter cornerback, while also lining up in the slot and at either safety spot; similar to the role vacated by ex-Pats cornerback Jason McCourty. However, following the trade of Stephon Gilmore to the Carolina Panthers, Mills became the team’s primary option as their starting second cornerback.

Throughout the season, Mills has amassed 47 total tackles (35 of which have been solo tackles), one tackle for loss and seven passes defensed. His 913 defensive snaps finished third on the team in the regular season behind Jackson and captain Devin McCourty. He did not allow more than three catches in a game following Week Seven, and allowed 20 or fewer receiving yards in eight of the Pats last nine regular season games.

Thus far in training camp, Mills has been the Pats top cover corner. Settling the pace for newcomers Mitchell, and the rookie Joneses. However, the 28-year-old has also emerged as a leader, both in the field and in the locker room. It is a role which Mills has gladly accepted.

“I think so,” Mills said when asked whether he has become a leader in the locker room. “We’ve got a couple more younger guys. Malcolm [Butler] has been here before, but [we’re] just getting him refreshed. [I’ve been] answering any questions those guys have. … We’ve got a lot of stuff within our scheme, things can get confusing … So, I could say that.”

Should Mills continue to accept his newfound mentorship role both on and off the field, the Pats may discover that the top of their defensive backfield’s depth chart is in better hands than originally thought.