Cornerbacks: Darrelle Revis, Alfonzo Dennard, Kyle Arrington (Slot)
Safeties: Devin McCourty (FS), Duron Harmon (SS)
Revis and McCourty are the clear leaders of this unit, as well as two of the most important players on the entire team. Both have exemplary skill sets that no one else on the roster can duplicate; as long as both are healthy, this unit will be an asset.
But a secondary harboring Seahawkian aspirations needs multiple players to elevate their performances in 2014. Though largely forgotten this offseason, Dennard looks like the leader for the outside cornerback spot outside Revis due to the recent struggles of Logan Ryan. Dennard has yet to make his preseason debut after missing most of the offseason program recovering from shoulder surgery, but he is a bankable commodity whose fearless man-to-man physicality fits in with New England's new defensive philosophy.
Harmon did not run with the first-team safeties against Philadelphia, deferring to Arrington and Ryan in the first half. But his second-half interception catalyzed an impressive performance, leading to a plus-1.8 overall grade on the night. There will invariably be issues as the second-year safety assimilates into a larger role, but Harmon's headiness should make him a passable starter in 2014, albeit one the Pats might want to upgrade in the future.
Arrington is the controversial choice here, as he has unofficially become the whipping boy for Patriots fans. His lack of top-end speed and shaky ball location skills have led to some big plays for the opposition, particularly when he lines up against big outside receivers.
But contrary to popular belief, he is not an irredeemable sinkhole. Among slot corners last year, he was in the top one-third in terms of yards and receptions conceded per play, ranking 11th and 12th in those categories, respectively. With the strength of the outside corners this year, it wouldn't be surprising to see the Pats help Arrington with bracket coverage from the safeties.
Ryan is the wild card, as his natural talent suggests he would upgrade either the slot or strong safety position. But he has struggled in the preseason, with a minus-3.6 overall grade that ranks 153rd out of 162 qualified cornerbacks. It's not time to panic yet, but considering the recent disturbing history of second-year Pats defensive backs slumping after promising rookie seasons (McCourty, Darius Butler, Tavon Wilson), it's fair to harbor some uncertainties about Ryan.