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Brandon Browner gives Patriots flexibility, but at his best as a cornerback

Posted by Erik Frenz  March 15, 2014 05:00 PM

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(Photo: Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)
Cornerback became the Patriots' biggest need on defense the moment Aqib Talib signed with the Denver Broncos. It didn't take them long to fill the void by quickly scooping All Pro defensive back Darrelle Revis after he was released by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

On Friday, the Patriots took the talent, size and versatility of their secondary to a brand new level with the signing of Seattle Seahawks Pro Bowl cornerback Brandon Browner to a three-year, $17 million deal, as reported by ESPN's Adam Schefter.

Browner was an integral member of the Seahawks' secondary, and in ways, his 6-foot-4, 221-pound frame makes him the embodiment of their "Legion of Boom" blueprint. With Revis on one side, the No. 2 cornerback is bound to be targeted more frequently. Adding a second top-flight cornerback in Browner ensures that the No. 2 man is up for the job.

It doesn't have to be a strict assignment of Revis on the best receiver and Browner on the second-best. The possibilities are endless.

With two corners that possess such a wide skill set, Browner and Revis could match up with any kind of pass-catcher: whether it's a tight end, a big-bodied "X" receiver, an undersized slot receiver or anything else an offense may throw at the Patriots' defense.

Going up against the Broncos? Revis could be asked to handle Demaryius Thomas, with Browner drawing tight end Julius Thomas in coverage. What about the Saints? Revis and Browner could mix-and-match on tight end Jimmy Graham and wide receiver Marques Colston.

There's even the possibility that the Patriots could try Browner out at safety.

He brings rare size to the cornerback position, so why would the Patriots want him to be something other than the physically imposing cornerback he's been throughout his career? Because they can. With Revis, Browner, Alfonzo Dennard, Logan Ryan, and Kyle Arrington, the Patriots now have a deep group of cornerbacks who can play tight man-to-man coverage. That should give them some comfort to experiment with Browner.

He has not played the safety position extensively (though he started out there when he left the CFL for the NFL), but it's not out of the question that the Patriots could try him there. It's no mystery that the Patriots have not been satisfied with their production out of the strong safety position. They have used the "volume approach" over the past two years, with two free agent signings (Steve Gregory in 2012, Adrian Wilson in 2013) and two high draft picks (Tavon Wilson in the second round in 2012, Duron Harmon in the third round in 2013).

Browner is probably at his best as a cornerback, but don't rule out an experiment. Bill Belichick is always crafting ways to get his best players on the field at the same time, and the possibilities are intriguing.

The Patriots already know he can hit like a safety.

On this play against the Patriots in 2012, he sank into a curl zone on the outside and let the play develop in front of him. Once Tom Brady threw the ball to Wes Welker on the option route, Browner reacted and closed on the pass. He laid a hit on Welker so heavy, the slot receiver had to come out of the game the next play.

Make no mistake; Browner doesn't just pick on small receivers like Welker with big hits. He's not afraid to lay the wood to a big-bodied pass-catcher like Buccaneers wide receiver Vincent Jackson.

Putting him in deep zone coverage as a safety would not fully maximize his skill set or his rare frame, but there is still some intrigue to his potential versatility.

That being said, they just gave him a three-year, $17 million contract to play cornerback. That would be one of the richest contracts in the league for a safety, so it would seem strange for them to make such a heavy investment in an experiment. Browner is a known commodity for his abilities in man coverage and in getting physical with receivers at the line of scrimmage.

Most cornerbacks who get physical with receivers at the line of scrimmage leave themselves prone to letting the receiver get past them. Browner has a keen ability to get his hands on a receiver while still having the recovery speed to turn and run with them after the jam.

Talib became revered around New England for his long frame and speed to keep up with a team's top receiver, but Browner possesses many of those same attributes, and doesn't have a history of health concerns.

In fact, Browner could be a matchup piece a lot like what Talib was in the first six weeks of the season. The Patriots moved Talib around on tight end Jimmy Graham and had him trail a team's best receiver. Browner's combination of size, speed and physicality make him capable of doing the same thing.

He matched up one-on-one with Vincent Jackson in Week 8, and the defensive back imposed his physical will on the big-bodied receiver. Quarterback Mike Glennon threw two passes to Jackson into Browner's coverage, and completed only one of them.

As much as Browner's physical nature helps him in these kinds of matchups, he doesn't rely solely on physical ability. On this play, he relied on his instincts and his eyes to help him make the play. His back was turned to the throw, but he was able to time his jump by waiting for Jackson to make his initial move and put his hands out for the pass.

So, while Browner offers some intriguing possibilities for his positional versatility, it's important to remember that he is a unique cornerback, and has mastered that craft with years of practice. Belichick should be open-minded to the possibility of moving him around, but either way, the Patriots got one heck of a cornerback to put opposite Revis.



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About the author

Erik Frenz delivers analysis of the biggest news with the Patriots, including insight into the AFC East and New England's biggest rivals from a Patriots perspective. Erik is an interactive writer who engages his audience in his posts’ comments sections and on Twitter. Readers are encouraged to share their thoughts and ask questions. More »

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