Predicting the Patriots' 4 best Pro-Bowl candidates on defense

Four Patriots defensive players with Pro Bowl potential
New England Patriots v Dallas Cowboys
New England Patriots v Dallas Cowboys / Cooper Neill/GettyImages

The New England Patriots' pre-season is getting into full swing, and summer camp is on the way. There has been plenty of discussion about the offense and its deficiencies. Less has been said about the defense, which means they're solid.

They'd better be if the 2024 Pats have any chance of a winning season or a playoff berth. Absent a revelation to start Drake Maye from the get-go and let him fling it and run with it; the chances are slim of that happening. But perhaps the team will finally figure that out.

Meanwhile, the 2023 Pats defense was rated seventh overall by Fox Sports, not a bad position in light of two factors. First, the offense couldn't stay on the field, and second, they had injuries to their best player, edge Matt Judon, and their best rookie, cornerback Christian Gonzalez.

Teams are teams, and individuals are individuals, but without the individual brilliance of at least several players, the team won't get anywhere. So, who are the four players with the best Pro Bowl or better possibilities for the 2024 season?

Two Patriots defensive players have the highest ceiling

The Pats' two best on defense (if not the entire team) are no revelation. When healthy, Matt Judon is the cream of the crop. He's a difference-maker, someone the opposing offenses have to game-plan for, and a menace coming off the edge as a pass-rusher.

Before his injury early in 2023, Judon was one of the Patriots' best free-agent signings ever. In his first two seasons, he racked up 28 sacks. He is a dominant force on the strong side. His absence took the defense down a level or two. They had no one to replace him.

If Judon returns to his 2022 form (assuming he's on the field), he's a Pro Bowl-level player or better who dramatically raises the level of play. If he's out, no one can fill in for him. Eliot Wolf regrets not drafting defense, and edge is one position that stands out.

Defensive tackle Christian Barmore is the next best candidate for a Pro Bowl berth. He had a breakout season in 2023 with 8.5 sacks, a monster total for an inside D-line player. For once, the Patriots, now under Mr. Wolf, understood that signing your four-year players before they become free agents makes perfect sense, and he was granted an enormous contract extension.

If healthy, Barmore can be expected to be a mega-force inside, hopefully playing right on the nose where he is unblockable by one offensive lineman. Hopefully, that's where he'll be deployed and not in a gap where he's good but not nearly as effective.

Two second-year Pats' are possible Pro Bowl contenders

2023's first-round pick, Christian Gonzalez, was beginning to get the hang of NFL play when he was unfortunately injured during the fourth game of the season. The still 21-year-old had three passes defensed and an interception in the four games he played before suffering a season-ending injury.

It was clear the Pats struck gold when drafting him with the 14th pick in the first round. Hopefully, he's back at 100 percent this season and picks up where he left off. If so, expect great things from the former Oregon star. He was a quality, consensus draft pick; expect him to rise to the top and contend for NFL honors.

The final possible contender for NFL recognition is another consensus 2023 draft pick, second-rounder defensive lineman Keion White. White was brought along too slowly by Bill Belichick in 2023 and was slotted into the wrong position at the defensive end too often. White is most effective at tackle and, teamed inside with Barmore, will provide a dynamic duo, the envy of most NFL teams.

White can play end, but it is obvious that playing in a gap inside is his best spot. He, like Barmore, is virtually unblockable by one offensive lineman. You can't double and triple-team everyone. This tandem is an NFL offensive coordinator's nightmare if used correctly.

White has been tabbed here as the Patriots' breakout player for 2024. If he stays healthy and is properly positioned, expect him to flourish as Barmore did and provide an inside tandem to wreak havoc on NFL offenses.

Those are four possible Pro Bowl-level players on the Patriots' defense in 2024. Health and proper deployment by the new Head Coach, Jerod Mayo, are key. If so, expect all four to be in the mix for the Pro Bowl or even higher NFL recognition. You need great players to have a great team. Those four have the potential to be just that.

More Patriots coverage: