The Patriots boasted the best defense since the 2008 Pittsburg Steelers, possibly even better considering the skill of offenses in today’s game. This historically great defense was run by a unit of highly skilled players, each very successful at completing their respective jobs. Some are underrated, some are recognized for their talents, and some simply aren’t represented justly by their stats. But here are the five best Pats defenders this year.
5. Kyle Van Noy
This spot was tricky, due simply to the fact that there are so many good defenders on the Patriots. Shelton, Simon, and Devin McCourty all had a good shot his spot. But it was clear Van Noy earned this spot, especially since he just missed out at the number four ranking by only a hair.
Van Noy was one of the best pass rushers on the team, accumulating 6.5 sacks and 14 QB hits over the course of the season. This rushing role made him see a decline in his tackling numbers, from 92 the season before down to 56. But he still remained vigilant as ever in passing lanes, batting down three passes yet failing to register a pick. Kyle also showed the ability to hammer the ballcarrier to the point where he was responsible for three forced fumbles, one which resulted in a touchdown.
While Van Noy’s numbers are great, it still fails to encompass just how great he was. This resulted in him missing out on the Pro Bowl game which, to be honest, was kinda expected since a fellow teammate at his position also missed out while deserving it more. Overall, Van Noy follows up last year’s magnificence with another even stronger campaign despite the change of play-style.
4. Lawrence Guy
I know, this may look like a surprising entry, but if you’ve watched the defense this year you would notice how great Guy’s contribution is to the team. The 29-year-old saw the best season of his career, and despite what some would say it was a good one. Lawrence had his career highs in interceptions (1), fumble recoveries (2), and tackles (61).
Meanwhile, he also had three sacks, which is the second-most in his career, and five QB hits. What is most interesting about this is that two out of those three sacks happened in the final two weeks of the season, as it looked like he wass gearing up for the playoffs. It was right for Guy to not make the Pro Bowl, but that doesn’t take away from his presence.
The biggest proof of this is Guy’s 14 approximate value, which actually ranks fourth on this list and fourth among the entire defense. Unfortunately, we may see less of him in the future with the development of young talents like Winovich and Butler on the line, but for this year it was something special.
3. Jamie Collins
One of the greatest Pro Bowl snubs in the league, Collins adds to the list of Patriots defenders who have had the best seasons in their career. He was lightyears ahead of the likes of Von Miller and Matt Judon, who both made the Pro Bowl ahead of him. While he was very quiet in the sole playoff game this year, Jamie stole the show during the regular season.
Coming off a woefully underrated year in Cleveland, Collins reminded the Patriots and the league of his talents. Like Van Noy, Collins transitioned from a containing role into a pass-rusher seamlessly. He compiled a career-high seven sacks and 10 QB hits, while still having 80 tackles. Jamie also added three forced fumbles, returning to his heavy-hitting from earlier in his career.
Collin’s coverage ability perhaps even rivaled his QB pressuring abilities, granting him complete control over any situation. When he wasn’t barreling towards the QB, he was jumping into passing lanes to tip or even intercept passes. Among his Patriot’s teammates, Jamie was fourth-most in passes defended (seven) and fourth in interceptions (three). While that may not sound amazing, his PD total ranks in the top 100 in the league, while his interception total is top 30. Combine that with top 50 pass-rushing and tackling abilities, and you got yourself a deadly linebacker.
2. Dont’a Hightower
Hightower is a guy whose stats don’t show the entire picture. What makes him truly special is the fact that he will complete any task assigned to him perfectly. If the Pats wanted him to intercept passes, he would have a handful by the end of the season. If they wanted him to be a Khalil Mack, he could easily transition into the mindset of killing the ballcarrier, whether it be the quarterback or running back.
All this boils down to Hightower’s personality, his selflessness and leadership ability. He was once again the captain for the Pats, the leader of the defense. That is where he makes his money. Luckily, the league recognized this and gave him a Pro Bowl nod, which he will (unfortunately) be playing in this year.
But the stats are still there. Hightower almost reached his career-high in sacks with a total of 5.5 (6 sack career-high), while tying his QB hit total with 13. He also had a solid four passes defended and 71 tackles. While those stats aren’t off the charts, they don’t have to be to solidify his spot on the list.
1. Stephon Gilmore
The obvious choice here at number one, Gilmore is one of the best defenders the Pats have seen in quite some time, maybe ever. For starters, we can once again go back to approximate value( the stat that puts individual seasons into historic context), where he had a score of 21. To put that into perspective, he had a 14 last year as an All-Pro, and Lamar Jackson, who leads the league in this statistic right in front of Gilmore, has a 26 which is tied for the highest EVER. His 21 also happens to be tied for the 36th best season in NFL history, alongside the likes of Aaron Rodgers 2014 MVP season and Tom Brady’s 2011 season!
That statistic is obviously not perfect, but other stats paint a similar picture. He had a solid 53 sacks, along with league-leading totals in both interceptions (six) and passes defended (20). Two of those interceptions were even taken back for touchdowns! Last year with stats not even close to these he was named the 22nd best player in the NFL. At this point, he has to be a top-three player in the league. What more can you ask of a guy who gave you one of the best years from a corner, or any defensive player, of all time?