How Adrian Wilson Fits in with the New England Patriots

Erik Frenz@ErikFrenzSenior Writer IMarch 21, 2013

GLENDALE, AZ - SEPTEMBER 11:  Safety Adrian Wilson #24 of the Arizona Cardinals walks off the field during the NFL season opening game against the Carolina Panthers at the University of Phoenix Stadium on September 11, 2011 in Glendale, Arizona. The Cardinals defeated the Panthers 28-21.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Safety Adrian Wilson has been in the NFL for 12 years. For that reason, his name is familiar to many fans.

He spent all 12 years with the Arizona Cardinals, and for that reason, his name is the only thing that's really familiar to New England Patriots fans.

The signing flew under the radar for various reasons—Welkermania among them—but don't be mistaken: There is an important place on the Patriots' roster for a veteran safety like Wilson.

He is just 4.5 sacks and three interceptions away from becoming the third player and second safety in NFL history with 30 sacks and 30 interceptions in their career. For that reason, as well as his skill set and role, he is being likened to former Patriots safety Rodney Harrison, the founder of the 30-30 club.

Not so fast on that comparison, though, according to Bill Belichick (via ESPN):

Rodney Harrison is one of the greatest players to ever play for the New England Patriots, and one of the greatest players to play his position in the National Football League. That’s a pretty high comparison. I’m not saying [Wilson] is or isn’t, but you’re talking about a great player.

Guess we'll just have to take it upon ourselves to find out exactly what kind of player Wilson is.

So let's go through his game one piece at a time to find out how he can help the Patriots, and where he fits into the defense.


The Patriots' defense made improvements down the stretch in the 2012 season. They hope those improvements will continue now that they brought back cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Kyle Arrington.

One area they didn't improve, however, was covering tight ends. They ranked 29th against tight ends in coverage, according to Football Outsiders.

Can Adrian Wilson help with that? There's some indication he might. He allowed just 12 completions into his coverage all year, and at a rate of just 44.4 percent. 

He was part of a Cardinals defense that allowed just three catches for 33 yards to Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez, making for one of his worst performances of the season.

He didn't have a simple assignment here, with responsibility for him only in man coverage.

He stayed with Gonzalez all the way through the route—even through a small push-off by Gonzalez coming out of his break.

There was some incidental contact between the two, as Gonzalez tripped after the screen shot above. The pass would have been off the mark anyway, and that's thanks to the solid coverage by Wilson.

Run Defense

Whether he's dropping into coverage or defending the run, Wilson will be at his best in the box.

He was pulled off the field in most nickel packages last year, which would indicate that his role will be primarily in run defense.

Against the Dolphins, he showed exactly the kind of instincts and toughness that make him a good run defender.

On 1st-and-10, Wilson began creeping into the box pre-snap and even toward the offense's left side, the direction in which the play was going.

From the moment the ball was snapped, he attacked the 'C' gap outside the offensive tackle. 

He even fought through a block by left tackle Jake Long in order to make the tackle for a one-yard loss.

Granted, a lot of film work probably went into that one play, and he surely got help from the front seven getting a good push at the line of scrimmage, but this is a testament to what he can contribute against the run.

Read and React

One of the classic traits of a Bill Belichick defense is the "read and react" element, which asks defenders not necessarily to look for the big play, but to instead make the sure play.

Wilson's age may have caused his quickness to dwindle, but he's still quick to react.

Also against the Dolphins, he lined up in zone defense over the middle, and stared down quarterback Ryan Tannehill, waiting for him to make the throw.

When the pass went to Brian Hartline over the middle, Wilson immediately bore down on him and wrapped him up before he could gain yards after the catch.

Giving up the completion in order to make the tackle is a common trait of the Patriots' defense, if not necessarily a preferred one by their fans.

Intangibles: Football Intelligence and Leadership

Whether it's drafting former team captains or adding high-character veterans, the Patriots are always looking to add leadership to the locker room.

Wilson fits the bill, and he was remembered fondly by the Cardinals after they released him for salary cap issues.

"In every franchise, there is a select group of players whose contributions earn them iconic status and for us, Adrian Wilson will always be one of those players," Cardinals President Michael Bidwill said in a statement issued by the team (via

The Patriots now have a young duo of starting safeties in Devin McCourty and Tavon Wilson, and now they also have veterans to complement those two in Steve Gregory and Adrian Wilson.

Erik Frenz is also a Patriots/AFC East writer for Boston.comFollow Erik on Twitter and "like" the AFC East blog on Facebook to keep up with all the updates. 


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