Originally written on NESN.com  |  Last updated 11/19/14
New-england-patriots-san
There’s a common misconception in New England that Devin McCourty is not only one of the weakest members of the Patriots’ defense, but that he’s a bad player in general. That could not be further from the truth. In fact, McCourty is the most underrated player on the entire team. McCourty had a fantastic rookie season, and hopes were high as he entered his sophomore season that he would become the shutdown cornerback that the Patriots hadn’t seen since Asante Samuel or Ty Law. Unfortunately, a mix of man coverages and weak safety play led to McCourty giving up some big plays in key moments. McCourty was still his usual fantastic self in zone coverages, he was still stout against the run and he really blossomed when he was moved late in the season to safety. Unfortunately, none of those are parts of the game that a typical NFL fan may see. It’s only when McCourty was matched up deep, trailing his receiver that fans’ eyes perked up and noticed him. That’s also exactly when fans would turn on him, even if it was rarely his fault. The Patriots had some of the worst safety play in the league last season. They played ten different players at the two positions, including two wide receivers (Matt Slater and Julian Edelman) and countless primarily special teams players. It got so bad at one point, that Sterling Moore was brought up from the practice squad and thrust into a position (safety) that he had never played before. Without help or trust over the top, any zone cornerback playing man will be bound to give up big plays. Big plays and pass defense in general is dependent on more than one player. The entire group has to work together to prevent those plays. McCourty’s biggest strengths as a player are when his man is in front of him. He can fully use his 4.3 speed and quick-twitch instincts when he can see the play developing. He’s very strong at reading opposing offenses, and can very rarely be caught out of position when he’s playing zone or at safety. Where McCourty struggles more is in man. He struggles to turn and run with his receiver, and fails to look back at the ball — though that may be a product of Bill Belichick‘s defensive teachings. This season, we’ve seen one up and down game (Baltimore) and eight more great ones from the third-year player. In a season where we’ve seen Kyle Arrington, Steve Gregory, Patrick Chung and Moore benched at one point or another, Alfonzo Dennard and Marquice Cole buried on the depth chart to start the season, and Tavon Wilson only thrust into a starting role when injuries forced it, McCourty has been the one rock in the Patriots’ secondary. If McCourty was really nearly as bad as the public assumes he is, wouldn’t he too have been benched as some point this season? Rookie defensive end Chandler Jones is the front runner for Patriots defensive MVP, but McCourty is just a hair behind him. McCourty is allowing just 44.2 percent of passes he’s targeted on for catches, he has a 53.5 quarterback rating against, and he’s allowed just 291 yards in nine games with two touchdowns and three interceptions. He’s also doing a great job lately helping out over the top. If you haven’t noticed him lately gracing your television screens, that usually a good thing. Quarterbacks just aren’t targeting him deep. It would be easy to assume that when you see a guy get beat deep, or see him commit a penalty, it’s automatically his fault. There have certainly been those times in McCourty’s career, but no more than your usual starting cornerback. And since McCourty has taken over at safety, he’s been the best free safety the Patriots have seen since Brandon Meriweather was still playing the position correctly for New England, rather than free-styling. It’s obvious that Belichick has all the confidence in the world in the Rutgers-product, and you should too. He’s the best defensive back the Patriots have — at least until Aqib Talib gets acquainted in the defense — and any defensive resurgence will be built off of his strong play.
MORE FROM YARDBARKER

Report: Bears to bench Jay Cutler, start Jimmy Clausen

Jim Harbaugh to Michigan speculation building

Heat lose a key player with McRoberts out for rest of season

Belichick: Ryan is 'buttering me up' with Hall of Fame praise

Marshall: Bears need to gel and do some kumbaya

Ray McDonald investigated for possible sexual assault

LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?
GET THE DAILY NEWSLETTER:

Red Sox appear content with rotation despite lack of true ace

Iguodala gets technical for mocking Conley travel

Bo Pelini takes shot at Nebraska during introductory presser

Belichick: Patriots need to play better against the Jets

Rex Ryan doesn't want to get in trouble talking about Revis

Bears Conte willing to shorten lifespan for NFL career

12 Coaching candidates to replace Paul Chryst at Pittsburgh

Brad Halsey claimed he was on cocaine for Bonds record HR

Wade Miley confident in health, diet after trade from D-Backs

When bowl results mean more for one school than another

Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson lead in 2014 athlete Google searches

Molding the market: All eyes on Max Scherzer

Another "Fire John Idzik' plane flies at Jets practice

Four can't-miss match-ups in NFL's Week 16

Report: Some Browns shunned Manziel during pregame

Making an attempt to understand Celtics' priorities

Gronk makes awkward sausage joke on 'Top Chef'

Walmart ripped for confusing Anthony/Lin doll

NFL News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

By clicking "Sign Me Up", you have read and agreed to the Fox Sports Digital Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. You can opt out at any time. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.

When bowl results mean more for one school than another

Four can't-miss match-ups in NFL's Week 16

RG3 quits social media for season

Each NFL division’s MVP

5 NFLers who must step up in Week 16

Most impressive college hoops teams

Five reasons why FSU is going to win the CFB Playoff

Boxer admits to dive in Rourke bout

FCC heard about Brady's swearing?

Embracing the hate of the Eagles-Cowboys Rivalry

DeSean Jackson mocks Eagles

Andrew Hawkins defends shirt

Today's Best Stuff
For Bloggers

Join the Yardbarker Network for more promotion, traffic, and money.

Company Info
Help
What is Yardbarker?

Yardbarker is the largest network of sports blogs and pro athlete blogs on the web. This site is the hub of the Yardbarker Network, where our editors and algorithms curate the best sports content from our network and beyond.