With the NFL free agency and draft both in the rear-view mirror, and the final phase of voluntary offseason workouts underway, the New England Patriots are officially “on to 2023.”
At the moment, the Patriots have a full 90-man roster. Only 53 of those players will be able to survive roster cutdowns and ultimately make the active team, with others competing for practice squad spots. Over the course of spring and summer, just like we have in years past, we will take an in-depth look at the men fighting for those spots to find out who has the best chances of helping New England rebound from a disappointing 2022 season.
Today, the series continues with eighth-year linebacker Matthew Judon.
Name: Matthew Judon
Position: Outside linebacker/Defensive edge
Opening day age: 31 (8/15/1992)
Size: 6’3”, 261 lbs
Jersey number: 9
Contract status: Under contract through 2024 (2025 UFA)
Even though he spent his college career at Division-II’s Grand Valley State, Judon put himself in a position to hear his name called during the NFL’s 2016 draft. It was the Baltimore Ravens who ended up selecting him, picking him in the fifth round and installing him as a rotational depth member of their outside linebacker group. After already playing 30 percent of defensive snaps as a rookie and registering four sacks from the edge, Judon took over a starter-level role in Year 2 and never looked back.
He remained a prominent member of the team’s defense throughout the rest of his tenure in Baltimore. Including the 2020 season, which he spent under the franchise tag, Judon appeared in 76 regular season games and four playoff contests for the organization; he registered 35.5 sacks, forced eight fumbles and had two recoveries, and notched a safety. His play put him on the Patriots’ radar, who signed him to a four-year, $54.5 million free agency contract in March 2021.
Judon continued performing at a high level after joining the Patriots. Earning two more Pro Bowl nods, he led the team in quarterback takedowns in back-to-back years and established himself a productive and reliable member of New England’s defensive front seven. In total, he has appeared in all 35 possible regular season and playoff games since joining the club and registered a combined 28 sacks as well as two forced fumbles and fumble recoveries each.
Stats: 17 games (15 starts) | 858 defensive snaps (75.9%), 8 special teams snaps (1.8%) | 60 tackles, 1 missed tackle (1.6%) | 15.5 sacks, 12 hits, 13 hurries | 2 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery | 11 targets, 7 catches, 47 yards
Season recap: Coming off an already strong first year in New England, Judon appeared to be a prime candidate to make another jump in his second season with the club. He did indeed, and along the way further showed that he was not just one of the Patriots’ most reliable and valuable players but also one of the most disruptive defenders in the NFL.
Judon started the year at a frantic pace, registering at least one sack in five straight games to open the season (and six overall up until that point). His most productive game of that stretch came against the Detroit Lions in Week 5, a 29-0 shutout of what was then the highest-scoring offense in the league.
Judon registered two sacks against quarterback Jared Goff that day, including one that resulted in a fumble that was recovered by teammate Kyle Dugger and returned for a touchdown.
.@Patriots defensive TD! Kyle Dugger scoop & score— NFL (@NFL) October 9, 2022
: #DETvsNE on FOX
: Stream on NFL+ https://t.co/MoX9PRk3fw pic.twitter.com/oTjcPwqS4Z
Judon was named the AFC’s Defensive Player of the Week for his game against the Detroit, but it was far from the only noteworthy performance he had in 2022.
He also registered two-and-a-half and three sacks, respectively, against the Chicago Bears (Week 7) and Indianapolis Colts (Week 9) — the latter of those tying his career high. Additionally, Judon recovered a fumble in a Week 13 loss to the Buffalo Bills, and forced one in Week 16 versus the Cincinnati Bengals.
His ball production as a whole might not have been eye-opening, but Judon was still a force to be reckoned with in every single game. The numbers speak for themselves: he led the team with 15.5 sacks and added 25 additional quarterback disruptions either through hits (12) or hurries (13). His 41 total pressures were tied for fourth-most in the entire league, and played a big role in him earning his fourth straight Pro Bowl nomination.
The lone player to represent the Patriots at the all-star showcase, Judon’s impact on one of the NFL’s best defenses went beyond his expertise as a pass rusher. He also was a solid run defender yet again, missed only one of his 61 total tackle attempts all year, and was competitive when dropping back into coverage.
On top of it all, he also was quite durable. Appearing in all 17 games, Judon ranked fourth on the team with 858 of a possible 1,130 defensive snaps (75.9%).
For as impressive as Judon was throughout the season, not all was perfect. Most of his production, for example, again came early on in the year: he had 11.5 sacks and only two sack-less games before the Patriots’ Week 10 bye; he managed just 4.0 takedowns and registered five games without a sack over the final eight games of the season.
His extensive usage on all three defensive downs might have played a part in this, but so did the approach New England’s opponents took. Judon, after all, became a focal point for offenses who oftentimes invested extra resources at the line of scrimmage to try to slow him down. this, in turn, created opportunities for other defenders such as Josh Uche: the third-year man had 7.5 of his 11.5 total sacks after the Patriots’ bye week.
All in all, Judon’s 2022 season was therefore another highly successful one — and arguably the best of his career so far.
What will be his role? Judon has been used primarily as an outside linebacker throughout his time in the NFL. Heading into 2023 — his third year as a Patriot — the expectation is that things will stay mostly the same for the 30-year-old. He will remain the team’s No. 1 player on the edge and rarely leave the field due to his abilities to keep running plays from reaching the corner on early downs and rush the quarterback in passing situations. The only change might come through captaincy; Judon is a candidate to receive the honor to help fill the leadership void created by Devin McCourty’s retirement.
What is his growth potential? Entering the eighth season of his career, Judon has shown who he is as an NFL player: a disruptive pass rusher who also knows how to set a firm edge in the run game. From that perspective, there is little room for growth. That being said, the Patriots might be open to using him slightly differently moving forward; the emergence of Josh Uche and the addition of second-round draft pick Keion White might lead to a more specialized role and help preserve him a bit better after he played close to 80 percent of defensive snaps the last two seasons.
Does he have positional versatility? The Patriots have used Judon primarily as an outside linebacker since acquiring him. In fact, 96.1 percent of his defensive snaps have come with him playing on the edge. That does not mean he has no versatility, though: not only does he have some experience playing off the ball both from his time and Baltimore and his two seasons in New England, he also has shown that he can be a true all-around player who is capable of contributing both against the pass and the run.
What is his salary cap situation? As part of the contract he signed with the Patriots in 2021, and a restructure in December 2022, Judon is hitting the team’s books with a salary cap hit of $18.11 million — the highest such number on the team, and fifth-highest among all NFL edge defenders. The deal includes and $11 million salary, $5.61 million signing bonus proration, a total of $1 million in per-game roster bonuses, and $500,000 in incentives considered likely to be earned. A total of $7.61 million of the deal are guaranteed: his entire signing bonus proration plus $2 million of his salary.
How safe is his roster spot? While his cap savings would outweigh his dead money for the first time since arriving in New England, Judon will not be going anywhere. He is a lock to make the Patriots’ roster this season and serve as a starter along the defensive edge. While having Josh Uche and Keion White on the roster as well might impact his usage and playing time, the 30-year-old remains one of the team’s most valuable players.
One-sentence projection: Matthew Judon will once again be one of the Patriots’ best players on either side of the ball, and lead the team in several statistical categories.