The New England Patriots have completed their voluntary offseason workouts and mandatory mini-camp with training camp just about a month away. This is the last break for the players before it is non-stop until January or February. While the media has focused on Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski, the real headliners heading to camp in late July are the new faces in Foxboro such as Jason McCourty.
New England lost a number of valuable players on both sides of the ball in free agency after Super Bowl 52. Danny Amendola, Brandin Cooks, Nate Solder and Dion Lewis–key contributors in 2017–are all in new homes in 2018.
On defense, the Patriots lost Malcolm Butler, Johnson Bademosi, James Harrison and Ricky Jean-Francois to free agency or retirement.
The New England Patriots needed to use free agency, trades and the NFL Draft to restock the roster after their offseason losses. One of those new faces is Jason McCourty.
Jason McCourty’s NFL Experience:
Jason McCourty has long been tied to the New England Patriots due to his identical twin brother, Devin, a key cog in the New England defense. The Patriots swung a trade in March with the Cleveland Browns to acquire Jason McCourty packaging a sixth round draft pick for McCourty and a seventh round pick.
McCourty replaces Super Bowl 49 hero Malcolm Butler who was benched for Super Bowl 52. The Butler benching–rather than playing him in the slot where he has been horrible his entire career–is often cited as the reason for losing the Super Bowl.
In reality, it had more to do with the injury to Jonathan Jones against Tennessee and the poor coverage skills of the safeties and linebackers.
ProFootballFocus.com graded Butler as a sub-par cornerback in 2017:
(Butler) allowed a career-high passer rating of 103.3 on throws into his coverage while he managed to notch just 12 combined pass break ups and interceptions, a significant drop off from the impressive marks he’d set in his previous seasons as starter. His 2017 season ended with a PFF overall grade of 79.2, 51st out of 121 qualifying players at the position.
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While Butler graded out as 51st best cornerback last season, Jason McCourty graded out as number 17 overall. Like his twin brother, McCourty has strong ball skills, helps against the running game, is an excellent tackler, and is experienced playing in zone and man-coverage schemes.
Jason McCourty was on pace for his best season in the NFL before an ankle injury late in the season slowed him down during the stretch. McCourty missed two games and was clearly not the same player coming back from the injury. Despite a lost season in Cleveland at the bottom of the standings, McCourty returned and played hard down the stretch.
He played both outside and in the slot on occasion in Tennessee but thrived last season playing outside almost exclusively. His last four games of the season brought his grading down, but before his injury he was among the best cornerbacks in the league last year.
He should be revitalized playing in the same secondary with twin brother Devin.
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McCourty previously spent eight seasons in Tennessee starting 90 games over eight seasons (all statistics from Pro-Football-Reference.com unless otherwise noted). He had 13 interceptions in Tennessee and three last year for Cleveland.
McCourty was originally a sixth round draft pick out of Rutgers in 2009 and became a regular starter in year three. He had a career best four interceptions in 2012 and only played in four games in 2015 due to needing surgery to repair a sports hernia.
Patriots’ Need at Cornerback:
New England is set at their top cornerback with last year’s big free agency splash, Stephon Gilmore. With Gilmore as the top cornerback, the Patriots have a true number one cornerback (even if he does not get the praise in the media that other top cornerbacks receive).
Gilmore is best in man-coverage (as is the entire New England defense) and he can shadow and shut down the best wide receivers in the league.
Eric Rowe is a solid second/third cornerback as long as he stays healthy. Eric Rowe starts on the outside against opponents with a big second receiver. With long arms and deceptive speed, Rowe is a weapon who can move outside or inside and play aggressive, press coverage.
Along with Rowe, the Patriots have a trio of slot cornerbacks fighting for a role on the defense. Rookie second round draft pick Duke Dawson should get a look in training camp and the preseason. Impressive 2016 undrafted free agent Jonathan Jones should be back from an ankle injury to compete.
Finally, 2016 second round draft pick Cyrus Jones will be healthy and competing in camp.
With Butler gone, there is a need for a third cornerback who can play on the outside.
Jason McCourty’s Fit in New England:
There is the perfect fit with Jason McCourty.
McCourty should slide into the open roster spot vacated by Malcolm Butler with his free-agent defection to Tennessee. The Patriots–like every other NFL team–can not have enough quality cornerbacks in such a pass-happy league.
Unlike Butler, McCourty does not need to be playing 100% of the snaps and can be used in multiple ways. Behind the top three cornerbacks, the Patriots have only undrafted free agent JC Jackson, seventh-round draft pick Keion Crossen and practice squad holdovers Ryan Lewis and Jomal Wiltz for competition for the final outside cornerback.
With familiarity with his twin brother in the secondary and fellow Rutgers alumnus Duron Harmon, McCourty should be more comfortable from day one than most new additions.
Jason McCourty was statistically one of the best cornerbacks in the first half of 2017 before an ankle injury slowed him. Like his twin brother Devin, Jason is long and fluid and is extremely intelligent. While he may have lost a half-step of speed, his experience makes up for it and McCourty had the tools to be a contributor in New England in 2018.
McCourty and Rowe should split time as the starter across from Gilmore depending upon match-ups. Larger second receivers will go to Rowe, smaller and quicker number two options should be the purview of McCourty.
McCourty has long desired to play with his twin brother in the same defensive backfield and the twins should be a seamless fit in 2018.