While not perfect by any means, the New England Patriots defense has played some good football so far this season and its performance a major reason why the team is 5-4 heading into its bye week. The unit is currently ranked sixth in the NFL in scoring, giving up 17.7 points per game, and first in EPA per play (-0.116).
That success has been built on some good game-planning, execution, and individual performances. Whether it is defensive lineman Deatrich Wise Jr. making a massive jump in Year 6, Jonathan Jones playing like a true No. 1 cornerback, or Devin McCourty providing his usual blend of productivity and leadership at the safety spot, New England has seen several players rise to the occasion over the first nine weeks of the season.
Outside linebacker Matthew Judon does stand out above the rest, though, and has a strong case as not just the best defender on the team but one of the best in the entire league.
This begs the question: Is it too early to start the “Matthew Judon, NFL Defensive Player of the Year” conversation?
Let’s take a look at some numbers, which oftentimes are used as the basis for such discussion and decisions, to find out how Judon compares to the rest of the league. Without spoiling anything, let’s just say he stacks up pretty well against other defenders in the league.
The 30-year-old, who is in his second season with the Patriots since arriving as a free agent last year, has been a menace on the edge, for example. He leads the league with 11.5 sacks and his sack rate is the highest in the NFL:
Matt Judon recorded 5 QB pressures & 3 sacks in the Patriots' 26-3 victory over the Colts, his 7th-consecutive game with at least 3 pressures (T-2nd longest active streak).— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) November 6, 2022
Judon (2022): 5.1% sack rate (1st, min. 150 pass rushes)#INDvsNE | #ForeverNE pic.twitter.com/tD2Q9dwu9g
Judon’s 11.5 sacks are three more than the second-ranked trio of Nick Bosa, Za’Darius Smith and Justin Houston has accomplished thus far. In fact, the difference between him and those three is as big as the one between them and the 20th most productive pass rushers in terms of sacks (a group that includes Wise Jr., who has notched 5.5 takedowns).
Sacks alone are not the only statistic to measure a linebacker’s success, obviously, but Judon also is ranked near the top of the league in quarterback hits and hurries. His combined 43 pressures, as charted by Pro Football Focus, are the second most in football behind only Smith’s 46.
His run defense, ability to set a stout edge and tackling skills should not go unnoticed either. Look no further than the Week 9 game against the Indianapolis Colts, where he was pivotal in making a stop on a 4th-and-1 pitch play. Judon is also ranked fourth in the NFL with 10 tackles for loss.
Judon is a complete edge defender, well suited for the modern NFL game. Bringing him aboard on a four-year, $54.5 million contract already proved itself a good investment.
Let’s go back to that question up top, though. With all those facts in mind, could Judon have a case for Defensive Player of the Year?
Let’s take a look at the odds to assess his chances. And they show that he is among those seen as a realistic candidates to end up with the trophy: per DraftKings Sportsbook, Judon has the fourth-best odds at +1200. He is trailing Dallas Cowboys linebacker Micah Parsons (-225), and D-linemen Nick Bosa (+900) and Myles Garrett (+1100) of the San Francisco 49ers and Cleveland Browns, respectively.
Parsons is the favorite to earn the trophy, and it is not hard to see why. Just like Judon, he has been pivotal to the Cowboys’ success this season. For Judon to overtake him as well as Bosa and Garrett, he would have to keep up his pace and possibly come close to the single-season sack record currently held by Michael Strahan and T.J. Watt at 22.5.
Additionally, the Patriots would have to continue building some momentum to establish themselves as serious playoff contenders. Fairly or not, exposure is a key element when it comes to the NFL recognizing players.
So, is it too early to talk about Judon as a Defensive Player of the Year candidate? Maybe, but the fact that this conversation is even a realistic one speaks for how well he has played so far this season — and how valuable he has been to New England’s top-tier defense.