When the New England Patriots signed defensive tackle Markus Kuhn in free agency, the most positive response was apathy. The more common response was terror because Kuhn is not considered a good defensive tackle.
Kuhn struggled in the preseason with the Giants in 2015, but managed to trick head coach Tom Coughlin to start him on the defensive line. The Giants coaches lauded Kuhn’s work ethic, but it never seemed to yield results on the field. By midseason, Kuhn was regarded as the worst defensive tackle in the league as he struggled against both the run and the pass.
But that didn’t stop the Patriots from adding Kuhn in free agency.
“Markus is a young player in terms of experience,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said in a Tuesday press conference. “He's a little older because of his situation, but a young player that's still getting better, works hard, smart, a good, tough kid.”
Kuhn is 30 years old, but has just four years of experience in the NFL after he didn’t play collegiate football until he was 21.
“He has good playing strength,” Belichick continued. “He played well for the Giants. We played against him last year and evaluated him prior to our game and also in our game. He's very competitive out there with that group.”
Kuhn’s most positive attribute is his physical prowess. He stands at 6’5, 300 pounds with a 4.97 40 yard dash and an impressive 9’4 broad jump and 34.5 inch vertical jump. He is one of the most physically imposing athletes in the league. Perhaps Belichick thinks he can better tap into that potential than the Giants were able.
Kuhn's best athletic comparables are Kedric Golston (11 yr vet all with WAS), Rocky Bernard (11 yr vet with SEA/NYG), and Derek Wolfe.— Rich Hill (@PP_Rich_Hill) May 11, 2016
Kuhn has been spending time with the first team defense alongside Malcom Brown, although he’s been losing ground to Terrance Knighton in recent practices. Belichick and former Giants head coach Tom Coughlin both come from the Bill Parcells coaching tree, so perhaps they see the same ability in Kuhn.
But Belichick and Coughlin seem to be the only people that see it- and far be it from me to question those two.
While this is a rudimentary way to evaluate a player’s impact, we can see how opposing teams performed while Kuhn was on or off the field for the Giants in 2015.
Opposing teams averaged 9.3 yards per passing play while Kuhn was on the field, a huge increase from the 6.6 yards per passing play when he was not on the field.
On the other hand, opposing teams averaged 4.0 yards per carry when facing Kuhn, versus 4.4 yards per carry when he was on the sideline. So perhaps Kuhn will show some value on running downs.
Ultimately, the Patriots didn’t guarantee Kuhn much money so he is far from a roster lock. If he’s able to pull it together, then the Patriots have one of the most athletic defensive tackle rotations in the league.