Because of the prevalence of the passing game in the NFL, and because of the reliance on nickel packages to defend the passing game, good safeties -- even ones who aren't considered starters -- are as valuable as ever.
Duron Harmon, for example, doesn't typically start for the Patriots. However, he's played in over 50 percent of the defensive snaps for Bill Belichick in each of the last two seasons, and he re-signed with New England last week, coming to terms on a four-year contract that will pay him $9 million in base salary over the life of the deal.
Typically the team's choice in the deep middle of the field on passing downs, Harmon acknowledged in a conference call Friday that he'd like to become a more well-rounded player as he begins his second run with the Patriots.
"I think, I would say, the run area is a key [area] where I feel that I can grow in," he said. "My tackling could be a little bit more aggressive, and I think that’s going to come with putting on a little bit more weight, being able to bang down there. So I think that area is key and could be an area I could grow a lot in, I believe."
Harmon is listed at 6-foot-1, 205 pounds but said he'd try to gain two or three pounds and see how it feels as he gets ready for the regular season.
"I’ll try it out maybe in OTAs and minicamp and just see how I feel, and how I like moving around a little heavier," he said. "Maybe like 207, 208."
Harmon makes up a safety group that is among the team's most experienced along with Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung. McCourty typically thrives in the deep portion of the field on early downs, but he can be used in a variety of ways in coverage and against the run. Chung often plays in the box, providing effective run support and blanketing tight ends.
If Harmon adds weight and finds the level of aggressiveness he's looking for, perhaps he can become a more versatile chess piece to help keep opposing offenses on their toes.