Patriots: Which players had the biggest impact on 2018 season?
Kyle Van Noy
If Sony Michel was the surprise of the 2018 season for the Patriots offense, then Kyle Van Noy was the equivalent for the Patriots defense. Van Noy came out of nowhere to become the heart and soul of this unit, finishing out the year as arguably its greatest spokesman and representative.
The 27-year-old from BYU was a promising prospect when he was selected in the second round of the 2014 NFL Draft by the Detroit Lions. Somehow though, he never quite gained traction playing in the Motor City under then-head coach Jim Caldwell. His first two seasons he was primarily used as a backup and had to fight for playing time, and even in the first half of his third professional season, he wasn’t considered much of a key contributor on a bad Lions football team.
Ever the master evaluator of talent, Belichick saw something in Van Noy that he liked from afar, and midway through that 2016 season he sent a sixth round pick to the Lions for Van Noy and a seventh round pick. That trade now looks like highway robbery, of course, because Van Noy absolutely blossomed under Belichick these past two-and-a-half seasons, and won two Super Bowl rings along the way.
Imagine the chagrin and jealousy his old Lions teammates must feel when they consider Van Noy’s career trajectory now. Every season since coming over, his production has increased. He went from logging 27 combined tackles in 2016 to having 73 in 2017 and then 92 in 2018. Van Noy had just one sack during all his time in Detroit; in that same amount of time in New England, he now has 10 to his name.
And that’s just the regular season – in the playoffs alone, Van Noy has 4.5 sacks and a forced fumble. He’s developed a reputation for coming up huge in the biggest moments and when the team needs him most, similar to the way Dont’a Hightower has repeatedly raised his game during pivotal playoff stands.
Van Noy may no longer be flying under the national sports radar, but his rapid evolution in 2018 should be a springboard for even greater things to come in 2019 and beyond.