On Oct. 25, 2016, the Detroit Lions and New England Patriots swapped sixth- and seventh-round picks.
As well as Kyle Van Noy.
The trade-deadline deal between Bob Quinn, Bill Belichick and Nick Caserio has aged well over the 365 days since. Better than perhaps even the 26-year-old linebacker, who recently signed an extension through 2019, could have envisioned on that eventful Tuesday night.
Van Noy has started all seven games for New England this season while playing the second-most snaps on the defense. He’s seldom left the field, after seldom being on it in Detroit.
“He didn't really play a lot his first two years,” Belichick said of Van Noy on day one of his tenure, later adding a “we’ll see” when it came to the BYU product’s utilization.
It made sense to be cautious.
Drafted No. 40 overall in 2014, Van Noy saw 51 snaps on the Lions’ defense as a rookie after undergoing core muscle surgery, then 80 during his second season. The 6-foot-3, 243-pound college edge-rusher had transitioned 4-3 strongside linebacker by that juncture, attaining one sack and the first seven starts of his tenure from there on out.
Then it was over.
“I think sometimes a change of scenery helps a guy,” Lions head coach Jim Caldwell reflected, via DetroitLions.com.
It did. Van Noy combined to see 523 snaps between seven games in Detroit and seven in New England by the the end of 2016.
He’s now on pace for 909 snaps in 2017.
It’s been a steady climb since Van Noy’s first few weeks in Foxborough began with him in the inactives. As a sub-package player, No. 53 notched a sack in his Patriots debut on Nov. 20 and retrieved an interception in his third appearance on Dec. 4.
“I think really at the end of the year – call it the last month or five, six weeks of the regular season and playoffs – his playtime was very high,” Belichick said on his conference call Monday, per Patriots.com. “His production was high. We felt like going into the season that, again, Kyle is a versatile player. He's able to do a lot of things. He can really play on the end of the line. He can pass rush. He can play in coverage. He can play middle linebacker. He can play outside linebacker. He gives us a lot of flexibility on defense.”
It could be argued Van Noy’s flexibility wouldn’t be stretched this far had knee and shoulder ailments not limited Dont’a Hightower to less than five full appearances; had Shea McClellin not begun the slate on injured reserve; had Elandon Roberts or David Harris assumed more than situational roles. But Van Noy hasn’t been present for 398 of the defense’s 415 snaps – which ranks second behind only captain Devin McCourty – by default.
“He's out there every day. He gets better, works hard every day,” Belichick continued. “He's able to do more and he wants to do more. He's the type of player that wants more responsibility and likes the challenges of doing different things – coverage, pass rush, playing the run, playing on the line, playing off the line. His hard work has paid off in a lot of opportunity and a lot of production in a number of different areas.”
Van Noy has 117 tackles on his NFL resume and 49 of which have transpired this fall. He has 5.5 career sacks and 3.5 have been accrued this October. A stat-sheet stuffer the flier has been, though in critical moments as well.
A week ago against the New York Jets, Van Noy brought down quarterback Josh McCown twice for his first two-sack afternoon. On Sunday night against the Atlanta Falcons, he posted at least seven stops for the fifth consecutive contest, with one halting running back Devonta Freeman for a loss of three yards on third down, and another halting wideout Taylor Gabriel for a loss of five yards on fourth down.
Exactly one year removed from being acquired amongst future late-rounders – with the Lions’ becoming quarterback Brad Kaaya – those plays are pulling closer and closer together.
So too is the skillset that the Patriots identified in Van Noy during the pre-draft process.
It hasn’t been perfect, as evidenced throughout a unit that had allowed over 300 passing yards in six-straight games, 2,644 yards total, and an average of 26.5 points per over that span. Yet what Van Noy has become has far exceeded the team’s initial investment.
He finds himself sitting second on the defense in tackles and tied for first with Trey Flowers in sacks.