The defensive side of the ball has been decimated already. With Trey Flowers and Isaiah Bolden both out for considerable periods of time, Steve Belichick was already behind the 8-ball. No sooner had Jonathan Jones’ legal issues been resolved than he injured his ankle. He missed time as a result of that instead. Week 5 looked like it would bring some respite from the injury crisis. But just as Raekwon McMillan and Jack Jones became eligible to return Christian Gonzalez and Matt Judon suffered serious injuries in Jerry World.
While the catastrophe in the defensive backfield is probably unsurmountable (there are five DBs on the Week 5 injury report) the Patriots are in a position to survive Judon’s torn tendon.
It’s almost as if the front office expected anticipated injuries to pass rushers this year. Not only did they draft Keion White in the second round. They also took Marte Mapu in the third round. White was projected as a first-round pick by some, and Mapu is a Swiss army knife of a player, he can play in the defensive backfield or at linebacker and rush the passer from either position.
So how can the Patriots fill the hole Judon’s absence leaves in the pass rush? Well, some exotic blitzes and unusual schemes might help, but there’s not been much creativity in New England so far this season, so let’s go back to basics and focus on a small tweak in the personnel.
Georgia Tech product White, who was described by the Draft Network as “a tantalizing prospect”, is two inches taller than Judon and 20lbs heavier than the veteran linebacker. They might not line up in the same position (at the moment) and if those six defensive backs weren’t injured Marte Mapu would make an ideal situational pass rusher. But it appears Mapu will be pressed into action as a defensive back. He could possibly slot in at safety if Jalen Mills and Ameer Speed have to play corner.
Judon is now recognized as a standup linebacker in New England. But when he began his NFL career in Baltimore it was at defensive end. So White would be a fine replacement for Judon. Despite the weight discrepancy physically Judon and White aren’t that different. They were both impressively athletic when they performed at the combine. But not in all categories. Despite being 11lbs heavier, White performed a 9 feet 9-inch Broad Jump, beating Judon’s distance by eight inches!
So, he’s certainly got an edge in the explosive power stakes. White’s arm length was recorded as 34 inches, Judon’s was 33.88. That means White’s wingspan is 80 inches and Judon’s was 80.8. White’s vertical jump was 34 inches, Judon’s 35. They both managed 30 bench press reps. White doesn’t have Judon’s speed, Judon ran a 4.52 40-yard dash, and White has been clocked at 4.76.
In college, White even played defensive tackle and that’s where the similarity to another unlikely outside linebacker materializes. Nobody thought Michael Hoecht would make a good linebacker. Well, nobody except Seah McVay and Raheem Morris.
Hoecht was drafted by the Rams as a defensive lineman and looked to have settled at defensive tackle early in 2021. But by Week 11 he had converted to linebacker, and he’s started the Rams' last 10 games there.
Hoecht and White are both 6 feet 4 inches tall. But Hoecht is 24lbs heavier, that doesn't stop him getting to the quarterback before Aaron Donald though.
It’s not just the Patriots defense that has been lacking any real sort of creativity in 2023. The offense’s inability to create space for the stars to exploit has made it painful to watch (just try a rub play, Bill). And overall, the defense is functioning far better than the offense. But with the offense floundering it’s going to take a monumental effort from the defense to rescue the season. It’s just like Bill Parcells said, “the desperate team usually wins”, you can’t get much more desperate than switching a rookie to a new position four weeks into his career.