No. 3: New England Patriots
Strength: Ja’Whaun Bentley and Kyle Dugger. Both Bentley and Dugger, with run defensive grades of 83.8 and 76.7, respectively, improved significantly in 2021. If they can maintain that consistency in 2023, the Patriots run-stopping game will be very effective.
Weakness: Defensive line. Note that, in 2022, the Dolphins (Christian Wilkins--#6, Zach Sieler--#16); the Jets (Quinnen Williams--#3, Sheldon Rankins--now with Houston Texans--#21); and the Bills (Daquan Jones--#23) all had lineman ranked in the top 25 interior defensive lineman by Pro Football Focus. The Patriots had none. The Pats D-lineman are adequate but none are outstanding. The Pats' draft debacles of 2017 through 2019 haunt them on the D-line as well as on offense.
X-Factor: Keion White and Christian Barmore. White is a rookie and Barmore’s role in the defense may still be evolving but both could play significant roles in 2002. White had an excellent run defense grade of 78.7 and overall defensive grade of 72.6 in his final year for Georgia Tech, and may push Deatrich Wise for playing time.
Barmore’s overall rush defense grades in 2021 (44.7) and 2022 (46.9) were marginal, but he was a force in rushing the passer with 3 sacks, 8 QB hits, and 41 hurries, for an overall pass rushing grade of 80.4. If Barmore can complement his game with better defense against the rush, he could emerge as a star. Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com said of Barmore:
"Christian Barmore could be the key to the D-line and the best overall player on the defense with improvement. He was sensational as a rookie, but struggled to stay on the field in his second yea"- Gregg Rosenthal, Around the NFL Podcast