Eighth in a series on the Patriots’ status at each position group heading into training camp.
Cornerback depth was an issue for the Patriots last season, but fortunately the duo of Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan was healthy and dependable throughout the year. Butler and Ryan will be counted on again heavily this season.
The 5-foot-11-inch, 190-pound Butler made the jump from Super Bowl hero to Pro Bowler in 2015 as he consistently dominated his opponents. He is quick and twitchy and fights through the whistle on every play. Just when you think Butler’s been beaten, he manages to swoop in and break up the pass.
By any measurement, he has to be considered among the league’s top-flight corners. Locking him into a multiyear extension (his rookie deal ends after this season) is likely high on the Patriots’ to-do list, and it should be.
Ryan enjoyed his best season as a Patriot. A physical and well-prepared player, Ryan plays bigger than his 5-11, 195-pound frame, is very instinctive, and has a nose for the ball — he had four interceptions last season.
Ryan is often overlooked because the Patriots have a bunch of defensive starters (Butler, Dont’a Hightower, Jamie Collins, and Jabaal Sheard) also in the final year of their contracts, but finding common ground on an extension would be win-win here.
Rookie Cyrus Jones, the team’s top draft pick, is a roster lock. Where he fits in the scheme will be worked out over the summer, but he seems like a fit as the nickel. The 5-10, 197-pounder has a muscular upper body, excels in press coverage, and can provide solid run support.
Justin Coleman was hampered by injuries as a rookie but showed plenty of promise when on the field. The 5-11, 188-pounder is instinctive and aggressive. He will provide valuable depth and it would shock few if he emerged as a starter.
The competition figures to be fierce for the fifth spot.
E.J. Biggers is the most experienced of a group of five players battling for a spot on the 53-man. The 6-foot, 185-pounder has good quickness and length. He has four interceptions in 92 career games.
Darryl Roberts, a seventh-round pick in 2015, was having an impressive summer when his rookie campaign was derailed by a wrist injury. The 6-foot, 190-pounder has good size and competitiveness. He looked sharp and strong during the spring, though OTA and minicamp evaluations should be taken with a grain of salt.
A trio of undrafted free agents will also be in the mix: Jonathan Jones, V’Angelo Bentley, and Cre’von LeBlanc.
Jones is a bit undersized (5-10, 181) but has excellent speed and strength. He played in the rough and tumble Southeastern Conference at Auburn and was a Combine animal — clocking 4.33 in the 40-yard dash (tops among corners) and banging out 19 reps in the bench press (tied for second).
Bentley (5-10, 181) was a dependable defender and explosive return man at Illinois — always a plus when roster spots are at a premium.
LeBlanc (5-11, 195) is strong and competitive. He excelled at press coverage at Florida Atlantic.
Roberts, Jonathan Jones, Bentley, and LeBlanc are all strong candidates to land on the practice squad if they don’t make the 53-man or are snatched by other clubs.
Up next: Safeties.
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The Patriots on Thursday released rookie free agent linebacker C.J. Johnson and veteran long snapper Christian Yount.