FOXBORO - As the start of training camp becomes more visible on the horizon for the NFL’s 32 teams, every organization’s brain trust is hard at work examining their respective rosters for strengths and weaknesses.
With a re-imagined offensive coaching staff, some key veteran additions via free agency and a rookie class which features a controversial first round draft choice, the New England Patriots will certainly serve their share of storylines heading into 2022.
Entering camp, where does the Pats' roster rank?
In the wake of both the draft and free agency, both ESPN and Pro Football Focus (PFF) have evaluated each team's roster using the PFF database, with an eye toward the projected starters.
Much to the chagrin of the fanbase, the Patriots are considered slightly below the league’s middle-of-the pack, finishing 18th in pre-camp rankings.
In addition to assigning PFF grades to each of the Patriots’ projected starters, the rankings also identified the team’s greatest strength, its most glaring weakness and New England’s ‘X-factor.’
Not surprisingly, the back end of New England's secondary gets the highest marks on the entire team. With veterans Devin McCourty and Adrian Phillips supplemented by rising star Kyle Dugger, the Patriots are in good hands.
Biggest Strength: Safeties
ESPN / PFF Analysis:
New England's secondary has its concerns, but it also has one of the deeper safety groups in the NFL. Devin McCourty and Adrian Phillips both finished last season as top-12 safeties in PFF's wins above replacement metric, and Kyle Dugger is essentially a third starter at the position. Dugger improved his PFF coverage grade by over 20 points in his second season out of Lenoir-Rhyne while playing nearly 750 defensive snaps. The Patriots quadrupled down on the position this offseason by adding Jabrill Peppers to the group, as well.
In 2021, Dugger and Phillips forged one of the best safety tandems in the league. In conjunction with the leadership of team captain McCourty, the trio’s experience and versatility continues to place them in prime position to be among the top defensive backfield units for the upcoming season.
The ability of both Phillips and Dugger to play bigger than their frames accentuates their respective skill sets. It also creates opportunities for their teammates in the secondary, as well as at linebacker to play in position. With the addition of veteran safety Jabrill Peppers in the offseason, the Patriots will be well-stocked at the box. However, the unit’s collective versatility will almost certainly lead to Phillips, Dugger and Peppers aligning all over the defensive landscape at various points in 2022.