McCourty County Lockdown: New England Patriots Rookie Among NFL's Rising Stars

Sean KeaneCorrespondent IDecember 15, 2010

DETROIT - NOVEMBER 25:  Devin McCourty #32 of the New England Patriots celebrates intercepting a fourth quarter pass from Shaun Hill #14 of the Detroit Lions during the fourth quarter of the game at Ford Field on November 25, 2010 in Detroit, Michigan. New England defeated Detroit 45-24.  (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
Leon Halip/Getty Images

New England Patriots 2010 first-round draft choice, cornerback Devin McCourty, is on the short list of players garnering consideration for the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award.

In a season full of Brady banter and MVP musings, McCourty's marvelous play often goes unnoticed, even here in New England.  Some may say rightfully so.  After all, the Patriots sport one of the league's worst pass defenses statistically speaking.  They rank 31st in passing yards allowed per game.

They are however among the best when it comes to making big plays and producing turnovers to limit scoring chances for opposing teams.  They rank second in the NFL in interceptions with 20.

It's no coincidence McCourty also ranks second in the NFL in interceptions with six (tied with three other players).  He also ranks fifth in the NFL with 20 passes defended, which means by either intercepting a pass or knocking it down, McCourty has thwarted 26 pass attempts that would have otherwise been complete.  Only two players in the NFL have disrupted more.

Among rookies, McCourty's six interceptions lead this year's class.  They also place him in a tie with Hall of Famer Mike Haynes for the franchise rookie record.  His 20 passes defended trail only Joe Haden of the Cleveland Browns

He is also one of only nine rookies who've forced a fumble this season.  His was returned for a touchdown.

Most cornerbacks are also poor or unaggressive tacklers; not so in McCourty's case.  He reacts to receivers like a heat-seeking missile.  He has 67 tackles to show for it—58 of which are solo.  That means that 87 percent of the tackles he makes come in situations where he's on an island with a receiver, or, as I like to call it, in McCourty County Lockdown.

Those 67 tackles, by the way, are good for fifth most among rookies.  They also rank him third on the team behind Jerod Mayo and Patrick Chung.  The 58 solo tackles rank him second on the team behind only the aforementioned Mayo.

McCourty is making very few mistakes, a testament to his high football IQ that Belichick praised him for on draft day.  He's stepped in as a rookie and taken on the team's No. 1 cornerback spot without missing a beat.  It's rare for a rookie to start in the secondary.  It's even less common for a rookie to occupy the top spot on the depth chart.  It's extremely rare for a rookie to do both of those from day one.  It's downright unheard of for a rookie to do all those things for a playoff team, much less do them well.

Given the excpetional play of Lions DT Ndamokung Suh, it's unlikely that the Patriots will have their second defensive ROY in three years.  What they clearly do have though is their next lockdown defender.