Roster: Stephon Gilmore (9th year), Jason McCourty (12th), J.C. Jackson (3rd), Jonathan Jones (5th), Joejuan Williams (2nd), D’Angelo Ross (2nd), Miles Bryant (rookie), Lenzy Pipkins (rookie)
Key Additions: None
Key Losses: None
Projected Starters: Stephon Gilmore, J.C. Jackson
Biggest Question: Can Stephon Gilmore maintain his spot as the best cornerback in the NFL to continue to pace the Patriots’ impressive pass defense?
Key Stat: 126 – The return yardage recorded by DPOY Stephon Gilmore on his six interceptions last season, including a pair of touchdowns. Gilmore actually had more yards catching the football than Patriots first-round rookie receiver N’Keal Harry (105 yards on 12 catches).
Overview: Obviously when a position group has the best player at that position – and any defensive position -- in the NFL it makes for a pretty impressive depth chart. But reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore is far from the only reason that cornerback is the most talented position on the Patriots roster. Beyond the veteran No. 1 corner who earned the DPOY honors – the first cornerback to do so since Green Bay’s Charles Woodson in 2009 and only second in a quarter century – thanks to tying for the league lead with six interceptions, New England has a long list of returning cornerbacks ready to face off against more challenging pass-happy attacks again in 2020. Gilmore probably can’t play much better than he did a year ago, even with his disappointing performance in the regular season finale against DeVante Parker and the Dolphins. It might be tough to remain atop the NFL defensive mountain this fall, but there is no reason to believe Gilmore will be anything other than among the top cornerbacks in the game as he approaches his 30th birthday. The other starting role for New England has a number of contenders and could vary based on weekly opponents and game plans. Veteran Jason McCourty re-signed with the team after starting 10 of the 12 games he played a year ago. He’s also worked on his versatility to play some safety roles, likely to have a significant impact on the pass defense in some form or fashion. While McCourty is on the back 9 of his career, J.C. Jackson may just be hitting his prime. The former undrafted rookie started six of the 16 games he played last fall, tying for second on the team and in the NFL with five interceptions. He heads into his third season with plenty of promise, potential and hype as a would-be No. 1 cornerback type. If Jackson continues his evolution, it’s not homer exaggeration by any means to say the Patriots have the best cornerback duo in the NFL. But the depth doesn’t stop there. Jonathan Jones is an above-average slot corner who started nine of 15 games last fall and has proven himself a useful, competitive option in the back end. Last year’s second-round pick, Joejuan Williams, barely saw work on defense last fall but brings intriguing size and potential to a role in the back end. He probably even has ‘tweener capabilities in the sometimes blurred lines between cornerback and free safety. At this point Williams is pretty much just a theory and given the rest of the depth he won’t be forced into any situations he’s not ready for. He’s a luxury item. Beyond the obvious top five cornerbacks, even returning practice squader D’Angelo Ross showed flashes in summer and preseason action a year ago. From the best defensive player in the game in 2019 down through a versatile young talent in Williams, the Patriots cornerback depth chart is simply stacked top to bottom. It may need to be heading into a 2020 season in which the schedule is stacked with impressive opposing passers like Russell Wilson and Patrick Mahomes right out of the September gates.
Power Rating (1-5): *****
While Stephon Gilmore is the star of the group, New England’s cornerback depth chart is loaded with impressive contributors. There is veteran experience, youthful potential, versatility and the continuity to conclude that the unit should remain one of the best in the game in 2020.