The New England Patriots claimed wide receiver Matt Judon, formerly of the Baltimore Ravens, off waivers this week. It is interesting to note that Judon played in the AFC North with the Ravens, the Patriots’ division rival. That connection, along with the Patriots’ offense-oriented scheme, was a big reason why the Patriots wanted to add Judon to the roster.
After starting his career as a high draft pick, Matt Judon finally found a home for his talents in a new league. By the time the 2016 season rolled around, Judon had pretty much settled into a role as a strongside defensive end, starting 10 games in New England. However, Judon was on the field for every snap, playing in all 16 games and registering just over five sacks, notching 25 combined tackles in the process.
The world of sports is known to be one where players’ reputations are hard to shake. Judon has had a bit of a rough road to the NFL, first getting kicked off the University of North Carolina football team for the first time in his career, then getting cut by the Cleveland Browns. The Patriots, however, saw something in him, and brought him in to their organization.. Read more about 2020 new england patriots and let us know what you think.
FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS — Quick thoughts/notes about the New England Patriots and the National Football League:
1. Near miss: At halftime of Thursday’s preseason opener, Patriots outside linebacker Matt Judon made a brief detour through a separate door for a medical examination and X-rays on his left leg.
Fortunately for the squad, the injury was just precautionary, and Judon rejoined his teammates on the bench for the last 30 minutes of the game.
Judon’s preseason debut was one of the team’s most promising developments — he was physical, fast, and disruptive in 12 snaps while recording a tackle and quarterback hit — but it would have been overshadowed if Washington Football Team tight end Logan Thomas’ lunge at his extended leg had resulted in a serious injury.
The near-miss served as a reminder of the dangers that athletes face every time they hit the field, as well as how the Patriots’ four-year, $56 million free-agent investment in Judon does not come with a fail-safe insurance plan.
It’s only been a few months, but a picture of how Judon (6-foot-3, 261 pounds) is fitting in now that he’s switched “enemy lines” from the Baltimore Ravens to the Patriots is starting to emerge.
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Judon seems to be bringing the same toughness and edge to the defense as linebacker Bryan Cox did in 2001, which was regarded as crucial in the team’s surprise Super Bowl run.
“He comes in every day and competes hard,” coach Bill Belichick said. “I think it’s a wonderful thing for all of us to try to replicate the attitude, tenacity, and effort he brings in on a regular basis.”
Longtime captain Devin McCourty was the first to see Judon’s leadership role on the conditioning hill at the conclusion of practice, when he willingly joins skill-position players to push himself. Also in his willingness to practice with the punt coverage unit, a duty that isn’t typically assigned to the club’s highest-paid player (in terms of average salary per year).
Judon has “blended in well with the group,” according to Belichick, while Tashawn Bower, another outside linebacker, said Judon “has so much information to offer me, and a lot of players are just under his wing, trying to soak everything in, absorb as much as we can from him.”
One of the most significant outcomes from the opening seems to be Judon’s sustained health.
Matt Judon, a pass rusher, has already made an impression on the New England defense. Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire photo
2. Quarterback update: When the Patriots selected Mac Jones in the fourth round in late April, Belichick said: “Cam is our starting quarterback. We’ll see how it works once Mac is ready to challenge and compete.” The chasm between Newton and Jones is closing after three months. The most common question is if Jones’ situation has improved to the point where he might be a viable Week 1 starter. I’m not predicting it, but nothing would surprise me.
3. What happens if it’s a Mac? Newton’s situation would be an interesting narrative if Belichick decided to go with Jones from the start of the season. Is he willing to take on a supporting role? Newton said in the summer that he thinks he is one of the NFL’s top 32 quarterbacks. At the same time, he has expressed his love for the Patriots’ culture and praised Jones after the game on Thursday. Given Belichick’s admiration for Newton, who has been a staunch supporter of the franchise since Tom Brady’s departure, it wouldn’t be unexpected if he offered Newton his say on how best to proceed if the situation deteriorates.
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4. Agholor’s speed: After the preseason opener, former Patriots offensive coordinator Charlie Weis asked on Sirius XM NFL Radio whether the club had enough explosiveness at wide receiver. Down the field, who does a defense have to respect? N’Keal Harry and Jakobi Meyers were the primary receivers on Thursday, with Kendrick Bourne filling in as the third option. No. 4 was Kristian Wilkerson, and none of the others were considered burners. It emphasizes why Nelson Agholor (DNP, minor injury), the Patriots’ quickest option and greatest deep threat, is such an important component of the game plan.
5. Without cornerback Stephon Gilmore (who is on the physically unable to perform list, quad), the defense exhibited some depth issues on Thursday. Jalmore’s position on the outside was taken by Jalen Mills, but he may be a better match on the inside in a job with some safety-type concepts, like he did with the Philadelphia Eagles last season to compensate for a lack of top-end speed. With the Patriots’ secondary already weak (Myles Bryant was among those hurt), it’s possible that Gilmore’s contract situation may be resolved sooner rather than later.
6. Nordin’s tape measure: Undrafted kicker Quinn Nordin (Michigan) is on a mission to dethrone incumbent Nick Folk, having nailed all three field goals in the preseason opener after a pair of impressive in-stadium workouts (35, 50 and 40 yards, respectively). He did, however, miss a try for an extra point. Belichick stressed the need of consistency and said that he is “not in a hurry” to make a decision on Nordin’s position.
On Thursday, Nordin (Nor-DEEN) was intentionally measuring his steps before field goals (the objective being to reach the same mark every time), something he stated he had never done before coming in New England. “I was in there with a tape measure every time we had a meeting, taking my steps, taking the tape measure, putting it down,” he claimed. “I did it for a long time.”
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7. Pass-rush boost: Offensive lineman Trent Brown has seen a change in the quality and depth of pass-rushers he has faced in practice since returning to the Patriots after playing for them in 2018. “There’s a lot more rushers here this time,” he added, referring to a group that includes Judon, Kyle Van Noy, Josh Uche, Deatrich Wise Jr., Henry Anderson, and Ronnie Perkins, among others. That’s a positive sign for the defense, particularly because Chase Winovich (5.5 sacks last season) has yet to participate in camp.
8. Van Noy’s versatility: It was a minor detail, but one that could be critical to the Patriots’ defense: Van Noy started Thursday’s game at outside linebacker opposite Judon, where his top assets of setting the edge on the line of scrimmage and rushing the passer can be utilized, before switching to an off-the-line inside linebacker role later in the game. Those are two very distinct universes, and only a few players are capable of excelling in both (e.g. Mike Vrabel).
The Patriots’ project will begin soon. Inside linebackers Dont’a Hightower and Ja’Whaun Bentley are the starters, while Raekwon McMillan was the top backup until tearing his ACL. In the case that Hightower and/or Bentley are injured, that job may go to Van Noy, with Uche, Perkins, or Winovich filling in at outside linebacker.
9. Dion and futures contracts: With the news that running back Dion Lewis is retiring, the Patriots’ example of never forgetting a transaction when signing a player to a “reserve futures” contract comes to mind. Players who aren’t on a roster at the conclusion of the previous season may sign a reserve futures contract for the next season, which means they’ll be added to the roster when it reaches 90 players in mid-March. That’s how Lewis came in New England in January 2015, as an afterthought to most because of injuries that had kept him off the NFL radar. That helped him resurrect his career, and he went on to play a key part in the Super Bowl championship season of 2016.
10. Did You Know? If rookie running back Rhamondre Stevenson’s 91-yard touchdown run late Thursday had occurred during the regular season, it would have set a new club record for longest scoring run, surpassing Larry Garron’s 85-yard score on Oct. 22, 1961.
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