Prototypical Patriots: King's agility, toughness seem ideal for slot role

Prototypical Patriots: King's agility, toughness seem ideal for slot role

The Patriots may soon find themselves back in the cornerback market even after adding free-agent cover man Stephon Gilmore this offseason.

There's no guarantee that Malcolm Butler will be in the fold in New England in 2017, and even if he is, it's safe to say that no team -- no matter how flush with cover men they may be -- will turn its nose up at a good player at the position. It's simply too important. 

PHIL PERRY'S PROTOTYPICAL PATRIOTS DRAFT PREVIEW

This year's draft class is loaded with talented corners, which means that Bill Belichick and his staff could watch a first-round player slip deep into the second round or later. If that's the case, they may make a move to add to a group that already features Gilmore, Butler, Eric Rowe, Cyrus Jones and special teams standout Jonathan Jones.

What do the Patriots typically like to draft at cornerback? They have a track record of grabbing great athletes with sound footwork who are willing tacklers. If you have experience playing man-to-man as well as zone, that's a plus. If you can play inside and out, that will also earn you points. Of course, production in big-time conference and special teams ability won't hurt you either.

There are so many draftable corners in this year's class that we've broken them up into two groups: Those who look like they'd be better fits primarily in the slot with the Patriots, and those who look like they could handle responsibilities outside the numbers for Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia. 

We handled the outside guys yesterday, and today we'll provide you with some names who could make their livings inside.

This is the fourth installment of a 12-part pre-draft series where we're looking into Prototypical Patriots at a variety of positions. To catch up on our first few cracks at this, head here for boundary cornershere for linebackers and here for safeties.

Chidobe Awuzie, Colorado, 6-feet, 202 pounds: Awuzie could conceivably play just about anywhere in the secondary, but the slot may be where he settles. An explosive athlete (third-best broad jump among all defensive backs at this year's combine) with the quickness and agility to plaster good route-runners on the inside (6.81-second three-cone, 4.14-second 20-yard shuttle), he has experience both inside and out. The Patriots might be turned off by his inconsistencies as a tackler (33 missed tackles in three years, according to Pro Football Focus) -- which almost forced his name off this list -- but they would appreciate his position flexibility and his aggressive style of play. As a blitzer from the inside, he had eight sacks, six hits and 17 hurries over the last two seasons, per PFF. 

Desmond King, Iowa, 5-foot-10, 201 pounds: King seems to be among the best nickel fits for the Patriots given his agility (third-best three-cone for defensive backs at this year's combine), lateral movement (top-15 in the shuttles), instincts (14 picks in the last three years) and tackling ability (11 missed tackles in 176 solo attempts). A four-year starter in coach Kirk Ferentz's program, he held quarterbacks to a rating of below 50.0 in each of the last two seasons, and PFF compares his game to Logan Ryan's. King plays with an edge that should serve him well inside, though he may have to dial back the attitude a touch in New England. He picked up 11 penalties over the last two seasons, including five personal fouls, per NFL.com. King received extensive experience as a returner in college.

Jourdan Lewis, Michigan, 5-foot-10, 188 pounds: Identified as someone who could handle slot duties thanks to his tackling (missed 13 tackles of 114 attempts in three years, per PFF), his eagerness to play the run, and his ball skills (six picks, 28 pass breakups in three seasons), Lewis could find himself knocked off New England's draft board completely after being charged with one misdemeanor count of domestic violence stemming from an alleged incident in March with his then-girlfriend. Lewis pleaded not guilty, and the case is scheduled to go to trial July 10. Patriots chairman and CEO Robert Kraft has been staunchly opposed to drafting players who have a record of violence against women.

Johnathan Ford, Auburn, 5-foot-11, 205 pounds: Ford has the length (30-inch arms) and strength (20 reps of 225 pounds) to sort through crowds near the line of scrimmage and stop ball-carriers in their tracks. Combine his thirst for contact with his speed (4.34-second 40-yard dash at his pro day), and he looks like an immediate contributor on special teams. A three-year starter and versatile option in Auburn's secondary, he played some safety in addition to his responsibilities in the slot. He also helped return kicks as well as cover them for the Tigers.

Jalen Myrick, Minnesota, 5-foot-10, 200 pounds: A solidly-built corner who can disrupt timing of bigger players at the line of scrimmage, Myrick can also turn and run with burners. He had the second-best 40-yard dash of any player at this year's combine (4.28 seconds) and checks most other boxes in terms of the athleticism that the Patriots like at the position (37.5-inch vertical, 4.22-second 20-yard shuttle, 7.06 three-cone). Myrick's tackling isn't thought to be outstanding, but his physical profile and his special-teams potential may be worth a flier in the later rounds. 

Xavier Coleman, Portland State, 5-foot-10, 189 pounds: This small-school prospect put up some impressive testing numbers at his pro day (4.50-second 40, 40-inch vertical, 125-inch broad jump, 6.85-second three-cone at his pro day) that could put him on some team's radar as a late-round selection or a priority free agent. Coleman, a team captain who was named a first-team All-Big Sky honoree last season, underwent open-heart surgery in high school.

Thursday's Patriots-Texans practice report: Gronk participates, Cannon does not

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Thursday's Patriots-Texans practice report: Gronk participates, Cannon does not

FOXBORO -- There was good news and bad news for the Patriots on Thursday's injury report.

The good? Rob Gronkowski ratcheted up his participation in practice from Wednesday to Thursday and was listed as a "limited" participant. On Wednesday, though he was spotted on the field and participating in some drills, he was listed as a non-participant. 

The bad? Marcus Cannon was on the field to start the session, but he was later listed as a non-participant as he deals with an ankle issue and a concussion.

Also on the not-so-good news front for Bill Belichick's club: Rex Burkhead (ribs) did not participate for the second-straight day, throwing his availability into doubt for Sunday; defensive tackle Vincent Valentine (knee) was also held out of practice. 

On the Texans' end of things, it's worth keeping an eye on the status of their corners Kevin Johnson and Jonathan Joseph. Johnson didn't participate due to a knee issue, and Joseph was limited with a shoulder injury. 

Thursday's practice participation/injury report for Sunday's Patriots-Texans game:

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

DID NOT PARTICIPATE
RB Rex Burkhead (ribs)
OT Marcus Cannon (ankle/concussion)
DT Vincent Valentine (knee)

LIMITED PARTICIPATION
WR Danny Amendola (concussion/knee)
WR Phillip Dorsett (knee)
CB Stephon Gilmore (groin)
TE Rob Gronkowski (groin)
LB Dont'a Hightower (knee)
WR Chris Hogan (knee)
LB Elandon Roberts (thumb)
CB Eric Rowe (groin)
WR Matthew Slater (hamstring)

HOUSTON TEXANS

DID NOT PARTICIPATE
G Jeff Allen (ankle)
CB Kevin Johnson (knee)

LIMITED PARTICIPATION
RB Alfred Blue (ankle)
NT Brandon Dunn (knee)
WR Will Fuller V (shoulder)
CB Jonathan Joseph (shoulder)
G Xavier Su'a-Filo (knee)
DE J.J. Watt (finger)

FULL PARTICIPATION
TE Stephen Anderson (concussion)
CB Marcus Burley (knee)
T Chris Clark (wrist)
WR Bruce Ellington (concussion)
TE Ryan Griffin (concussion)

Malcolm Butler: 'I haven't been performing at the level that I should be'

Malcolm Butler: 'I haven't been performing at the level that I should be'

FOXBORO -- When Malcolm Butler didn't start against the Saints on Sunday, it wasn't something he was told ahead of time. It did surprise some of his teammates, though, during that week's walkthrough when he wasn't working with the starters. 

On Thursday, instead of acting shellshocked, Butler sounded like a player who was set on earning a place back in the Patriots starting lineup.

TODAY'S PATRIOTS REPORT

"I haven't been performing at the level that I should be performing at," he said. "I gotta do whatever I gotta do to help the team. Whatever role that I get, I got a job to do so I gotta do it. Just gotta keep grinding, keep working hard."

Butler found himself working in behind Stephon Gilmore and Eric Rowe in New Orleans as the team's No. 3 corner. Asked if he was frustrated -- he's making $3.91 million this year and is scheduled to hit free agency after the season -- he acknowledged that those types of feelings have crept in at times. 

"I kind of thought about it like that, but I can't worry about anything but what's happening right now," Butler said. "Complaining or feeling sorry for myself is not going to make me perform better. I just gotta keep rolling. I'm gonna get it rolling. That's what I'm going to do."

In the last year of his deal, and with a highly-paid corner on the roster for the foreseeable future, Butler's name is a logical one to be tossed around as a candidate to be traded, but he said he tries not to pay attention to that speculation.

"As much as I can I try not to," he said. "This is where I play. This is where I'm happy at. I just gotta continue doing my thing."

Still without a long-term deal, Butler explained he has felt sorry for himself at times, but he's done what he can, he said, to push those thoughts aside. 

"We all had those feelings before, but we wake up and realize in reality that it's not going to help you," he said. "It's not going to help you. I just gotta go out there and play hard with a lot of fire and that's what I'm going to do. We'll see."

Butler allowed four catches on five targets for 40 yards and a touchdown against the Saints last weekend. In Week 1 he had a costly pass-interference penalty in the end zone that led to a Chiefs score.

While he has been disappointed in his play thus far this season, he sounded confident that he'd be able to work his way back into defensive coordinator Matt Patricia's group of starters. "I'm finding my way back, better believe that."

Butler added that he hasn't been told if he'll start this weekend against the Texans, but "I'm playing like it, though. I'm practicing like it. I'll be ready. It starts at practice."

"It's still early," he said. "Two games [and] preseason games, but there's no excuses. There's no excuses. I'll be ready to roll. Lights out."

Why so confident in the bounce-back?

"There've been times when I've been through a lot of stuff man," he said. "I made it through that and I made it to the National Football League. If I can handle that and make it to the NFL then I can put my mind together to make it past this situation. Just gotta perform better. It's still early, but need a sense of urgency and we'll see that."

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