The lack of a true, proven nose tackle caused major problems for the New England Patriots’ defense last season.
One of their earliest free agent pickups believes he can fill that void with aplomb in 2021.
Davon Godchaux, who reached a contract agreement with New England less than two hours into the NFL’s legal tampering period last Monday, spent much of his introductory video conference touting his nose tackle talents.
“I feel like when I’m healthy, I’m one of the best nose tackles in the game,” Godchaux said Wednesday.
A torn biceps ended Godchaux’s 2020 season after five games, but he was one of the league’s most effective run-stuffers in 2019, ranking first among all interior defenders with 32 run stops, according to Pro Football Focus.
Having played under former Patriots defensive play-caller Brian Flores with the Miami Dolphins and in a similar scheme at LSU, the 26-year-old believes he’ll fit seamlessly into New England’s defense.
“I feel like I fit best in this scheme,” he said. “I thrive in this scheme. This scheme best fit my skill set. I can play any scheme, but I feel like this scheme right here best fit my skill set. And being able to be coached by arguably the greatest coach of all time (Bill Belichick), that was a no-brainer.”
Godchaux used the word “thrive” to describe his comfort level at nose tackle, too, though he can play multiple positions along the D-line. One of his role models is none other than Patriots legend Vince Wilfork, around whom New England’s defense revolved from 2005 to 2014.
Godchaux also has a personal connection to Wilfork, having been introduced to him during his time in Miami. He called Wilfork “a mentor” and “somebody I can reach out to.”
“I’m here to write my own legacy,” Godchaux said. “I think Vince Wilfork, you can’t take for granted what he has done for this program and what he has done for the NFL in general. He dominated the game at that position. So hopefully God blessed me to do the same thing: to dominate this game at that position. He’s one of the guys that I look up to when I talk about striking (opponents) with your hands and things like that. He dominated that.”
The Patriots have made more than a half-dozen additions to their defense already this offseason, including two other D-linemen in Henry Anderson and Montravius Adams. All should help bolster a unit that lacked talent and experience in 2020, but Godchaux could be especially impactful if he returns to his 2019 form.
After trading Danny Shelton to the Detroit Lions and losing expected replacement Beau Allen to what proved to be a season-ending injury in training camp, the Patriots fielded the NFL’s worst run defense by Football Outsiders’ DVOA last season, ranking 26th in rushing yards allowed per game and 20th in yards allowed per carry. (Allen, one of New England’s top 2020 signings, was cut last week.)
Godchaux explained how important an impact nose tackle is to a defense like New England’s.
“When you talk about the nose tackle position,” he said, “I think a lot of people in football — besides probably New England; you guys had Big Vince, and Big Vince was kind of the masterpiece of that defense for a long time — but a lot of people don’t really value that position in football because you don’t get the stats, you don’t get the high accolades, you don’t get the numbers that the Aaron Donalds get. You don’t get those numbers.
“But when it comes down to it, in a 3-4 defense, the nose guard is, in my opinion, the most pivotal position because it sets up everything. The linebacker reads off of that guy. In my opinion, in a 3-4 defense at nose tackle, you’ve got to have a dog in the middle. Somebody who’s going to take up double teams, somebody who’s going to win 1-on-1 blocks and somebody you just can’t deal with. Like, he’s a wrecking force. He’s a middle linebacker with his hand down, basically.
“You’ve just got to have a key guy, a pivotal guy and a guy who’s ready to dominate all day with his hands and just let that center know, let that offensive line know that, hey, it’s going to be a long game.”
Other defensive pickups in the Patriots’ recent wave of free agent signings include linebackers Matt Judon, Kyle Van Noy and Raekwon McMillan and defensive back Jalen Mills. A Lawrence Guy return also remains possible, as the free agent defensive tackle has yet to sign with a new team.