Patriots ’20 Questions: Will Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung start to show their age?

Andy Hart and Ryan Hannable
July 15, 2020 - 12:07 pm
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The Patriots are in the midst of the most interesting, important offseason in more than two decades. Tom Brady moved on to Tampa Bay. Bill Belichick remains in place with a veteran roster. There are plenty of questions and even more plentiful opinions regarding the defending AFC East champions. Over the next few weeks WEEI.com will ask and offer up answers to 20 of the most critical questions facing the 2020 Patriots.

Today’s question: Will the defensive backs – specifically safeties Patrick Chung and Devin McCourty -- start to show their age?

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Hannable: In Chung's case, he sort of already has given the number of injuries he's dealt with over the last several years. He's one of the toughest players on the team so he hasn't missed many games, but there have been a number of contests where he hasn't been 100 percent. Still, he's one of the most versatile safeties in the game and a good player to have.

As for McCourty, he's coming off one of his best seasons in his career so technically he likely will show his age this season, but he's still one of the best free safeties the league has to offer. McCourty is also not only one of the leaders of the Patriots defense, but the team overall.

It is worth noting the team selected Kyle Dugger with its first overall pick in the draft last April, so it seems to be aware it needs to get younger at the position. The hope is he will be able to learn from McCourty and Chung over the next few seasons and be ready to take over once these two players call it a career.

Hart: If we’re being honest, Chung has certainly already started to show his age. That’s probably why the team drafted Kyle Dugger with its first pick and signed veteran Adrian Phillips in free agency. That combo is likely to, at the very least, allow for Chung to have a little lighter load. Now, can those two be as good, versatile and relatively durable as Chung has been over the last few years? Time will tell.

McCourty is coming off one of his better all-around seasons, so it’s hard at this point to see him just falling off the map as the true safety net and, at least last year, playmaker in the back end. I certainly have more confidence that McCourty will play at a high level in 2020 than I do for Chung. While Dugger and Phillips certainly have the skills and potential to be key contributors, we also shouldn’t just dismiss the departure of former captain and reliable third safety Duron Harmon. He certainly could be missed.

Overall, it will also be hard for the defensive backs – including the safeties – to play as well as they did a year ago especially considering the elevated competition they will face from opposing offenses. Even if the aging vets play at the same level they did last fall to lead the NFL’s No. 1 defense, the results may not look the same facing Patrick Mahomes, Russell Wilson and the rest.

Related: No deal reportedly expected for Joe Thuney ahead of Wednesday deadline