As per last year, I’ll be sharing projections for every team in the NFL. I use past production in specific roles for each team’s scheme to work out realistic production profiles. You can see how accurate I was in 2017 in my IDP Projection Marking series.
The Patriots went to the Super Bowl yet again in 2017 but lost it in a game that was memorable for its abject lack of defense. Honestly, it was bad. Neither team could stop the other and it just turned into a battle of who could manage to rack up more points.
It was immensely fun to watch as a fan but it does raise some serious questions about the Patriots’ defense. Early in the year, Matt Patricia was under pressure as the defense looked rough. They ended the season by making Nick Foles a Super Bowl MVP – then the defensive coordinator left the team. This team is at a tipping point.
The scheme should stay very similar in 2018. Most of the key decision-makers are still in place and New England have built their remarkable run of success on a clear-eyed vision of how they want to play. But there are worries. Will the defense be as good? Were they even good in the first place?
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Malcom Brown went under the radar a little in 2017 but he still had a very good season for the most part. He played just over 500 snaps but produced 49 total tackles – good for 14th in the NFL at the position. He’s not much of a pass rusher but is a solid option in tackle-heavy leagues. Finishing towards the tail-end of startable top-tier tackles seems very achievable.
Trey Flowers was one of the more impressive ends in the league in 2017. He didn’t manage gaudy sack totals but his 59 pressures were equal to Danielle Hunter and Carl Lawson. He is also a model of consistency in the running game (he finished fifth in tackles amongst ends in 2017) and has displayed the ability to play high volumes (only five other ends averaged more than his 57 snaps per week). Flowers should be treated as a near-elite option.
Deatrich Wise played a lot as a rookie in 2017. His 545 defensive snaps trailed only Solomon Thomas from the class. The team recruited Adrian Clayborn but he is very much a journeyman (20% of his career sacks came in that one game against Dallas last year). The team will play the better option in any given week but based on past actions, the team will likely increase Wise’s playing time (regardless of not dressing him in the Super Bowl).
Kyle Van Noy was an excellent IDP in the first half of last season before Dont’a Hightower was injured and Van Noy moved to his (inefficient) spot. In the absence of any other real alternative, Van Noy should go straight back to relevance. He may be available at a discount given his paltry seven solos in his last four games of 2017.
Hightower will hopefully be fit again in 2018 but is a poor IDP. He plays on the edge too much to record good tackle numbers but he doesn’t rush the passer enough to make up for it with sacks. He’s a good NFL player but is in a strange blind spot that IDP doesn’t quite see.
As always with the Patriots, it’s relatively hard to predict the corner rotation. The one spot we know is that Stephon Gilmore will play on the outside. He was used to track specific players a lot in 2017 and should continue. He has the chance to be a relevant corner based on his ability to make plays on the ball.
Jason McCourty is in a good position to man the second spot after arriving from Cleveland but Eric Rowe could also man that spot. Rowe has played plenty outside and in the slot in New England. Jonathon Jones and Duke Dawson are realistically scrapping for one spot (probably in the slot) and Cyrus Jones is fighting to make the roster after a terrible career so far.
It’s important to remember the Patriots game-plan very specifically in their secondary. They play matchups, while many teams simply play outside or slot corners and allocate man assignments accordingly.
Devin McCourty was a huge surprise in 2017 as he smashed his career tackling numbers. He did it on the back of being used more in the box (especially early in the season) than he has before. He could do the same again this year but being a little conservative seems sensible.
Patrick Chung split his time between the box and the slot and will continue to do the same thing. He tends to disappoint given how often he’s described as a run-of-the-mill strong safety.
Lastly, Duron Harmon plays a very specific role. He comes in in sub packages to play the deep center-field role. As a result, he has neither the volume nor the opportunities to record personal statistics. He carries good value for his team but very little as an IDP. He should not be owned outside of extremely large leagues.
Trey Flowers. Flowers is one of the best six or seven ends in the NFL. He does not really carry huge IDP value because he’s never had a double-digit sack season. It’s tough to see him ever managing a truly huge season as a pass rusher given the focus on gap integrity, but ten is very much within reach.
Dont’a Hightower. Anyone reading this article knows that Hightower is not the LB to be putting your faith in but it bears repeating. His role is not that one that produces valuable statistics. Let him be someone else’s problem.
Devin McCourty. McCourty had never managed more than 66 solos in a season before 2017 – and his 66 season was way back in 2011. That was blown out of the water when he managed 77 last season. Although not guaranteed, it seems likely his role will remain the same in 2018 with all the extra opportunity for tackles that brings.
It should be another fine season for New England but this year there’s also some hope that a couple of individual players are good IDPs. That’s a very different proposition to the early noughties team where collective performance was everything.
Thanks for reading
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