There has been so much emphasis on what the Patriots will do with their first-round pick that one position, in particular, has been a bit overlooked; safety.
We know that there are significant needs across the team, predominately offensive tackle and wide receiver. Still, with Devin McCourty’s recent retirement, it will take a lot of work for Bill Belichick to replace the production of the three-time Super Bowl champion.
The secondary did see some changes this offseason, with the re-signing of Jalen Mills and presumably moving back to playing safety rather than cornerback. Although this was undoubtedly a help to the safety room, Mills is yet to play that position since signing with New England.
Through his two seasons in Foxboro, Mills has been a starting cornerback, playing alongside the trusted veteran of Jonathan Jones. His position change creates the need for more cornerback depth but doesn’t eliminate safety from needing additions.
As one of the more accomplished players at the position in the Belichick era, Devin McCourty sat down with NBC Sports Boston’s Phil Perry last week to discuss his former team.
Perry asked for McCourty’s insight into what Belichick looks for in a safety, an especially important question as we approach the draft on Thursday.
“You need a guy that can tackle well in the open field. You’re going to be in tough situations. Not a must, but you would like a guy that can run a little bit and have above-average speed for a safety. A guy who can really go sideline to sideline. And then I think a guy who’s a leader from a communication standpoint Anybody who has played safety in a New England Patriots/Bill Belichick defense knows he puts a lot on the safeties.
He wants them to be able to get in and out of defenses, be able to change coverages, be able to tell the corners — like, if the corner makes a mistake on a coverage, he doesn’t even go to the corner. He’s going straight to that safety. So whether you’re a rookie or a veteran, I think you have to have that presence about you, that you want to be a leader, you want to learn. …
So I think a guy that has the traits to play maybe a little bit of slot corner type, good feet, can run. I would say if I was on the Patriots, that’s what I would be looking for in the draft this year if I drafted a safety. A guy maybe between 190 to 205 (pounds) that can really run well. Good ball skills and shows an ability to possibly play in center field.”
McCourty’s detailed response provides insight into Belichick’s generally mysterious process of evaluating a player’s fit and potential with the team.
As we head into the first night of the draft, it will be interesting to see how the Patriots try to overcome his absence in the defense, particularly if they prioritize selecting a safety in a higher round.