Earlier, we reviewed the Patriots’ offensive roster. Now, it’s time to see how the Patriots’ roster looks on defense, with expectations and nuggets for each player. The Patriots are set to have a very athletic and young defense that will be relied on to win games throughout the season. The offense should be much improved, but the defense should be one of the best in the league.
Patriots Roster Breakdown: Defense
There might not be a more critical piece to the defense than Christian Barmore. Barmore has shown his ability — when he has been able to stay on the field. He has top-end ability to push the interior of the pocket and can win quickly at the point of attack. Pairing his interior pressure with elite edge rushers such as Josh Uche and Matt Judon would launch this defense into a new stratosphere. That newfound height for this defense will depend on Barmore’s ability to stay on the field.
The Patriots’ second-round pick, Keion White, was all business on draft day, and has continued that attitude throughout his short Patriots tenure. In his preseason debut, he was all over the field and figures to play a significant portion of snaps this season. White was initially thought to be a situational role player, but may have forced himself into a more prominent role with his dominant display throughout the summer. White figures to be a bit of a tweener, playing inside on passing downs and on the edge in early downs. He may put up flashy numbers without any of the expected flashy show.
Deatrich Wise Jr.
Deatrich Wise, a defensive captain, enters his seventh year with the team. He has improved every year in his career, with 2022 bringing a career high in sacks and tackles. However, more than half of those sacks came in a single game against Lamar Jackson and the Ravens. Wise again figures to be a prominent piece of the New England defense and should rarely leave the field.
If Barmore is the quick interior penetrator, then Davon Godchaux is the anchor in the middle. Entering his third year with the team, Godchaux projects to play on early downs, primarily as a run stuffer. He has shown some ability to rush the passer and would be best served in a rotation on the interior.
Lawrence Guy initially stayed away from team activities this summer before reporting for training camp, due to reported discontent over his contract. Guy still has two years left on his contract and could be a potential candidate to be moved at the trade deadline, depending on needs elsewhere on the roster. Before we get to that point, he will provide a level, veteran presence for the entire defense, who plays hard and goes about things the “Patriot Way.”
Daniel Ekuale is a depth piece on the defensive line who has shown flashes in the previous two seasons with New England. With the team moving on from Carl Davis, Ekuale should see an uptick in snaps. He may put together a sneaky good season for those watching closely.
Roberts enters his second year with the team after being selected in the sixth round out of Northwest Missouri State. He had flashes of good and bad throughout the preseason and survived the dreaded roster bubble. Roberts projects to be a frequent gameday inactive, but plays with a high motor if he gets the chance.
The household name on the Patriots’ defense after Devin McCourty’s retirement, and for good reason. Judon has 28 sacks in his two seasons in New England and will look to add to that total in 2023. The pass rush stalwart should again be amongst the league leaders in sacks, and will benefit from a healthy Barmore and a dominant pass-rush partner in Uche. Judon will need to stop his late season disappearing act if the Patriots want to make a postseason push.
Josh Uche finally realized his potential in year three after being highlighted as a potential star in his other two seasons. The undersized linebacker out of Michigan is responsible for coordinating the Patriots pass rush on the field. Uche plays with great speed, and has paired it with a tenacious bull rush to complete his game. Uche is entering a contract season and will look to put together a season that gets him premier pass rush money in the offseason.
Anfernee Jennings caught a lot of eyes with his all-out play in the preseason finale. Throwing up mid-play and still making the tackle will do that for you. Jennings has struggled to get on the field since being a third-round pick out of Alabama in 2020. If Uche and Judon are the Patriots’ edge pass rushers, Jennings is the edge setter in the run game. He provides a strong anchor and should not often lose contain — if he isn’t guessing during the play. Jennings may find himself a frequent spot on the gameday inactive list simply due to the numbers and abilities elsewhere.
Ja”Whaun Bentley has improved his play every year in the league and has rounded into a do-it-all linebacker. He broke into the league as a downhill run stuffer with the Patriots, but found himself playing a majority of snaps last season. Bentley is a field general in the middle of the field and should put together solid, but not flashy, numbers in 2023.
Jahlani Tavai may be the best part of the most recent Patricia experiment. After following Patricia to New England from Detroit, Tavai has become a consistent producer on the New England defense, and was awarded a contract extension last year. Tavai will play primarily on the early downs or in bigger personnel packages.
Mack Wilson Sr.
Mack Wilson enters his second year with the Patriots and could be an answer to the influx of athletic quarterbacks in the league. He is an undersized linebacker who shows tremendous play speed and effort. His role should grow as he gets more comfortable in the defense. Mack could find playing time through a QB-spy role against more agile quarterbacks.
The Patriots first-round pick has been touted as an absolute steal since draft night. Viewed by many as a top ten pick, Gonzalez fell due to positional need elsewhere in the league, as well as concerns about his lack of physicality. Gonzalez has gotten a lot of run with the Patriots’ veterans throughout the summer and should be a game one starter. It’s a disappointment the team didn’t bequeath him with number 24, as he has a superb chance of continuing the Patriots legacy of lockdown corners.
Jonathan Jones was the Patriots slot corner for a number of years before transitioning to the boundary last season. He put together an overall solid season, but struggled when matched up one-on-one with the league’s premier receivers. Jones returned to New England after turning down more money elsewhere. His health bears watching, as Jones has been dealing a nagging injury throughout the preseason. There is quite a drop off from Jones to the next boundary corner on the New England roster.
The do-it-all rookie last year was the most exciting part of Patriots football in 2022. Marcus Jones now returns with a year of experience and an All-Pro season under his belt. Despite his small size, Marcus Jones can lay the wood and is electric when he gets the ball in his hands. The last player before Marcus Jones to have a receiving, punt return, and interception return touchdown in their rookie season? Deion Sanders. Marcus jones should put up another highlight reel season in 2023.
Jack Jones was a pleasant surprise last year with his aggressive style of play and sticky man coverage tendencies. He proved to have knack for the ball and was expected to start opposite of Gonzalez as a boundary corner. Unfortunately, the off-the-field troubles that plagued him in college continued this offseason, as he was arrested at Logan International airport in possession of multiple firearms. His status is questionable and a suspension is probably looming.
Shaun Wade was obtained in a trade from the Ravens two seasons ago. Since then, Wade has been active for a handful of games, but has mostly stayed on the Patriots practice squad. Wade can play in the slot or out wide, but has so far proven to be a depth piece and not a reliable starter.
Kyle Dugger is one of a few unicorns on New England’s defense. He can hit like a runaway train or cover wide receiver one-on-one. He plays in the box as an extra linebacker or can play deep over the top. Dugger is in line for a significant contract after this season if New England doesn’t sign him before it’s over. Dugger should put together another great campaign in 2023.
When Jalen Mills initially signed in New England, the expectation was for him to be used all over the field in a role similar to the one he played in Philadelphia. Instead, injuries and the Stephon Gilmore trade left him being used primarily as a boundary corner. Mills was released this offseason before re-signing with New England with the expectation he’d be used more as a safety after McCourty’s retirement. The veteran got a lot of run in the preseason at his new position and should be a versatile piece of the defense.
Patriots’ fans favorite player to hate is sticking around for another season. And not because Belichick enjoys the anger and discontent, but because Bryant is extremely good — in a limited role. His top-end speed and lack of size can be exposed if he is used in extended stretches, but as a package defensive back he is a smart and reliable player.
If Kyle Shanahan is building a position-less offense in San Francisco, Belichick is doing the same on the defensive side of the ball. Mapu was viewed as a reach in the draft as a tweener linebacker/safety out of Sacramento State. However, Mapu may end up being the steal of the draft. He rarely left the field in training camp, as he played a new position with each wave of substitutions. Mapu has incredible football intelligence and very well may be an every down player for New England.
The former Michigan star seems to have found his swagger again in New England. As a do-it-all player in college, Peppers found himself in the Heisman conversation. This preseason, the defensive-back-who-primarily-plays-linebacker actually lined up to field punts. He brings versatility and big hit ability to the second and third levels of the defense.
Adrian Phillips was signed as special teams ace, but has grown into a defensive star in New England. He and Peppers offer similar versatility and violence with contact, allowing a confusing rotation of defensive players in the New England secondary. Phillips is a prototype Belichick player who should enjoy another solid season in New England.
The Patriots chose to keep the rookie out of Maryland over trusted veteran Nick Folk, which should be all we need to know about how they view his potential. Ryland features a big leg that may intermittently lapse in accuracy. He should have a solid rookie season before putting it all together in year two.
If the Patriots’ thirty yard punts drove you crazy last year, Belichick agreed with you. Bryce Baringer, a rookie, features an absolute cannon of a leg that should bring special teams back to “weapon” status in New England.
The Patriots were exposed on multiple levels on special teams last year. Chris Board was signed in the offseason to help remedy that issue. The special teams ace gained national attention in Detroit last year, and should be a core piece of the special teams turn around in New England.
The Navy long snapper was injured last year and finished the season on injured reserve. Cardona beat out competition this offseason to retain his role on the team. We shouldn’t hear his name often, due to his mistake-free style of play.
Brenden Schooler enters his second year in the league after being an absolute stud on special teams as an undrafted rookie. He should continue to build his reputation as one of the best in the league, and hopefully learned not to try to get in Belichick’s good graces with grandiose gestures….
Realistically, this is the future Hall of Famer’s final season. Slater will continue to be the penultimate professional on and off the field.
Slater’s potential replacement is officially listed at corner, but spent training camp on the Slater practice plan: special teams, special teams, special teams. His name boasts his most noticeable attribute. He should be the gunner opposite of Slater and will prove to be hard to out-kick.