Why the Patriots defense will return to being elite in 2021

Patriots defense is special again

By: Reese Nasser

The New England Patriots were arguably the team most impacted by Covid opt-outs in 2020. They lost key pieces on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. These losses represented both their play on the field and their record at the end of the season. 

New England finished 2020 with a 7-9 record, their first single-digit win season since 2002, and their first losing season since the year 2000. 

But 2021 should be different for this New England defense. They have been aggressive in fixing this defense, through the draft and free agency. This defense will look vastly different than it did in 2020 when they allowed 22.1 ppg, their most in more than 20 years. Here’s why this Patriots defense will return to form in 2021. 

Returning players post-covid 

The Patriots will be getting back veteran linebacker Dont’a Hightower this season after he chose to opt-out of last season due to concerns with covid. 

The last time that Hightower stepped onto the field for the Patriots, he left his mark. He played well in 2019, recording 5.5 sacks, 71 tackles, and 8 tackles for loss. 

He has crafted out his role in New England. He has spent eight seasons with the Patriots and even though this team has gone through a drastic change, he should continue to be a leader on this squad in 2021. 

Young players 

New England has gone out of their way to establish a defense consisting of some of the NFL’s best young talents. They have continued their streak of being one of the best drafting teams in the NFL, continuing to find hidden gems and getting lucky enough to have star collegiate players fall to them in the draft. 

The Patriots drafted safety Kyle Dugger out of Lenoir-Rhyne with the 37th pick in the 2020 draft. New England took a swing on selecting Dugger, as many teams chose to pass on him due to him being from a division II school.

Dugger played well when called upon as he started 7 games for the Patriots and appeared in 14. He recorded 64 tackles and overall looked like a building block for this defense. He will have big shoes to fill, as he steps into the role left by longtime safety Patrick Chung who opted out of 2020 and eventually made the decision to retire.

Linebacker Chase Winovich will also look to be a long term piece of this defense. Entering year-three, Winovich is finally starting to find his footing in this Patriots defense. He has recorded 5.5 sacks in both of his first two seasons and has recorded 74 tackles and 10 tackles for loss during his time. 

Strong Rookie Class

The Patriots went heavy on defense in the 2021 draft. After selecting Alabama quarterback Mac Jones with their first pick of the draft, they doubled up on defense with their next two picks. With the 38th pick, they selected Alabama defensive tackle Christian Barmore. They then selected Oklahoma edge rusher Ronnie Perkins with the 96th pick. 

Barmore was highly regarded as the draft’s best defensive tackle. His lasting until pick 38 caught many people off-guard and the Patriots will benefit from this selection. 

Barmore will look to be a day one starter on this defense. In his final 11 games at Alabama, he racked up 9.5 tackles for loss and 8 sacks. The Patriots will expect big things from their second-round selection. 

Oklahoma edge rusher Ronnie Perkins will be more of a long-term development for the Patriots. He will sit behind and learn from some of the league’s best at his position. 

Perkins was one of college football’s best edge players in recent seasons. He spent three seasons at Oklahoma where he made an impact from day one. During his time, he tallied 16.5 sacks and 32 tackles for loss. He could be a shocking addition to this defense and could be a big piece in the near future. 

Free Agent Signings 

The Patriots went all in on free agency this off-season. They spent big on both sides of the ball. On defense, they added solid defensive players such as Matthew Judon, Kyle Van Noy, and Davon Godchaux. The players that they added on defense could cause this unit to instantly become one of the NFL’s best. 

Matthew Judon could prove to be the biggest signing for this defense. He signed a four-year $56 million dollar deal that will make him a centerpiece of this defense. 

Judon played during his time with the Baltimore Ravens. He spent five years in Baltimore where he recorded 34.5 sacks and 103 quarterback hits. 

The Patriots clearly have a history full of success, and after a lackluster 2020 are looking to make sure that this upcoming season is different. They have gone all in with the team that they have assembled. This defense has been consistent for this team and their 2021 will show that they will return to being elite. Expect big things from this unit this upcoming season. 

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