The Patriots didn’t make very many additions on either side of the ball this off-season. The team will likely rely on players on the current roster to breakout this season. There’s plenty of young talent in New England that has the potential to do so.
Especially with the greatest defensive coach of all-time Bill Belichick coaching them. Out of everyone on the current defense, these are the players I see having a breakout year…
Josh Uche – Outside Linebacker
After being drafted late in the second round back in 2020, Josh Uche’s first two years in New England have been relatively quiet. He has four career sacks and 17 solo tackles in 21 games. Uche has played both linebacker and pass-rusher so far. We will see where Belichick chooses to play him in the 2022-2023 season.
At this point in his career, he reminds me of Chase Winovich. Because both were mid-round linebackers out of Michigan. Both have shown glimpses of hope in their first two seasons. With the departure of JC Jackson and the lack of depth at the linebacking core. The Patriots need to strengthen the rest of their defense. A breakout season from Josh Uche would be a very helpful boost.
Kyle Dugger – Safety
Kyle Dugger, like Josh Uche, was a second-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. However, he’s already 26 years old entering his third season with the Patriots. In his second season, Dugger played a huge role in New England’s defensive success. He recorded an impressive 70 solo tackles and four interceptions in 15 games. He’s a proven playmaker on both the ground and the air.
A highlight of his was a momentum-shifting near-pick six in the Patriots’ 45-7 thrashing of the Cleveland Browns in Week 10. Plus, Belichick loves Kyle Dugger, stating: “It’s always good to have Kyle. Kyle’s a really good football player,” and “He’s improved a lot from his rookie year when he just gained a lot of experience”.(Forbes Belichick Interview)
And with Devin McCourty mentoring him in what could be his last year, Dugger could be the next big Patriots safety. His third-year breakout will be key for the team
Shaun Wade – Cornerback
As of right now, there isn’t too much to say about Shaun Wade. All we know is that he was drafted by the Baltimore Ravens in the fifth round of last year’s draft. So Bill Belichick must’ve seen something he liked in him at some point. Seeing as he shipped a 2022 fifth-rounder, and a 2023 seventh-rounder to bring him to New England.
However, he’s only played in one NFL game and has recorded just one assisted tackle in his NFL career. So the only two things we can base his potential on are his college stats and highlights. Plus the fact that Belichick was willing to trade two picks for him without seeing him play a single snap in the big leagues.
Generally, corners under the Patriots’ system take a year or so to be quality starters. For example, Jonathan Jones had no picks and ten total tackles. Malcolm Butler had no picks and 14 total tackles in their rookie seasons. The point is, Shaun Wade could just be part of the rotation of unknown cornerbacks making a name for themselves in New England.
Christian Barmore – Defensive Tackle
Christian Barmore was an absolute force last year, recording a sack and a half with 23 solo tackles as a rookie. The Patriots traded up for him in last years’ draft, and it seemed like they knew what they were doing when they made the move. If you haven’t learned anything yet from this article, you at least have to understand that Belichick always gets his guy.
He’s made seemingly odd moves throughout his career with the Patriots, and it’s safe to say that it usually pans out. Well, Barmore was hands down the best interior defender in the 2021 draft. He was also voted to the All-Rookie team. New England hasn’t had a great defensive tackle since Vince Wilfork left the Patriots for the Houston Texans in 2014.
Now, the defensive tackle out of Alabama has already made an impact on the Patriots’ defense. It seems like the sky’s the limit for Barmore in his second hopefully breakout NFL season.
Jabrill Peppers – Safety
Jabrill Peppers is a new addition to the Patriots’ defense. His signing wasn’t really a league-altering move… that we know of. Since advanced defense and fumbles weren’t calculated yet before 2018, we can really look into the coverage stats of his second season.
In his second year with the Cleveland Browns, Peppers allowed five touchdowns and 368 yards. As well as a passer rating of 110.4. When he was traded to the New York Giants the following season (his third year), his coverage stats were much improved, as he allowed just one touchdown, 268 yards. Having a passer rating of 84. Although these numbers seem terrible compared to Devin McCourty’s 164 yards, zero touchdowns. With a 17.6 passer rating allowed.
Jabrill can still contribute to the Patriots’ defense, with a little bit of coaching from Bill Belichick and his staff. Plus, Jabrill Peppers said in an interview that he believes that his best football is ahead of him. His optimism for the upcoming season could be something to watch out for.
Mack Wilson – Linebacker
Mack Wilson has seen his role decrease with the Cleveland Browns each year since. He played just 21 percent of defensive snaps this year, compared to his 88 percent snap count in his rookie year. However, he played 50 percent of special teams snaps this year, while he played just 30 percent last year.
Wilson is young and has sideline to sideline speed he could be a factor in a depleted LB core.
Usually, Bill Belichick does a good job of adding Linebackers in free agency and trades, with Mike Vrabel and Kyle Van Noy being some notable off-season additions for New England. Hopefully, Mack Wilson pans out as they did.
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