When discussing the New England Patriots, the conversation usually revolves around offensive players like Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski, and of course Tom Brady. Rightfully so. Players have come and gone but the Brady has always found a way to outscore his opponents. Troy Brown, Deion Branch, Randy Moss, and Wes Welker played out of this world during portions of their Patriots careers. The effective and dangerous offense Brady has commanded has always distracted from the great accomplishments of New England’s defenses.
Sometimes fans tend to get wrapped up in new offensive toys like Chris Hogan or Martellus Bennett. They forget about the tremendously strong defense that Bill Belichick and his coaching staff have formulated.
This current defensive core may be one of the deepest and most talented Belichick has ever coached. It’s entertaining to watch them play.
Twenty one of the 24 defensive players are under the age of 30. Eighteen of the 24 are under the age of 27. These players are heading into their prime and very talented. The “quarterback” of the secondary is Devin McCourty. He has improved with age and become one of the best safeties in the league. Malcolm Butler has continued his improbable NFL journey and proved himself more than capable as a starter. Logan Ryan also stepped up last season and played the best season of his career. Even Patrick Chung rejoined the secondary and played outstanding for defensive coordinator Matt Patricia.
Patriots starting defense last season PFF grades pic.twitter.com/xCb7VgQxlR
— Sheev Palpatine fan (@BrettPats) May 10, 2016
The group of linebackers playing for the Patriots might be the best in the NFL. Dont’a Hightower has embraced his role at inside linebacker and played exceptional the past few years. Hightower’s goal was to emulate the success of Jerod Mayo as well as possible. He has gone above and beyond that, playing consistently better than Mayo ever had.
Hightower packs a punch but Jamie Collins is a freak of nature. Collins is perhaps the most underrated defensive player in the NFL. He is highly regarded by many analysts but I’m not sure they truly understand just how good No. 91 is yet. Collins is a guy who can do everything. He can lay the hammer down and track down nearly anyone in coverage. The Patriots also have depth at the position. Jonathan Freeny, Elandon Roberts, Shea McClellin and Barkevious Mingo are more than capable of serving their roles.
Devin McCourty credits Barkevious Mingo's work ethic as reason for his breakout game. Spent countless hours in meetings/film room this week.
— Courtney Fallon (@CourtneyFallon_) September 2, 2016
Mingo was one of the highest drafted defensive ends/edge players coming out of college. He has always been an elite pass rusher but has struggled to find his identity at the NFL level. With Mingo’s freak level of athleticism, Belichick will have even more up his sleeve defensively. Mingo possesses the ability to play on the edge and cover receivers/backs in space. He is much like Collins in terms of speed, agility, athleticism but doesn’t have the same level of physicality.
Barkevious Mingo's closing speed/pursuit on that strip sack will have people talking. Then he contributes to a forced fumble on next play.
— Mike Reiss (@MikeReiss) September 1, 2016
It’s no secret that Belichick and Nick Saban have a great relationship. This connection led to the Patriots toward Alabama star cornerback Cyrus Jones this past year. Jones is a player that’s immediately ready to make an impact. He joins a strong defensive secondary that already possesses McCourty, Chung, Ryan, and Butler. We’ll see how Eric Rowe fits into the mix.
— Patriots.com (@PATRIOTSdotCOM) August 25, 2016
New England’s defensive line is also nothing to scoff at. They are impressively stacked at defensive end. Jabaal Sheard, Chris Long, Rob Ninkovich, and Trey Flowers fortify the edge of the defensive pocket. Young Malcolm Brown looks to solidify his place in the middle of the defensive line. The 22-year-old hog has a year under his belt and should only get better with time. Veteran Alan Branch reunites with Brown in the middle. Preseason standout Anthony Johnson played inspired football and earned a roster position. Rookie defensive tackle Vincent Valentine will also look to prove himself at the professional level.
Patriots DT Anthony Johnson on living up to expectations after his dominant preseason game a few weeks ago vs. NO. pic.twitter.com/YTJAuc7H1u
— Kevin Duffy (@KevinRDuffy) September 2, 2016
The Patriots have the ability to load up the box and stop the run. Belichick has a group with a variety of dynamic defensive skill sets. Players like Collins and Mingo offer a sense of flexibility due to their athleticism. The defensive front can also drop the hammer when necessary. Hightower has consistently improved and brings a sense of physicality to every contest.
Dont'a Hightower is 'definitely not a vocal leader,' but he is an ideal Patriots team captain https://t.co/tQb8E12taM
— Kevin Duffy (@KevinRDuffy) September 7, 2016
Hightower and McCourty are not just extremely good football players. They are also extremely intelligent role models on the field. They control the defensive and relay vital details to other members of the unit. The Patriots have found a sense of leadership at both linebacker and defensive back that is rarely obtained together on one roster.
Hightower, Collins, Sheard, Brown, Mingo, Flowers, Long, Butler, McCourty, Chung, Ryan, Jones, Branch, Johnson. Defense is STACKED #Patriots
— HTTH (@HailtotheHoodie) September 7, 2016
The Patriots depth only improved this offseason. Rookie standout Jonathan Jones made the roster as the final defensive back after a heated camp battle. Backups like Jordan Richards, Justin Coleman, and Duron Harmon are no pushovers.
The big picture for the Patriots defense is certainly encouraging and suggests they will be one of the best defensive groups in recent memory. They have the depth to push through adversity and match up with any other team in the league. They are stacked at every position and will be key to the Patriots success, especially with Jimmy Garapollo starting the first four games.
This is certainly one of the deepest and most impressive defensive units in years. These boys can play.
— Alan Harrison (@TheFantasyFix) January 24, 2016