By Bruce Allen, Patriots Daily Staff
The cornerback position is one of several positions that has been completely turned over in the last few seasons. 2008 draftees Terrence Wheatley and Jonathan Wilhite are the longest-tenured cornerbacks on the team. The position itself has undergone something of a transformation as well, whereas the speedy, diminutive Ellis Hobbs-type of cornerback seemed to be favored at one point, now the trend seems to be for bigger, more physical style cornerbacks, who may not have great speed, but are fluid, and can move well.
With the AFC East boasting receivers like Brandon Marshall, Santonio Holmes, Braylon Edwards, and Lee Evans, cornerback play is crucial in the six divisional games.
Here is a look at the cornerbacks currently on the roster, listed in order of my unofficial depth chart.
Bodden came to the Patriots last season on a one-year “make good” deal. He emerged as their best cornerback in 2009, and earned himself a multiyear extension from the team. At 6-1 he’s got the size to play with the bigger receivers, and is physical in the Ty Law mold. With Shawn Springs shown the door, the eighth-year veteran is now also the most experienced player in the entire secondary for the Patriots. He seems to be entrenched as the number one corner heading into the season, with a couple of young challengers looking to push him.
The Patriots 2009 second round pick impressed with his athleticism as a rookie, his three interceptions included a 91-yard return in the regular season finale which showcased his speed. He figures to start the season as the other starting cornerback, and could push Bodden for the top spot. He can cover and seems to already show some leadership skills among his teammates.
A somewhat surprising pick in the first round of this spring’s draft, McCourty is a player that gets more impressive the more you learn about him. While he figures to spend plenty of time on special teams, he could also challenge for a starting role, and figures to see time as a nickle back. He also possesses very good athleticism, but is also a physical corner. These top three corners have me feeling pretty good about the future of this position for the Patriots, even thought McCarty has yet to step onto the field in a game for the Patriots.
Wilhite was a starter at times last season, and he had good moments and bad. He struggled in big moments against the likes of Reggie Wayne (who doesn’t though) but did have a couple of picks on the season, including one off of Peyton Manning. He had the curious early-season off-field incident where he claimed to be injured running away from someone looking to harm him. Wilhite has good size (5-11) and can be useful if too much is not asked of him. Hopefully he’s not asked to be more than a nickel or dime back this season.
Wheatley to me, is still a bit of a mystery. I see talent there, and in this full article on Wheatley here at PD, others saw that talent as well. His rookie year was beginning to show promise before he was injured, and he reportedly injured a knee last season, which hampered his performance. Whether it was the injury or his performance, Wheatley only saw action in five games last season, recording two tackles. If he’s healthy and has his head where it needs to be, he could surprise this season. He’s got a long way to go, though. He also has a chance to make an impact as a kick returner.
Arrington joined the team midway through the season last year and established himself as a special teams demon. Whether he can make an impact on the defense is not known at this point. He figures to be on the team, and his progress with the defense will be watched.
The undrafted rookie free agent had a very impressive career at California University of Pennsylvania. He could be a potential practice squad candidate.
This group has a lot of potential – there isn’t an Earthwind Moreland in the bunch. They have size, speed, athleticism and toughness. If the Patriots can generate a decent pass rush so that the corners aren’t operating out on islands, the cornerbacks can be a strength on this team. I like this position alot for the Patriots, especially the top three on the above depth chart. If Wheatley can be salvaged, there is good depth as well.