Did the Patriots find their undisputed CB1 at Jalen Mills?

With the Patriots losing JC Jackson in free agency, there was an urgent need to find his replacement. And it looks like Jalen Mills has already taken over.

After the Patriots traded Stephon Gilmore to the Panthers mid-season, concerns began to circulate about the team’s high school future.

It was well known that fellow star cornerback JC Jackson was playing the final year of his contract and would likely be looking for a lucrative contract elsewhere.

Once free agency began this spring, Jackson got exactly what he was hoping for, with a whopping five-year contract with the LA Chargers. That left the Patriots in a vulnerable state, having lost both of their closed corners in a single season.

But during the season, when Gilmore was declared unable to play, Bill Belichick made the wise decision to have Jalen Mills replaced. He would continue to play in the outside corner facing Jackson for the rest of the season, the most he’s had the job since 2019.

It was thought he was initially brought in to play it safe, to add more depth to the position. But Mills has experience all through high school. As the cornerback position did not specifically have great depth, Mills’ presence and performance was key to the unit’s success all year.

What was Mills like in his first season with New England?

The first half of the year was not the best performance for Mills, mainly due to his inconsistent play. But some leniency can be given as this was his first season with the Patriots. And the Eagles made him play free safety in the 2020 season. Additionally, he was lining up against Jackson who was having yet another phenomenal season, putting his performance under even greater scrutiny.

The 2021 season was a solid test for Mills and in the second half he proved to be impressive. He saw a record number of passes thrown his way (65) and had a career-best year in yards allowed per target. granting only 6.2 meters. His performance went a bit under the radar but was significant nonetheless.

Stats for the first half of the season compared to the second half:

  • FIRST 8 GAMES: allowed 16 receptions out of 26 (62%) |LAST 9 MATCHES: allowed 7 out of 21 passes (33%)
  • FIRST 8 GAMES: 251 meters | LAST 9 MATCHES: 72 meters
  • FIRST 8 GAMES: 4 touchdowns |LAST 9 MATCHES: 2 hits

The locking corner the Patriots hoped to find was reawakened in the second half of the season. Mills was back to his earlier playing habits and still seems to be there so far this preseason.

How is he doing in training camp so far?

Mills’ performance so far in training camp shows he is CB1. With so many questions heading into this season regarding who would become the guyhe proves that it is his position to take.

He continues to hold the outside corner, with a rotation of the others to the other side.

Despite staying early in training camp and having only had two padded practices so far, Mills was more comfortable and put on a show against Patriots receivers. .

The success he had against the team’s top receivers continued to be a hot topic. He has won battles against DeVante Parker, who is known for his impressive contest catching abilities and has broken up passes meant for Nelson Agholor.

As they approach their first pre-season game next week, it will be interesting to see how hard Mac Jones and Bailey Zappe test Mills in training. So far, they’ve avoided getting started during padded practices, but with the real competition approaching, they might want to see how they fare against their best cornerback.

What did Patriots’ Mills say about his performance last year?

Asked how those first eight games of 2021 differed from the last nine, Mills said he felt more comfortable later in the season; “I definitely felt comfortable in the second half of the season. Just locked up and playing fast and trusting the guys next to me.

He continued, “Being somewhere for so long, and last year being my first year here, a whole new defense with different guys that I wasn’t used to and now getting another full OTA with these guys and going into my second camp is night and day,”

Heading into his second year with the team, Mills’ transition to CB1 is crucial, especially with question marks remaining on the other side. His comfort in his new role will inevitably benefit not just himself, but the whole team, especially the young players who learn from him.

When asked if he felt ready to take on this number one position, Mills replied, “100%. It’s (been) the norm here for bends over the past decade. Guys have to be able to line up, play man-to-man, play zonal. Either way, you must rise to the challenge.

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