FOXBORO -- There are some big-hitting defensive backs in this year's draft, but the Patriots aren't necessarily all that concerned with pairing Devin McCourty with a traditional strong safety.
After they released both Steve Gregory and Adrian Wilson this offseason, the Patriots have lost some depth in the back end of their secondary. McCourty is the known commodity while Duron Harmon and recent free-agent acquisition Patrick Chung stand out as potential contributors to the defense. Then there are Nate Ebner, Tavon Wilson and Kannoris Davis -- all likely destined to contribute more as special teamers.
In terms of thumpers in this year's draft class, there are a few: Louisville's Calvin Pryor, Northern Illinois' Jimmy Ward and Washington State's Deone Bucannan all are talented safeties who can contribute in defending the run and lay big hits.
Patriots Director of Player Personnel Nick Caserio didn't rule out the possibility of the team using a player who brings some pop to the secondary, but he did emphasize the importance of having versatile defensive backs, and in particular versatile safeties.
Having players that fit the traditional roles of "strong" safety and "free" safety are not necessarily vital.
"I think having versatile players that can do multiple things is important," he said. "And how you deploy those players, you try to play to a player's strength. So whatever a player does well, you try to put them in a position schematically where they can use those skills."
Caserio explained that many of the skills necessary to play in the defensive backfield are transferable from position to position. McCourty, who was drafted as a corner out of college and has turned himself into an All-Pro safety, serves as a prime example in that regard.
"We've had corners that have played safety, safeties that have played safety. That position, there are a lot of things that go into it," Caserio said. "There's a space game, there's a tackling game. Instinctiveness, ball skills, all those types of things, they're applicable to not only the safety position but the corner position as well. Some corners actually look like safeties, some safeties look like corners. I think the defensive back group in general, having a degree of positional versatility is certainly helpful, especially when you're playing certain teams on a week-to-week basis, it doesn't force you to make wholesale changes: 'If this guy's in the game, then we gotta put this guy in the game.' Having guys that are multiple that might be able to be utilized in multiple roles, there's certainly value in that."