It may not have appeared so when they surrendered 308 yards and five touchdown passes to Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills in the embarrassing 40-point loss in the AFC Wild Card loss last January, but the New England Patriots possess a talented, highly regarded secondary.
Just ask Pro Football Focus, the analytics company that this week revealed its annual ranking of NFL safeties. PFF splits safeties into tiers - Coverage, Strong and Slot - and the Patriots placed a player high in each category.
Devin McCourty ranks 10th in coverage safeties, Adrian Phillips fourth among strong safeties and Kyle Dugger as the sixth-best in the slot.
Ranking safeties in today’s NFL is becoming increasingly complex because of defensive evolutions and the various roles the position encompasses. “Safety” in the NFL is, in truth, several different positions with wildly different responsibilities, and comparing them directly is tricky.
COVERAGE FREE SAFETY TIER:
- KEVIN BYARD, TENNESSEE TITANS
- ANTOINE WINFIELD JR., TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
- MARCUS WILLIAMS, BALTIMORE RAVENS
- JESSIE BATES III, CINCINNATI BENGALS
- JUSTIN SIMMONS, DENVER BRONCOS
- QUANDRE DIGGS, SEATTLE SEAHAWKS
- JEVON HOLLAND, MIAMI DOLPHINS
- MINKAH FITZPATRICK, PITTSBURGH STEELERS
- MARCUS MAYE, NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
- DEVIN MCCOURTY, NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
BOX STRONG SAFETY TIER:
- BUDDA BAKER, ARIZONA CARDINALS
- JORDAN WHITEHEAD, NEW YORK JETS
- JAMAL ADAMS, SEATTLE SEAHAWKS
- ADRIAN PHILLIPS, NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
MATCHUP SLOT TIER:
- DERWIN JAMES, LOS ANGELES CHARGERS
- TYRANN MATHIEU, NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
- JIMMIE WARD, SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
- JEREMY CHINN, CAROLINA PANTHERS
- DARNELL SAVAGE, GREEN BAY PACKERS
- KYLE DUGGER, NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
Says PFF of Dugger:
At 6-foot-2 and 220-pounds, New England’s Kyle Dugger has the kind of size to match up with tight ends in the slot, and the Patriots use him in that role a lot. Dugger faced 84 targets in coverage over his first two seasons in the league, allowing 58 catches for 9.3 yards per reception.
This offseason the Patriots have sought to add depth to the secondary, bringing back veteran cornerback Malcolm Butler and drafting Marcus Jones and Jack Jones with mid-round picks in last month's NFL Draft.
Their secondary will be tested immediately when they face the Miami Dolphins and new weapon Tyreek Hill in the Sept. 11 season opener. They don't get their first shot at redemption against Allen and the Bills until Dec. 1.