Wrapping up our positional reviews with a look at the Patriots safeties in 2012:
Key Statistics: McCourty: 82 tackles, 5 INTs, 3 forced fumbles, 13 pass breakups (98.2 percent of snaps played); Gregory: 36 tackles, 3 INTs, 2 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries; Wilson: 41 tackles, 4 INTs, 6 pass breakups; Chung: 44 tackles, 2 INTs, 5 pass breakups
Overview: The shift to safety by McCourty made a world of difference for this group, as early-season struggles climaxed in a Week 6 loss to the Seahawks. With McCourty serving as a defensive rearguard, the Patriots had a reliable, instinctive, smart communicator who had the reactive athleticism to see the field and make plays on long throws. He became the starter at free safety alongside Gregory, who typically was used to buzz down over an opposing tight end. Gregory had a tough AFC Championship Game, but was solid overall when he was on the field. Beyond those two, a gap existed on the depth chart, as Chung's defensive role shrunk in 2012, a sign he may not be back with the team next season. Wilson was part of the rotation early, but his role shrunk as well before settling in as a member of the team's dime defense. Should McCourty be kept at safety, which seems likely, the team needs to build depth around him and find athletic safeties who can defend the deep part of the field.
2013 Personnel Preview: The only free agent in the group is Chung, who could be a candidate to test the open market and seek a starting job elsewhere. McCourty established himself as a staple at safety this season, but the team needs to add coverage players around him. In a league with more and more tight ends who can work the middle of the field, a capable safety to cover them is essential.