The Patriots are currently being drafted among the top five D/ST, and much of that can be attributed to their past efforts. Taking this defense that early is most likely a mistake in 2017, although never count out a Bill Belichick led squad. This is a team that traded away its best linebacker (Jamie Collins to Cleveland, the subject of last week’s article) but was still effective enough to win the championship. They have brought in some replacements, most notably DE Kony Ealy, WLB Kyle Van Noy and CB Stephon Gilmore, so it is not as though the team has turned its back on the defense, but this is more likely a middle of the pack defense going into 2017.
The defensive line is a solid crew, but you have to wonder how much veteran DE Rob Ninkovich has left in the tank, as he began to slow down dramatically last season. On the other side of the line, though, Trey Flowers arrived last season and was an effective pass rusher, leading the team with seven sacks and then adding another 2.5 in the Super Bowl. The two starting tackles, Malcolm Brown and Alan Branch, clog up the middle of the line, and are effective run stoppers who will pick up the occasional sack. Both are worth considering in DT-mandatory IDP leagues. Ninkovich is best left on the waiver wire, but Flowers will undoubtedly be a sought-after DL pick.
The linebacking crew lost its most productive asset when Jamie Collins was traded to the Browns last season. The team picked up WLB Kyle Van Noy from the Lions in late October, and he is expected to be one of the starters for the Pats going into the season. He posted 29 total tackles (11 solo) with a sack and a pair of passes defended (PD) in just seven games with New England after arriving mid-season, and will look to build on those numbers as a starter this coming season. The linebacking corps are a revolving door in New England, however, so expect all the LBs to see significant action over the course of the schedule. MLB Dont’a Hightower is a health risk, but when on the field he provides both effective run defense as well as an ability to chase down the opposing QB. Shea McClellin and David Harris (formerly with the Jets and signed by New England after NYJ released him this June) will battle for the third linebacker position in camp and during preseason. The rest of the backups will see significant time on the field, although Elandon Roberts and Jonathan Freeny are not worth rostering in IDP leagues unless injury ups their snap counts during the season. Harvey Langi, a converted running back, rounds out the linebacking crew and while he has potential, is a wildcard at present.
The Patriots snagged Stephon Gilmore from their division rivals, the Buffalo Bills, and he is slotted in as one of the starting corners. He is a good tackle producer (48 total in 2016, 42 solo) as well as a pass defender (12 PD, 5 INT over 15 games with Buffalo in 2016), and well worth considering as a DB2 in your drafts. Malcolm Butler was rumored to be trade bait but he could form the other half to a shutdown CB duo if he sticks with the team. The safety tandem of Patrick Chung and Devin McCourty are fine NFL players who provide little in the way of fantasy value unless your league favors tackle-heavy IDP. The backups all should see significant playing time, given the propensity of the Patriot defense to swap players on and off the field during contests, so do not completely forget about CBs Eric Rowe and Justin Coleman or S Duron Harmon.
Overall, the Patriots D/ST is a solid unit, just not an elite team defense to ride all season long. Using them to cover bye weeks or in a system where you swap out one defense for another on a weekly basis will work out for you, and as the Patriot offense has the ability to take big leads, the secondary can provide huge returns, although consistency may be lacking week to week.
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