The New England Patriots defense was more vulnerable last season than fans have grown accustomed to during the Bill Belichick era, but that can be attributed to them losing key contributors to opt outs and free agency during the offseason.
That figures to change in a big way in 2021 after a free agent spending spree that sent shockwaves around the NFL and a seemingly stellar showing in the draft.
We would all agree that adding veterans to the defense, which had a flock of inexperienced players assume major roles last season, will make a huge difference, right?
Well, luckily for the Pats, they’ll welcome Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy back to their linebacking corps, which was one of the worst in the league in 2020.
If that image wasn’t enough of a reason to get excited for next season, Van Noy hyped up the defense in a tweet confirming Hightower’s long-awaited return to OTAs this week.
Damn, it feels good to be back.
Patriots fans will love Kyle Van Noy’s tweet with Dont’a Hightower.
It’s almost impossible to put into words just how much Van Noy’s and Hightower’s returns mean for the Patriots’ defense. The last time the duo played together in 2018, New England boasted unequivocally the best defense in the league, ranking first in both points (14.1) and total yards allowed (275.9) per game.
They also had the greatest turnover differential (+21) and finished second in total takeaways (36). While those ridiculous numbers were the result of a team effort sprinkled in with incredible individual performances — Stephon Gilmore won DPOY that year — it’s no coincidence the Patriots were that dominant with Hightower and Van Noy on the field.
As if their returns weren’t already huge enough, they each have their own unique storylines entering the new season. Van Noy, of course, returned to the Patriots after Miami released him just one year into the four-year, $51 million deal they gave him last offseason. You better believe the 30-year-old vet will be playing with something to prove in 2021.
Hightower, meanwhile, returns to New England after opting out last year amid the global pandemic to care for his newborn son. It took longer than expected for the three-time champ to confirm his status for 2021, which led to the local media to speculating whether he’d follow in longtime teammate Patrick Chung’s footsteps and retire.
That, of course, didn’t happen, and with Hightower and Van Noy back in the fold, New England might just go back to possessing the most dominant defense in the NFL.