One Thought On Every Patriots Defensive Player After 2021 Season

There's a lot to unpack from this group

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Less than a week removed from a humiliating effort against the Buffalo Bills, it’s hard to say anything positive about the New England Patriots defense. Bill Belichick has a lot of work to do during the offseason.

But we’re not here to focus on the wild-card loss. Rather, with the 2021 season now over for the Patriots, let’s look at the highs, the lows and everything in between.

Here are our thoughts on every Patriots defensive player:

(Note: For practice squad players, we’re only mentioning those who have received future contracts.)

DEFENSIVE LINE
Deatrich Wise
Though not worth the money he received in the offseason, Wise this season established himself as a reliable — if unremarkable — member of the defensive line. He’s at his best when he’s on the end, bull-rushing quarterbacks.

Carl Davis
Solid against the run, Davis this season emerged as a quality depth piece on New England’s D-line. You could argue he was better than Davon Godchaux. Davis will be a free agent this offseason.

Davon Godchaux
The Patriots are paying Godchaux too much money for him to play as poorly as he did this season. Basically, Godchaux held his own against middling centers but got worked when matched up against better interior offensive linemen. It’s fair to wonder whether the Patriots are comfortable with the $10.25 million cap hit he’ll cost them in 2022.

Christian Barmore
On the other end of the spectrum, Barmore was exceptional during his rookie season. A pass-rushing force, the second-round pick also got better against the run as the season went along. He’s an elite talent.

Lawrence Guy
Guy played well this season, but by the end saw too many snaps for a 31-year-old defensive lineman. The Patriots need to find ways to lighten his workload in 2022.

Chase Winovich
Reduced to a mostly special teams role, Winovich’s lack of playing time remains somewhat of a mystery, given his obvious pass-rushing talent. We easily could see the Patriots moving on from him before next season, the last of his rookie contract.

Daniel Ekuale
The Patriots clearly like Ekuale, who apparently signed a future contract this week. He played well this season when given an opportunity and could provide quality defensive line depth in 2022.

Henry Anderson
We had high hopes for the talented, versatile Anderson, whom New England signed last offseason. But he hardly played before suffering a season-ending pectoral injury early in the season. Anderson is under contract for 2022.

Byron Cowart
Began the season on the physically unable to perform list (PUP) due to an unspecified injury and wound up missing the entire campaign. He played a fair amount the previous two seasons and is under contract for 2022.

LINEBACKERS
Matthew Judon
Was a legitimate Defensive Player of the Year candidate for 13 weeks but played so poorly down the stretch that he didn’t even sniff second-team All-Pro and was benched in the wild-card round. If his decline wasn’t injury-related, the Patriots and their fans should be very concerned about what the pricey free agent addition did late in the season.

Jahlani Tavai
The 43rd overall pick in 2019, Tavai was cut by the Detroit Lions in August before landing in New England. He wound up being active in 13 games for the Patriots but rarely impressed. Tavai is under contract for 2022.

Josh Uche
Immense preseason hype ultimately led to another lost season for Uche, who barely saw the field. The 2020 second-round pick is freakishly athletic and talented, but 2022 is a make-or-break season for him.

Dont’a Hightower
The 31-year-old battled injuries all season and looked like a shell of himself by the end. Hightower will be a free agent this spring, but a retirement announcement in the near future would not be a surprise for a player who’s been an excellent Patriot since being drafted in 2012.

Ja’Whaun Bentley
He had his best season as a pro but still is just an average-to-slightly above-average linebacker. Bentley, who led the Patriots with 109 tackles in 2021, will be a free agent this spring.

Kyle Van Noy
Van Noy, 30, battled injuries early and the season but came on in the second half and wound up having another quietly impressive campaign. His average athleticism is emblematic of the Patriots defense as a whole, but he was not a problem this season. Van Noy is under contract for 2022.

Jamie Collins
Played sparingly after re-joining the Patriots in October but saw his playing time increase late in the season. Collins actually played quite well down the stretch despite showing diminished speed. The 32-year-old is set to become a free agent this offseason.

Brandon King
Aside from seeing two defensive snaps in the Week 7 win over the New York Jets, King was a special teams-only player in 2021. And, per usual, he was one of the better specialists in the league. It’ll be interesting to see if the Patriots, given all their needs, give King what he’s looking for in free agency this spring.

Ronnie Perkins
The 2021 third-round pick battled injuries and, essentially, redshirted his rookie season. However, don’t be surprised if he makes noise in training camp and earns a role in 2022. Perkins is talented and possesses the kind of intensity that New England’s defense could use more of.

Anfernee Jennings
Jennings, a third-rounder in 2020, probably would’ve gotten the Perkins treatment last season had the Patriots not been so thin at linebacker. But he wound up playing a lot and clearly wasn’t ready for it. The Alabama product missed all of this season with an undisclosed injury, so maybe we’ll see what he’s really made of next fall.

Harvey Langi
Appeared in seven games before finishing the season on injured reserve. Primarily a special-teamer, Langi will be a free agent this spring.

Raekwon McMillan
McMillian, a journeyman who was a second-round pick in 2017, impressed in training camp before suffering a season-ending ACL injury. He’ll fight for a roster spot next summer.

Cameron McGrone
The 2021 fifth-rounder tore his ACL in his final season at Michigan and missed all of 2021 while recovering. He did see some practice time late in the season but never was added to the 53-man roster. What the Patriots have in McGrone remains to be seen, but his pre-injury athleticism and talent were very intriguing.

Terez Hall
Hall, whose hard-hitting playstyle turned heads in 2020, missed all of this season due to an undisclosed injury. He’s an exclusive-rights free agent this offseason but seemingly could come back to fight for a roster spot.

SECONDARY
Kyle Dugger
The 2020 second-round pick still has work to do but appears on the cusp of being one of the game’s most impactful safeties. Dugger is a huge talent who should be a foundational piece in the Patriots defense.

Joejuan Williams
Williams, a second-round pick in 2019, was mostly terrible this season. He was a healthy scratch for multiple games and was benched on numerous occasions. He’s under contract for 2022, but it’s hard to see him making the team.

J.C. Jackson
Jackson, who ranked second in the NFL in interceptions this season, has established himself as a top-flight cornerback, even if he’s not truly elite. His free agency will be one of the top Patriots storylines to follow this offseason. New England has the option to place the franchise tag on Jackson, but in doing so would have to commit roughly $17 million. Whether Jackson is worth that is debatable.

Jonathan Jones
One of the best slot corners in football, Jones underwent season-ending shoulder surgery in October. He still is just 28 years old and is under contract for 2022. Jones returning to his pre-injury level of play is something that needs to happen for the Patriots next season.

Myles Bryant
Played admirably once Jones went down but struggled down the stretch. However, Bryant is talented, versatile and hard-working, and his coaches and teammates clearly love him. He should have a role next season.

Shaun Wade
Acquired via preseason trade with the Baltimore Ravens, Wade played in just three games during his rookie season and battled multiple injuries. If he plays well in training camp, he could see a big role in 2022. Still, the issues that caused Wade to slip to the fifth round in the 2021 draft make him a bit of a wild card moving forward.

Jalen Mills
Mills is most impactful when used as a versatile, swiss-army-knife defensive back. But, due to injuries, he was forced to spend much of the season as New England’s No. 2 cornerback, which was not the best use of his talents. That said, Mills played well for much of the season and should be even better in 2022.

Adrian Phillips
The veteran safety has played at a Pro Bowl level since joining the Patriots in 2020 and recently was rewarded with a three-year contract extension. He’ll be 30 next season, but Phillips only has gotten better over the last few seasons. He’s a leader on the defense and one of its best players.

Devin McCourty
McCourty clearly has lost a step yet still enjoyed another fine season in 2021. He’s 34 years old and will be a free agent this offseason, but it’s hard to envision McCourty playing anywhere else and he thus far has given no indication of planning to retire.

Joshuah Bledsoe
The rookie safety missed all of training camp and most of the season while working his way back from multiple wrist surgeries. Bledsoe saw practice time late in the campaign and performed well enough to earn a spot on the 53-man roster. His coaches and teammates speak very highly of him.

Cody Davis
The special teamer clearly has a fan in Belichick and played well throughout the season. He’ll be back in 2022.

Justin Bethel
The veteran had another strong season on special teams and handled himself well in his limited defensive opportunities. Bethel, 31, is under contract for 2022.

Sean Davis
Joined the Patriots during the season and provided safety depth down the stretch. Davis will be a free agent this spring and is little more than a practice squad player.

D’Angelo Ross
Like Hall, Ross is an exclusive-rights free agent and easily could be back in camp next summer. He played in three games this season and is talented enough to earn a consistent role, depending on what the depth chart looks like.

DeVante Bausby
Joined the Patriots for the wild-card game against the Bills due to Mills landing on the reserve/COVID-19 list. Bausby did not look good in his limited opportunities.

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