It wasn't hard to think that Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib was in contention for defensive player of the year. Through the first six games of the season, until he was taken out of the Saints game with a hip injury, Talib was thrown at 33 times, allowing 13 completions for 186 yards and 1 touchdown, while collecting four interceptions and 5 additional passes defended.
His hit list included the likes of Julio Jones, A.J. Green, and Jimmy Graham (who he blanked). Talib was on a trajectory to the top of the league and out of the Patriots price range come free agency.
Talib was acquired by the Patriots for a fourth round pick and he's more than made up for the price. He's transformed the defense and changed the mind set, leading to more press coverage and a stronger defense.
However, Talib's injury came at an extremely inopportune time. Not only was his season derailed, but the collection of injuries between Vince Wilfork, Tommy Kelly, and Jerod Mayo all started to sink in. More minor injuries to Kyle Arrington, Alfonzo Dennard, Steve Gregory, and Brandon Spikes continued to weaken the defense.
And now that Talib has returned from his hip injury, his form is still left behind. He's been thrown at 29 times, allowing 21 completions for 358 yards and two touchdowns, while only defending two passes. His yards per target rate has spiked from 5.6 to 12.3. He's been a step behind some players on speed plays and slower to react on quick plays.
A lot of what is hurting Talib can be healed over the off-season. Not only will his injuries recover, but the rest of the defense should be healthy. The defensive unit is as good as its weakest link and the Patriots secondary has been getting exposed due to the weakness inside (Pro Football Focus reports that Ryan Tannehill completed 17 or 19 passes for 190 yards and a touchdown between the numbers). Man coverage has fallen apart since the linebackers are unable to clog the inside lanes.
As a result, Talib's star has faded compared to how bright it shone early in the season. The one benefit for the Patriots is that Talib, who undeniably has had a positive effect on the Patriots secondary, is much less likely to receive the payday we all thought was possible.
Should Talib's noted performance cause him to fall to the Patriots at a discount, it should be lauded as a terrific signing by the Patriots.