In what has been an up-and-down season for the Patriots, one player has emerged as an absolute superstar for their respective position. Edge Rusher Matthew Judon has undoubtedly become an X-Factor for New England and is making an incredibly strong run at the Defensive Player of the Year title.
In the first nine games of this season, Judon has been a force to be reckoned with, and is on pace to have his best season yet. Judon has had a sack in seven of the first nine games of the season. Three games with multiple sacks against the Detroit Lions, Chicago Bears and Indianapolis Colts (1). Judon has totaled 11.5 sacks on the season, alongside 31 pressures, leading the league in both by a good margin (2).
The Patriots signed Judon to a four-year, $54.5 million contract during their 2021 free-agency shopping spree (3). Judon racked up 34.5 sacks and had been named a Pro Bowler twice during his tenure with the Baltimore Ravens. Despite his noteworthy resume, there were initially still concerns (4).
At the time of his signing, Judon had not surpassed ten sacks in a season, and on top of that, had shown hints of regression during his last year with Baltimore. All things pointed to Judon exiting his prime soon, as he was approaching thirty years old, but as it turns out, he had other plans.
Judon’s career as a Patriot has been nothing but a success, as he has taken the jump from being a Pro Bowler to now becoming a player worthy of serious consideration for an All-Pro selection. It’s only halfway through the season and he has already nearly surpassed his impressive first season with New England.
The award is not a lock for Judon, however, as there are still several players with strong cases of their own. The Dallas Cowboys’ star Linebacker Micah Parsons had a rookie season for the history books last year, and he has only shown improvement in his second year (5). Parsons has totaled eight sacks and 20 pressures, and above all else, is seen as one of the league’s most versatile defensive players (1).
Parsons is leading one of the best defensive units in football with the Cowboys. They currently sit at 6–2, despite pro bowl quarterback Dak Prescott missing five games earlier in the season with an injury. Dallas’ defense has brought them into Super Bowl talks, and they wouldn’t be in that position without Parsons. Players such as the San Francisco 49ers’ Edge Rusher Nick Bosa, Minnesota Vikings’ Linebacker Za’Darius Smith and Denver Broncos’ Cornerback Patrick Surtain II are also having very impressive seasons which, as a result, has helped them keep their names in contention.
However, perhaps the biggest hit to Judon’s chances to win the award are the New England Patriots themselves. New England has once again put together a very impressive defense that has stepped up for their offense, which has been very low quality throughout most of the year. Team success is key to NFL awards, and with that being said, it's rare that you see a player from a mediocre team earn an award.
The quarterback controversy between Mac Jones and Bailey Zappe redirected focus away from the performance of the team, and an atrocious Monday Night Football loss against the Bears soon followed. Jones has started since, and despite winning their games against the New York Jets and Indianapolis Colts, the underwhelming offense still remains the biggest concern for the Patriots.
Mac Jones and offensive coordinator, Matt Patricia continue to make head-scratching decisions, and New England’s offensive line has been extremely inconsistent. Wide Receiver Jakobi Meyers and Running Back Rhamondre Stevenson are the two main bright spots that are helping the team score. It seems like the defense has to come up with a touchdown or several turnovers in each game to even give the team a chance to win.
The AFC—specifically the AFC East—is extremely competitive this year with the Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins and New York Jets all being in a great position to fight for a playoff berth. The Patriots are currently last in their division, and that’s something that doesn’t happen often, at least in the Bill Belichick era. If they cannot manage a playoff appearance this season, Judon may fall just short of taking home some hardware, regardless of his numbers.
Coming off the bye week, the Patriots have several difficult matchups including four against the previously mentioned divisional rivals and four straight primetime games (6). It’s a brutal stretch moving forward, but many of these teams, including the Cincinnati Bengals, Las Vegas Raiders and Arizona Cardinals, have weak offensive line units, which gives Judon and company something to exploit.
If Judon—alongside the rest of the defense—can continue to swarm the pocket and cause havoc for opposing offenses, it’s very possible that the Patriots once again overcome their weaknesses and make the playoffs. If that does become the case, the league will have no choice but to hand the award over to the man in the red sleeves.