The New England Patriots currently have the maximum of 90 players on their active roster. However, only 53 of them will be able to survive the cutdowns on September 1 and ultimately make the team. Over the next weeks, we will take a look at the players fighting for those spots to find out who has the best chances of helping the Patriots recapture the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
Today, the series continues with one of the Patriots’ defensive starters.
Name: Patrick Chung
Position: Strong safety
Jersey number: 23
Opening day age: 31
Size: 5’11, 215 lbs.
2017 review: Ever since 2014, when he returned from a one-year stint with the Philadelphia Eagles, Patrick Chung has been the Patriots’ undisputed starting strong safety – a valuable player that serves as a defensive back/linebacker hybrid. 2018 was no different for the veteran: Chung appeared in all 19 of New England’s games and as a key member of the team’s secondary rarely left the field.
Overall, the former second-round draft pick played 87.6% of defensive snaps during the regular season (928 of 1,060) and 94.4% during the playoffs (204 of 216). In addition to being an important member of the Patriots’ defense, Chung also was a usual core member of the team’s special teams units last year: All in all, he played a combined 177 of 492 snaps in the kicking game (36.0%).
Even though his playing time was down a bit when compared to the last few years, Chung was again among the best strong safeties in the NFL. A versatile and physical defender, he was used close to the line of scrimmage serving as a) a quasi additional linebacker when the Patriots were in a nickel or dime formation, or b) in coverage of tight ends, slot receivers and running backs.
Chung finished the season with a combined 98 defensive tackles – second most on the team behind fellow safety Devin McCourty – and eight special teams takedowns. He also registered three quarterback hits and two fumble recoveries, and allowed only 52.8% of passes thrown his way to be completed (38 of 72). Chung, who gave up 429 passing yards and two touchdowns when in coverage, also had an interception and broke up nine passes.
2018 preview: Coming off another productive season as the team’s top strong safety, the Patriots awarded Chung with a two-year, $7.80 million contract extension in March that will keep him in New England through the 2020 season. His role this season is therefore projected to remain unchanged: Playing on a salary cap hit of $3.80 million, Chung will again serve as a starting safety alongside Devin McCourty and Duron Harmon.
As such, the two-time Super Bowl winner will again see regular playing time on defense and special teams. While he is getting up there in age – Chung will turn 31 in August –, Chung will play around 90% of New England’s defensive snaps (as well as an additional 30% in the kicking game). Once more, he will be a key player when it comes to stopping the run and defending the underneath areas in the passing game.
Barring injury, he will therefore again be among the team leaders in tackles and playing time – especially considering that New England lacks proven quality depth behind Chung but did not address the position this offseason. If all goes according to plan, though, and the veteran stays healthy, the Patriots will once again field one of the NFL’s better safety trios in Chung, McCourty and Harmon.