The New England Patriots’ top-ranked defense took a major step back in 2020, in large part due to the offseason departures on the defensive edge. Versatile linebackers Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins left via free agency, while equally flexible Dont’a Hightower decided to opt out because of concerns about the Coronavirus pandemic.
With the three veterans gone, New England was unable to generate consistent pressure in the passing game and to set a stout edge versus the outside run. In order to address these issues and lift some pressure off of young players such as Chase Winovich, Josh Uche and Anfernee Jennings, the Patriots invested considerable resources in free agency: they re-signed Kyle Van Noy and also added former Baltimore Ravens defender Matthew Judon.
Judon signed a four-year, $56 million deal that reflects how New England sees him: as a cornerstone of their defense in 2021 and beyond. His first five years in the league give them reason to believe he will continue to not just be a productive player, but a durable one as well.
With that said, let’s take a closer look at his injury history to find out what his medical record means from the Patriots’ perspective.
2012 (Grand Valley State): Judon’s sophomore campaign at Grand Valley State was a productive one but also was limited to just eight games because of injury: he tore his MCL in his right knee and had to sit out four contests midway through the season as a result. He still finished as the school’s most productive defensive lineman in terms of tackles.
2013 (Grand Valley State): Judon’s junior campaign ended just seven snaps in. He tore his ACL and also suffered damage on his MCL in Grand Valley State’s season opener. Judon eventually had to take a redshirt year — his second after already redshirting during his true freshman season in 2010. He therefore spent a total of six years in school.
2016 (East-West Shrine Game): Entering the draft, Judon was invited to the East-West Shrine Game but a tweaked meniscus kept him from participating. He was, however, ready to work out during the Scouting Combine one month later.
2017 (Ravens): After not suffering any recorded injuries during his rookie campaign, Judon hurt his ankle in the fourth game of his second season in the NFL. He was listed as questionable to return to the Week 4 game versus the Pittsburgh Steelers. but after getting his ankle wrapped on the sidelines was back on the field.
Leading up to a late-December game against the Indianapolis Colts, Judon was limited in practice due to an illness. He was, however, ready to participate in the contest and ended up playing 84 percent of Baltimore’s defensive snaps.
2018 (Ravens): Judon was listed as questionable to participate in a late-September game versus the Denver Broncos because of a hamstring issue, but did take the field. Judon ended the game with a playing time share of 69 percent as well as a half-sack and two quarterback hits. The injury did not seem to bother him.
Ahead of a December matchup versus the Los Angeles Chargers, the Ravens listed him as questionable on their practice report. The knee ailment that caused the designation did not hinder him during the game: Judon played a season-high 76 percent of Baltimore’s defensive snaps that day.
2019 (Ravens): An ankle injury in early December prompted the Ravens to tag Judon as questionable to participate in an upcoming game versus the San Francisco 49ers. Participate he did, however, and ended up seeing a season-high playing time share of 89 percent. Judon also registered three tackles and a quarterback hit.
2020 (Ravens): After not missing a game due to medical reasons throughout his NFL career, Judon was forced to sit out a pair of contests because of Covid-19: the veteran linebacker had two separate stints on the Coronavirus reserve list, with the second of them costing him two games in early December.
Covid-19 was not the only challenge Judon faced during the 2020 season. He also suffered an ankle injury late in Week 11 against the Tennessee Titans, and was later listed on the practice report before getting sent to the Coronavirus list.
Before that, he dealt with a calf injury that landed him on the injury report leading into the Ravens’ Week 10 game in New England. Judon did participate in that game, playing 64 percent of snaps and notching a sack.
Finally, he had to sit out one practice session ahead of January’s divisional playoff bout with the Buffalo Bills. Judon dealt with an illness, but was ready to go on game day. He played 70 percent of defensive snaps during the Ravens’ final game of the season, and registered a sack as well as a forced fumble.
What this means for the Patriots
Despite plenty of entries on his injury résumé, Judon has proven himself a reliable player since entering the NFL in 2016. He missed only two games due to medical reasons — both in 2020 when he was placed on the Covid-19 reserve list — and was generally available. While he has had some minor ailments, none of them seemed to hurt his production or playing time all too much.
New England giving him a sizable contract that includes $30 million in guarantees is therefore justified from that perspective. Even though future injuries cannot be predicted, Judon’s track record since leaving college has been an impressive one in this regard.