Young defender poised to be Patriots' breakout star this upcoming season

Top second-year player is ready to rumble
New Orleans Saints v New England Patriots
New Orleans Saints v New England Patriots / Winslow Townson/GettyImages

There is only one way to go for the New England Patriots ... and that's up from the cellar of the AFC East, where they finished for the first time in decades. That's a positive spin on what may very well be another trip to the bottom of the Division. A lot has to go right for this to change.

Foremost will be the play of the 2024 quarterback. Contrary to expectations, the wish here is that from Day One, rookie Drake Maye is given the keys to the jalopy. What is there to lose? The Patriots are going nowhere with Jacoby Brissett as the quarterback. Maye gives them the best chance to win.

Besides Mr. Maye, who will likely have a terrific season, one other player is tabbed among about three contenders to explode as a force in 2024. The other two not being selected here are great candidates, as well.

Cornerback Christian Gonzalez and wide receiver Demario Douglas are second-year pros. Both young players are poised for big years, though Gonzalez is coming off a serious injury. Regardless, they should excel. They won't be the choice here, though. That's reserved for a young defensive lineman, second-year player Keion White, for whom expectations are sky-high.

Patriots second-year man, Keion White's potential is Barmore-esque

Keion White was a second-round pick in 2023 and, along with Gonzalez and Douglas, was the cream of the crop of the 2023 rookies. They were the best of Bill Belichick's last draft class. Interestingly, both Gonzalez and White were consensus top picks, considered high draftees by most observers.

White played in all 16 games in 2023, starting 4. That last statistic was a mistake by the Head Coach. He should have started more games. The rookie played 49 percent of the defensive snaps (521) and had 29 tackles, three passed defensed, and one sack but should have been given more.

While those stats are somewhat underwhelming, a good deal of the problem was that Belichick persisted in playing Davon Godchaux, a run-stuffing nose tackle, more than he should have. This kept White's statistics down while not providing the opportunity for him to play alongside Christian Barmore, the recently re-signed 2023 breakout star.

The opportunity cost of not playing White more had serious ramifications for the season. Instead of doubling down with two pocket-collapsing defensive linemen inside, he stayed true to his coaching roots and locked on to a run-stuffing nose tackle. It was a mistake.

Play Keion White in his best position this season

Belichick missed the boat by positionally misplaying Keion White. Using him early in the season, mainly at the defensive end, he was not nearly as effective as when he played in a gap later. White excelled in a gap and will be an absolute force on the interior defensive line if used correctly this season.

White is an absolute force inside, like his linemate and the Patriots' best 2023 defensive player, Christian Barmore. He's also fine outside but not nearly as effective as when lined up next to Barmore in a dynamic defensive tackle duo.

Similarly, Belichick used Barmore extensively in gaps in deference to Godchaux. It wasn't his best position either. Barmore is a dominating player on the nose, and that's where he should be deployed. He commands double, if not triple, teams there and is unblockable by a center alone.

Like Barmore, White is a ferocious pocket-crusher, yet his forte is getting in a gap and exploding into the quarterback's face. This tandem will be almost unstoppable if Jerod Mayo utilizes them at their optimum positions.

This nomination assumes that White will be correctly deployed inside in a gap, with exceptions for deception purposes. The expectation is that if so deployed, the young dynamo will make more than 50 tackles and five sacks or more.

Keion White is the choice here for breakout player of the 2024 season. We'll see if Jerod Mayo puts him in a position to achieve that lofty status. If not, all bets are off. One thing is clear, though: deploy White alongside Barmore inside, and there will be no pocket for opposition quarterbacks to throw from. That would be a very good thing, indeed, would it not?

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