In a "Football Outsiders" piece now posted on ESPN.com (Insider content), the greatest need for each AFC East team is examined. Writer Sean McCormick picks cornerback for the Patriots.
"There is no defensive position group on the team that wouldn't benefit from the addition of a top free agent or high draft choice, but the first order of business is likely going to be to improve the depth and talent at cornerback," McCormick writes. "Bill Belichick does a much better job of damage control in the secondary than he does drafting long-term solutions, but the Pats probably need to take another run at the latest crop of college corners."
McCormick uses Football Outsiders stats to make his point, which is fun to debate. One of the issues within this issue is what position Devin McCourty plays in 2012. At the end of the '11 season, McCourty played cornerback in the base defense, while moving to safety in sub packages.
The feeling here is that McCourty's move was a result of a safety shortage in the eyes of the coaching staff, not that the position was his best fit. Outside of Patrick Chung and James Ihedigbo, the staff didn't seem to have confidence in any of their other options at safety at the end of the year, which sparked the McCourty move.
Assuming McCourty is back at cornerback full-time in 2012, the depth chart would start with him, and a question of whether he can return to 2010 form. McCourty would be followed by Kyle Arrington, Ras-I Dowling and Sterling Moore on the depth chart. Antwaun Molden, a free agent-to-be who performed well on special teams, could return to compete for a roster spot along with any other additions in the draft or free agency.
In the end, the Patriots' picture at cornerback is tied mostly to McCourty and Dowling, the 2011 second-round pick who the staff was clearly high on before he sustained a hip injury that ended his rookie season after just two games.