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Training Camp Positional Snapshot: Safeties

In the lead-up to 2023 training camp, we’re inspecting the Patriots roster position by position. Today, an examination of the safeties.

Patriots safety Kyle Dugger (23).
Patriots safety Kyle Dugger (23).

Bubble: Joshuah Bledsoe

In the Mix: Brad Hawkins

ANALYSIS

The safety group has become the defining position group of the Patriots defense and it's also the only one to lose a starter after the retirement of Devin McCourty. While there's no easy way to replace McCourty's team-leading 1,097 snaps and back-end range and coverage ability, the existing depth at the position should help the ease the difficult transition.

Kyle Dugger scored two defensive touchdowns last season as he continued to ascend in New England's defense, becoming a ballhawk and a physical tone setter while making strides in coverage. All eyes are on Dugger's future as he enters the final year of his rookie deal and looks like the team's most obvious contract extension candidate. He could be on the verge of a superstar-status-solidifying season.

Adrian Phillips is another versatile chess piece in this group, though his production tailed off a bit in 2022 after stellar years in 2020 and 2021, partly due to a spike in special teams snaps after injuries struck during the season. Phillips was still effective with 21 stops and could be due for a resurgence without McCourty in the fold that includes a spike in free safety snaps, he played almost 200 there last season, his second-highest location within the defense.

One low-key signing this offseason that should pay dividends was Jabrill Peppers, who ensures the team has three trusted safeties to mix and match wtih Peppers was extremely active in OTAs and now appears fully recovered from a 2021 knee injury and fully grasping the Patriots defense. The former first-round pick could take himself and the defense to a new level in 2023 with his fiery play.

Marte Mapu is likely to be another safety/linebacker hybrid who blurs the lines between the second and third levels of the defense. Like fellow rookie Keion White, there's a high degree of uncertainty of how Mapu will fit into things, especially with three strong box safety-types already in the mix. But if OTAs are any indication, the team will find a way to get all of them involved, adding to their unpredictability. Mapu's length and recognition are already showing themselves in his first days on an NFL practice field.

Third-year safety Josh Bledsoe should not be forgotten, as he showed some pop in 2022's training camp but never got much of an opportunity to see the field, appearing in just three games for a total of 22 snaps. Brad Hawkins spent his rookie season mostly on the Patriots practice squad and could use his back-end range to help him stay in the mix for another year on the squad.

There's no easy replacement for the leadership and deep free safety snaps that McCourty held on lockdown for over a decade, but there's still an intriguing mix of talent and potential in the Patriots safety group that should continue to be one of the best in the league.

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