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patriots positional report: safety

It’s safe to say Devin McCourty is one of the best at his position

Devin McCourty is like a quarterback in the secondary, directing traffic among his teammates.
Devin McCourty is like a quarterback in the secondary, directing traffic among his teammates.Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff/The Boston Globe

Devin McCourty is must-see TV.

It’s natural to always watch the quarterback, but when the Patriots defense is on the field, it’s hard not to keep your eyes on No. 32.

Still, spotting him is not always an easy task. McCourty lines up in so many different spots — and has so many varied responsibilities from play to play — that it’s almost like a game of “Where’s Waldo” to find 5-foot-10-inch, 195-pound safety.

McCourty possesses the quickness and fluidity to cover opponents of all shapes and sizes and on routes ranging from underneath quick hits to deep over-the-top flyers, and the physicality to be disruptive near the box.

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On top of his physical skills, McCourty is exceptionally smart and instinctive and is an elite communicator, deftly shifting his teammates into the spots that give them the best chance to defend plays and mute playmakers.

Signing McCourty, who is not only an underrated safety but one of the NFL’s most underrated defenders regardless of position, to an extension through 2024 was a tremendous move by the Patriots. If anyone can explain how he was left off the NFL All-Decade team for the 2010s, please do.

Here’s a look at the other players who will provide the last layer of safety for the Patriots defense this season:

PATRICK CHUNG

Contract status: Signed through 2021.

Patrick Chung will turn 33 in August.
Patrick Chung will turn 33 in August.John Tlumacki

Base salary for 2020: $2.9 million.

Comment: See McCourty, Devin, above.

Actually, they are different, but the big commonality is their ability to morph into different roles. The 5-11, 215-pound Chung is super physical. He can pick up tight ends in coverage (he can bump and run with the best of them) and his late hands disrupt a ton of passes.

Chung also can be a tenacious hybrid linebacker, sticking his nose in and taking on (and defeating) much bigger opponents. He’s a lot stronger than his size would suggest.

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McCourty and Chung are among the best safety duos in the league.

TERRENCE BROOKS

Contract status: Signed through 2020.

Terrence Brooks heads into his second season with the Patriots.
Terrence Brooks heads into his second season with the Patriots.Nic Antaya for The Boston Globe

Base salary for 2020: $910,000.

Comment: Acquired for his special teams acumen, Brooks quickly immersed himself in the defense and played well when called upon to provide relief.

Brooks is a fluid and flexible athlete with solid range and impressive closing burst. Hits like a ton of bricks. Could see his snaps increase with a year of the system under his belt and Duron Harmon now in Detroit.

ADRIAN PHILLIPS

Contract status: Signed through 2021.

Base salary for 2020: $1.25 million.

Adrian Phillips comes to Foxborough with a versatile skill set.
Adrian Phillips comes to Foxborough with a versatile skill set.KYUSUNG GONG/Associated Press

Comment: Another player with a great special teams pedigree, Phillips could find himself in the defensive rotation quickly because of his versatility and smarts. He had a solid three-season run with the Chargers.

The 5-11, 210-pounder was arguably Los Angeles’s best defender during the second half of 2018 and was playing well when he broke his arm last season.

OBI MELIFONWU

Contract status: Signed through 2020.

Base salary for 2020: $750,000.

Comment: Superior athletic skills have yet to translate to consistent playing time for the 2017 second-round pick. The 6-4, 224-pounder has great size and length, but injuries have cost him a ton of developmental time.

Melifonwu had an impressive start to last year’s training camp before tailing off. He’ll need to duplicate that start and keep it going to be a factor in 2020.

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MALIK GANT

Contract status: Signed through 2021.

Base salary for 2020: $610,000.

Comment: Gant was injured in the final exhibition game and missed the season after a very strong summer in which the broad-shouldered rookie collected a lot of big hits. Another very physical player, the 6-2, 203-pounder takes direct routes to the ball and isn’t afraid to engage with bigger blockers. It’ll be interesting to see what kind of jump he makes this summer.

ADARIUS PICKETT

Contract status: Signed through 2020.

Base salary for 2020: $610,000.

Comment: Undrafted rookie joined the practice squad late in 2019, so that will help give him a jump-start for a depth spot once camp opens. A solidly built 5-11, 200 pounds, Pickett showed some versatility as a nickel back and linebacker hybrid at UCLA. Loves to get physical.


Jim McBride can be reached at james.mcbride@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globejimmcbride.