With training camp and preseason underway, the New England Patriots are fully “on to 2021.”
The team currently has 86 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 are taking 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 defensive tackle Davon Godchaux.
Name: Davon Godchaux
Position: Defensive tackle/Interior defensive line
Jersey number: 92
Opening day age: 26
Size: 6-foot-3, 310 pounds
Contract status: Under contract through 2022 (2023 UFA)
What is his experience? After three seasons at LSU, Godchaux decided to take his talents to the NFL by declaring for the 2017 draft. While he had to wait until the fifth round to hear his name called, the big-bodied defensive lineman joined a favorable situation with the Miami Dolphins: he was able to get consistent playing time early on in his career, and finished his rookie season with 500 defensive snaps over 15 games — a sign of things to come given that his opportunities only increased over the coming three seasons.
Godchaux has a total 52 in-game appearances on his career résumé. He also registered 3.0 sacks and forced a fumble, while notching 179 combined tackles. His numbers may never have been outstanding during his four-season tenure with the Dolphins, but he proved himself a valuable member of the team’s defense nonetheless: the former Tiger was an able run defender due to his ability to control his lanes and be powerful at the point of attack. He therefore entered free agency in 2021 as an intriguing defensive tackle prospect.
What did his 2020 season look like? Entering the final season of his rookie contract, expectations were high for Godchaux in Miami. He had started all 16 games for the club the previous season and was seemingly able to earn the trust of head coach Brian Flores. And while the 26-year-old was again a good player for Flores’ defense in their second year together, the 2020 season as a whole was a disappointment for him: Godchaux was limited to only five games and had to end the season on injured reserve.
He faced his first challenge in early August, when the Dolphins had to send him to the Coronavirus reserve list. The issue was non-consequential, though: Godchaux was activated just two days later and afterwards blamed a false-positive test result for his short stint in isolation. He did not miss any playing time following his Covid-19 scare, and appeared in the first five of Miami’s regular season games in 2020; Godchaux played 172 of a possible 318 defensive snaps (54.1%) over those five weeks.
His season came to an abrupt end in mid-October, however: the veteran defender suffered a torn biceps during the Dolphins’ win over the San Francisco 49ers, and later had to undergo surgery to repair the muscle. While there was a theoretical chance that he would return for a potential playoff run, Godchaux was never activated from injured reserve and therefore ended his fourth NFL season on the sidelines. With him out, Miami missed the postseason. The game against the 49ers turned out to be his last as a Dolphin.
Statistically, Godchaux did not necessarily stand out simply because his role did not ask him to. He finished his fourth season in the league with 16 tackles versus the run and none against the pass, and also had 3 quarterback disruptions (2 hits, 1 hurry). Once again, however, he was a valuable member of Miami’s front seven and early-down defense: even during the disappointing Week 1 loss in New England that saw the Dolphins give up 217 rushing yards, Godchaux was a solid presence up front.
What is his projected role? One of the biggest issue for the Patriots defense in 2020 was its inability to control the line of scrimmage; not having a traditional nose tackle available played a major part in this. Adding Godchaux to the mix should help New England bolster its front line given that he is a big player well-suited to perform in its two-gap scheme. He is therefore expected to see plenty of action as an early-down run stuffer helping free up the second-level defenders to make plays downhill.
What is his special teams value? With the exception of his injury-shortened 2020 season, Godchaux played between 18 and 21 percent of the Dolphins’ special teams snaps during his tenure with the club. Miami primarily used him on its field goal and extra point blocking units, a role he might continue to play with the Patriots as well. Two weeks into his first preseason with the club, however, he has not been used in this or any other kicking game capacity.
Does he have positional versatility? Even though he was moved all over the defensive line during his four seasons with the Dolphins, Godchaux’s best fit in New England’s scheme appears to be either as a nose in their 3-4-based alignments or between the 1- and 3-technique positions in four-man fronts. All in all, his positional versatility is limited a bit due to the position that he is playing — as is the case with other members of the Patriots’ defensive tackle group as well.
What is his salary cap situation? The Patriots brought Godchaux aboard as an unrestricted free agent earlier this offseason, signing him to a two-year contract worth $14.3 million. As far as the 2020 season is concerned he will be on the team’s books with a salary cap number of $4.04 million: Godchaux is playing on a fully-guaranteed salary ($1 million) and signing bonus proration ($2.75 million) and also has roster bonuses worth $294,118 that are considered likely to be earned.
What is his roster outlook? Five months after getting signed Godchaux’s roster outlook remains unchanged: he was a lock to make the team when he signed his deal, and still remains one. The main question heading into the 2021 season is how well he will adapt to New England’s system — one that is similar to the one he played in Miami for the last two seasons — and whether he will help a struggling run defense return to form. One thing cannot be denied, though: he is the big-bodied nose tackle New England missed last year.