Following their earth-shattering offseason, in which they went on their biggest spending spree in franchise history, the New England Patriots have an excellent chance of getting back into the playoffs after they failed to qualify for the tournament in 2020.
Despite all that, however, ESPN seems to believe the Patriots have the 18th-best roster (from a talent perspective) in the league heading into the new campaign.
While the roster Bill Belichick and Co. put together certainly has its warts, claiming it belongs in the bottom half of the NFL is as disrespectful as it gets.
At the same time, we know New England flourishes as underdogs, so fans really shouldn’t be complaining about their ranking.
With that being said, however, the list managed to open our eyes in terms of realizing a roster pitfall that isn’t getting talked about nearly as much as it should be.
Despite what some pundits seem to think, we truly think the defensive end position is something worth losing sleep over for Patriots fans.
The Patriots’ pass rush could be a real issue in 2021.
You can even call it the entire pass rush if you wanted, as New England utilizes their outside linebackers to wreak havoc in opponents’ backfields. In any event, free agent signing Matt Judon is really the only elite pass rusher the Patriots have on their roster.
While the likes of Lawrence Guy and Deatrich Wise are ultimate system guys and their contributions don’t get nearly enough appreciation, they’ve never tallied more than five sacks in a single season over their respective careers.
Behind that trio, the Patriots have Henry Anderson, who’s registered 4.5 sacks over five (!) seasons outside of a breakout year with the Jets in 2018, and the talented, but largely unproven combination of Josh Uche, Chase Winovich and Ronnie Perkins at outside linebacker.
New England is placing an awful lot of faith in their system and the strength-in-numbers philosophy and, for their sake, it better pan out. For instance, the Patriots could be in serious trouble if they rely on Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy to manufacture sacks.
That’s not to say the linebacker duo isn’t capable of generating sacks — they recorded a combined 11.5 sacks during their most recent season together in 2019 — but the Patriots’ defense functions better when Hightower and Van Noy don’t have to create pressure.
New England had one of the worst pass-rushes (based on total sacks) in the league last season, and, while their talent along the defensive line improved, fans should still have concerns about whether it can take the pressure off the second level of the defense.