New England Patriots Depth Chart Analysis | Defense
Following some high-end addition in free agency and further talented selections in the 2021 NFL Draft, the Patriots’ defensive depth chart appears to be loaded with talent.
Interior Defensive Line
One of the beauties of the Patriots’ defensive scheme — they can use their players in several different ways. They have an abundance of talent across the interior of their defensive line.
One of three new faces atop the Patriots’ interior depth chart is Henry Anderson. After compiling seven sacks in 2018, Anderson’s production declined after signing an extension with the Jets. However, Belichick and his defensive coaching staff will look to move Anderson around to exploit weaknesses in the offensive line. The hope, of course, is to see similar production to his 2018 season.
The Patriots also added Davon Godchaux. He spent the last two years under former Patriots defensive coordinator Brian Flores in Miami. Godchaux will be a stout force in the middle of the line. He has the ability to take on double teams and free up surrounding defenders.
However, Godchaux will likely be competing for snaps with the Patriots’ second-round selection from 2021, Christian Barmore. The Alabama defensive tackle has 9.5 tackles for loss in 2020 and 8 sacks. He was the highest-rated defensive tackle entering the draft and someone the Patriots traded up to secure on Day 2. He will likely compete with Lawrence Guy and Godchaux for that role next to Anderson.
Byron Cowart is expected to compete for the starting nose tackle, but if the Patriots play a 4-3 style of defense at times, he could be the odd man out.
The Patriots have turned their depth chart at EDGE from questionable to downright terrifying for opposing defenses. They now have at least six options who could all be in contention to start this season. Having that depth will allow the Patriots to rotate and keep everyone fresh.
Matt Judon is the biggest name and one of the prized free-agent acquisitions for the Patriots. Judon comes from the Ravens, signing a four-year, $54.5 million contract ($32 million guaranteed). In 2020, Judon had 6 sacks and 51 tackles. This follows his 2019 and 2018 campaigns, where he had 9.5 and 7 sacks, respectively.
Behind Judon is a group loaded with potential. Kyle Van Noy and Deatrich Wise bring the experience to this group. Wise has underwhelmed so far in his career but knows the Patriots’ scheme inside out. Van Noy returns after spending 2020 in Miami. He has 16.5 sacks, 5 forced fumbles, and 2 interceptions in Patriots colors.
The combination of Chase Winovich, Josh Uche, and Ronnie Perkins is loaded with potential. With all three being players on their rookie deals, the likelihood is they start the season in a rotational role. However, all three have the potential to force themselves into a starting role.
With Dont’a Hightower opting out of the 2020 season, Ja’Whaun Bentley stepped up for New England. He made 91 tackles, at an average of 7 per game in 13 games last season. With Hightower returning, those two could make for a strong inside linebacker group. However, neither are strong against the pass overall and could be an area teams look to exploit.
The options behind them are somewhat questionable. Cameron McGrone could have a chance to compete to be the primary backup option against former first-round pick Raekwon McMillan. However, the Patriots’ defense is flexible and hybrid. Additionally, we could see the likes of Van Noy, Jalen Mills, or Kyle Duggar taking snaps at linebacker if teams exploit Bentley and Hightower against the pass.
The top of the Patriots’ cornerback depth chart is among the best in the league. Stephon Gilmore is among the very best, while J.C. Jackson has put himself in the frame with splash plays. Jackson has 17 interceptions in three seasons and has never allowed more than a 59 percent completion rate in his career.
Jonathan Jones will remain the third option, with the Patriots also hoping Joejuan Williams can develop further. Neither will fill the Patriots with confidence if they have to start early in 2021. The Patriots can use their depth at safety to fill roles covering the slot. Furthermore, Duggar and Mills could both be in the frame for that role.
The Patriots’ defensive depth chart is as loaded on the back end as it is up front. Devin McCourty is still a valuable leader, even if he struggled in coverage over the last three years. Adrian Phillips racked up 109 tackles and 2 interceptions in his first year in New England. As a result, he should remain the starter alongside McCourty.
Mills and Duggar will have the opportunity to fill hybrid roles. A 2020 NFL Draft selection, Duggar appears more suited to dropping into that linebacker/safety hybrid, while Mills could end up as the main slot corner. Both can drop back into more conventional safety roles if required.
New England selected Joshuah Bledsoe in the sixth round of the 2021 NFL Draft. He offers them another hybrid type of safety who could fill a handful of roles as an injury cover.
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