New England Patriots

EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY - NOVEMBER 09: Kyle Dugger #35 of the New England Patriots looks on during warmups before the game against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium on November 09, 2020 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Last season, the safety position may have been the best collective unit of the Patriots’ defense. Despite minimal attention in the offseason, they should be even better in 2021. 

The strength of the unit is the box safeties. Adrian Phillips returns for his second year in the team’s defensive system, while Kyle Dugger now gets to play with a season of pro football under his belt. That added experience should lead to both playing at a higher level this season.

They’ll be joined by the group’s biggest offseason acquisition, free agent signing Jalen Mills. Mills originally entered the league with the Eagles as a cornerback, but starting playing a majority of safety snaps in 2020. The switch worked, and he proved to be a more effective player.

Mills’ positional versatility is a trait the Patriots will likely use early and often this season. According to PFF, he lined up five separate positions on a somewhat regular basis last season, with 329 plays at box safety, 236 at free safety, 227 at outside corner, 182 at slot corner (182), and even 39 on the defensive line. 

On the back end, Devin McCourty is back for his 12th NFL season. With Patrick Chung’s retirement, McCourty is the only member of this group with more than two years of experience playing for the Patriots. At 33-years-old, he showed little if any rust last year. As he enters a contract year, we’ll see if he can keep up that high level of play.

Patriots 2021 Positional Previews: Quarterback | Running Back | Wide Receiver | Tight End | Offensive Line | Cornerback

Alex Barth is a writer and digital producer for Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Looking for a podcast guest? Let him know on Twitter @RealAlexBarth or via email at