With the offseason workout program in the books and training camp being kicked off later this month, the New England Patriots are already fully “on to 2021.”
The team currently has 90 players under contract, but only 53 of them will be able to survive roster cutdowns in August and September and ultimately make the active team. Over the course of spring and summer, just like we have in years past, we will take a look at the players fighting for those spots to find out who has the best chances of helping the Patriots bounce back from what was a disappointing 7-9 season last year.
Today, the series continues with linebacker Kyle Van Noy.
Name: Kyle Van Noy
Position: Move linebacker
Jersey number: 53
Opening day age: 30
Size: 6-foot-3, 250 pounds
Contract status: Under contract through 2022 (2023 UFA)
What is his experience? Following a highly productive four-year career at BYU, Van Noy entered the NFL in 2014 as a second-round draft choice by the Detroit Lions. Van Noy spent two-and-a-half seasons in Detroit and appeared in 31 games for the organization, but he never quite found his footing. Head coach Jim Caldwell and defensive coordinator Teryl Austin tried to use him in a traditional 4-3 role not suited for his diverse skill set, which in turn led to him appearing timid and insecure when on the field.
This further added to the lack of trust he enjoyed from the coaching staff and contributed to the Lions’ decision to put him on the trade block. In 2016, despite being in the middle of his most successful season to that point, Van Noy and a seventh-round draft choice the following year were sent to New England for a sixth-round selection. The Lions, as it would later turn out, moved up a mere 24 spots to get rid of the linebacker — one that became a mainstay on a Patriots defense that won two Super Bowls.
Over the following three-and-a-half seasons, Van Noy played a combined 61 regular season and playoff games for the Patriots and became a consistent playmaker and well-respected locker room leader. His skillset was a perfect match for New England’s multiple-front defense, and he registered 22 sacks as well as nine forced fumbles, four recoveries, a pair of interceptions and two touchdowns. Van Noy left the Patriots in 2020 to join the Miami Dolphins, but he was cut only a year later — opening the door for a return to Foxborough.
What did his 2020 season look like? Coming off arguably the best season of his career up until that point, Van Noy entered unrestricted free agency with considerable momentum on his side. With the Patriots in a challenging financial position, however, he was bound for a departure and it did not take long for him to find a new home: the veteran linebacker joined former New England defensive play caller Brian Flores in Miami, signing a four-year, $51 million contract to become an integral part of the Dolphins’ defense for years to come.
Coming into the season with some lofty expectations, Van Noy did not take long to make his impact felt. He voted a team captain ahead of the season — one of three former Patriots to receive the honor alongside Elandon Roberts and Ted Karras — and also registered a sack in his first game for the team, coincidentally versus his old club. The takedown of New England quarterback Cam Newton was one of a combined six sacks for the veteran who ended the year ranking third on the Dolphins in that category.
In general, Van Noy proved himself a reliable contributor from his versatile move linebacker position. As a starting member of the Dolphins’ defensive front seven he appeared in 14 of Miami’s 16 games, missing one contest each due to groin and hip injuries and also spending a couple of days on the Reserve/Covid-19 list. Van Noy was on the field for 811 of his unit’s 1,034 snaps (78.4%) and despite regularly moving between the edge and the off-the-ball spots was a consistent playmaker no matter where he lined up.
The former second-round draft pick finished the season with some strong numbers. Not only was he among the most productive pass rushers on Miami’s roster — he had a combined 32 quarterback disruptions — Van Noy also was responsible for some other big plays: he forced a pair of fumbles and also had two recoveries. Furthermore, he registered 44 tackles in the running game and 25 against the pass, was second on the club with 11 tackles for loss, and was credited with six defended passes.
Not all was perfect for the AFC Defensive Player of Week 13 during his first year as a Dolphin, however. Besides the aforementioned injuries, he also was credited with 10 missed tackles and gave up 20 receptions on 22 targets for a total of 233 yards. And even though the positives far outweighed the negatives — especially considering that Van Noy did not have the benefits of a traditional offseason due to the Coronavirus pandemic — he was eventually cut by the team in March 2021.
What is his projected role? When Van Noy first arrived in New England back in 2016, he was moved all over the formation to take advantage of his athleticism and instincts. That role changed a bit over the years and he was ultimately used more as a traditional outside linebacker during his final season with the club. Given the team’s issues at that spot back in 2020, him returning in that capacity would make sense to address two of the major weaknesses the New England defense had: failing to generate sacks and setting a stout edge against the run.
What is his special teams value? Even though Van Noy received some regular action in the kicking game early on in his career, the last two seasons saw him play just 18 combined snaps on special teams. He was used primarily on punt coverage (9 snaps) and the field goal/extra point blocking squads (4), as well as the punt return (3) and kickoff return (2) teams. Heading into 2021, this usage is not expected to change: Van Noy will only be brought onto the field occasionally if the club wants to take advantage of his pass rushing abilities.
Does he have positional versatility? Even though the Patriots used him primarily as an outside linebacker in 2019, Van Noy has shown repeatedly in the past that he is also more than capable of filling the hybrid move role: he can play on the line of scrimmage, and also align off it as a more traditional box linebacker. Last year in Miami, for example, he filled that latter role on 27.6 percent of his defensive snaps (up from 6.6 percent the during his final year in New England). Furthermore, Van Noy is an able defender against both the pass and the run.
What is his salary cap situation? Van Noy returned to New England earlier this offseason on a two-year contract with a maximum value of $11.88 million. As part of this deal, he will hit the team’s books with a salary cap number of $4.43 million this season: Van Noy will play on a fully guaranteed salary ($1.1 million) and signing bonus proration ($2.45 million), and also carries $875,000 in likely-to-be-earned roster bonuses. The Patriots will only be able to save money this season in case of a trade, but that is unlikely to happen.
What is his roster outlook? Given his experience in the Patriots’ system in combination with his contract status, Van Noy is a lock to make the 53-man roster this year. The main question entering the season is therefore about his usage in 2021. Will he resume a starter-level role on the defensive edge, or will he be used differently given the depth New England has at the position in the form of Matthew Judon, Josh Uche, Chase Winovich, and others? Regardless of how the Patriots will employ him, though, he should be expected to see considerable playing time yet again.