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Should Devin McCourty Play Cornerback or Safety in 2013?

FOXBORO, MA - OCTOBER 21: Devin McCourty #32 of the New England Patriots reacts after a touchdown run against the New York Jets at Gillette Stadium on October 21, 2012 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Jim Rogash/Getty Images
Erik FrenzSenior Writer IFebruary 7, 2013

The New England Patriots have a good problem on their hands.

Devin McCourty has now proven he can play both cornerback and safety in the NFL.

That's a big leap from last year, when the question was whether he could play either spot.

Where is McCourty at his best? Where is he most valuable to the Patriots? What is the most likely landing spot?

To look forward, we must first look back.

The genealogy of the debate goes back to 2011; McCourty struggled all year long at cornerback before suddenly moving to safety in the closing weeks of the season. 

That move opened up the debate for the 2012 offseason and it was reported (by The Boston Globe) that McCourty would remain at safety. In a perfect world, he may have stayed there, but the Patriots were not satisfied with their situation at cornerback during training camp and he was moved back to his original position.

McCourty played six games at cornerback. In that time, ProFootballFocus.com graded him among the top 10 cornerbacks for the entire season. He allowed a 50.9 completion percentage, which ranked 14th in the league.

It seemed he was on the road to recovery.

Injuries to safeties Patrick Chung and Steve Gregory, combined with ineffective play by the backup safeties, meant yet another move for McCourty. He finished out the season with 10 games at safety, where PFF graded him out to be the 14th-best at the position in the league. 

McCourty had the league's second-best completion percentage at safety, allowing just 35.8 percent of passes to be completed. His 10.1 passer rating on throws in his direction was tops among all safeties to take at least 25 percent of their team's snaps.

So, clearly, the Patriots have options. 

The problem for the Patriots is that they must decide rather soon where they will keep him. They have a few major decisions coming up, including the pending free agency of cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Kyle Arrington. Losing one or both of them would open up a huge need at corner. Would McCourty move back to the perimeter if that happens? 

It will be tough to retain everyone, especially Talib, as the Patriots would rather not sign him to anything longer than a one-year deal. If he walks, the Patriots would either have to find someone to fill his spot or move everyone up a spot on their depth chart at cornerback.

That would mean 2012 rookie cornerback Alfonzo Dennard on one side, Arrington on the other side and Marquice Cole or Tavon Wilson in the slot, depending on the offensive personnel grouping.

Of course, it would help if Ras-I Dowling could stay healthy for a full season. He has flashed the potential to line up on the outside, but in playing just eight games over the past two seasons, he has proven that he can't be counted on.

With $18.5 million in cap space this offseason, chances are good that the Patriots will be able to retain Arrington, at least. 

If McCourty were to move back to cornerback in that scenario, it would certainly stabilize things on the outside, but what of the safety spot? Tavon Wilson had a solid season overall, but there were some rough spots along the way, including being burned on the same exact route in separate weeks.

Whatever happens, it looks like the Patriots will be searching for help in the secondary.

Their draft targets could be dictated somewhat by where they project McCourty to be and how they feel about the rest of the defensive backs on the roster.

However, a very valid point comes from Greg Bedard of The Boston Globe in the video above: McCourty has played very well at safety, given almost no offseason practice or preparation at the position. With a full offseason at safety, McCourty could very well emerge as a top free safety in the NFL.

The Patriots have a lot of options in the secondary and part of the reason why is McCourty's versatility. That being said, it depends on what happens with the rest of the personnel in the secondary this offseason.

As of right now, McCourty is a good cornerback or a great safety. It's up to the Patriots to decide which is more important to them this season and going forward. Given the amount of change ahead for the Patriots secondary, they would be wise to leave McCourty at safety to at least maintain some measure of consistency from the 2012 season.

 

Erik Frenz is the AFC East lead blogger for Bleacher Report. Be sure to follow Erik on Twitter and "like" the AFC East blog on Facebook to keep up with all the updates. Unless otherwise specified, all quotes are obtained firsthand or via team press releases.

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