NFL context: Patriots & cornerbacks

July, 2, 2010
7/02/10
8:00
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Tenth in an ongoing series looking at each position on the Patriots roster and how it is viewed when compared to the rest of the NFL:

Projected starters: Darius Butler, Leigh Bodden

Top backups: Devin McCourty, Jonathan Wilhite, Terrence Wheatley, Kyle Arrington

NFL chatter: By re-signing Leigh Bodden and making top draft choices over the last two years at the position -- Darius Butler (41st overall in 2009) and Devin McCourty (27th overall in 2010) -- the Patriots are in position to have as steady of a cornerback group as they've had in recent years.

Overall depth chart: Bodden returns as the starter on the right side, and he was the team's most consistent corner in 2009, playing 82.5 percent of the defensive snaps, totaling a team-high 17 passes defended, and tying for the team-high with 5 interceptions. The playing time total was the third highest on the team and would have been even higher if Bodden wasn't rested in the season finale at Houston. The ultra-athletic Butler is the leading candidate to emerge as the full-time starter on the left side, with McCourty the top backup at the outside positions. Wilhite, however, looks like the first corner off the sideline in a sub package, playing in the slot. In the event of no injuries, Wheatley and Arrington would vie for a potential fifth roster spot, with special teams considerations factoring into the decision-making process (Arrington tied for the team-lead in tackles last season).

Final analysis: The success of this group will be tied in large part to the development of two high draft picks, Butler and McCourty. This is somewhat similar to the Dolphins from 2009, as they drafted cornerbacks in the first two rounds (Vontae Davis, Sean Smith) and inserted them into the starting lineup. Much like the Patriots safety spot, this group looks like one that is now in the middle of the NFL pack, with the potential to rise quickly.

Other positions: Quarterbacks; Running backs; Wide receivers; Tight ends; Offensive line; Defensive line; Outside linebackers; Inside linebackers; Safeties

Mike Reiss

ESPN New England Patriots reporter

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