Since the New England Patriots acquired linebacker Kyle Van Noy from the Detroit Lions ahead of the 2016 trade deadline, only one of the team’s players — defensive end Trey Flowers, who left as a free agent in 2019 to join Van Noy’s former team — has registered better raw pass rushing numbers than him: he had a total of 147 quarterback disruptions in 62 games for the Patriots, according to advanced analytics website Pro Football Focus.
Van Noy was at his best as a pass rusher in 2019. With Flowers no longer part of the equation and New England using him primarily as an edge defender in their new-look 3-4-based front rather than an off-the-ball defender, he posted some very good numbers as a cornerstone player on the NFL’s best scoring defense: the 28-year-old was credited with eight sacks by PFF as well as an additional nine hits and 43 quarterback hurries.
The former second-round draft pick is therefore heading into his first stint as an unrestricted free agent with plenty of momentum — let alone big-game experience and a championship pedigree — on his side. That being said, interested teams would make a mistake if they plan on pursuing Van Noy simply based on his pass rushing statistics and with the vision of using him as an impact player in the passing game.
That is not his skill set and calculations by ESPN sports analyst Seth Walder illustrate this. Walder took a look at the data to show how edge defenders faired during the 2019 regular season: he took a look at their pass rush win rate (PRWR) — if a defender is able to beat his blocker in 2.5 seconds or less — and compared it to the frequency of double team blocks (DTR) in their way. The numbers do not look particularly good for Van Noy:
As can be seen, the Patriots linebacker faced double team blocks on only around 13% of his pass rushing attempts — the eight lowest rate of the 51 edge players Walder analyzed. Despite that, however, he still registered a comparatively low win rate: Van Noy was able to beat his opponents within 2.5 seconds of starting his rush only around 12% of the time which makes him the 14th most productive defenders looked at.
Does that also make him a bad pass rusher? Not necessarily, as some contextualization is needed. Van Noy, for example, is very good at staying in his lane and rushing patiently which in turn results in clean-up sacks. He also is terrific at running stunts behind the defensive linemen in front of him. That being said, he should not to be confused with players such as ex-Patriot Chandler Jones, who is more of a downhill rusher.
If teams want to use him like that, however, they might be in for a bad time. Van Noy’s skill set is much more nuanced than that of a “pure” pass rusher: he is stout at setting the edge and thus impacting the running game, and has the versatility to play all over the formation — from lining up in a two-point stance from the 4-technique position out, to playing off the ball, to dropping into coverage or playing downhill as a rusher or blitzer.
Before they traded him to New England, the Lions never were able to properly use Van Noy’s skillset to their advantage. The Patriots, on the other hand, did and it is what made him a desirable asset in this year’s free agency. Teams, however, should be aware of past failures and shy away from pursuing him simply on the basis of his pass rushing.