A decade-plus of dominance from Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots came to an end in 2020. They found themselves finishing third in the AFC East division and watching the NFL Playoffs from home. The Patriots lost their long-time starting QB in Tom Brady, along with many key defensive leaders. New England finished the season 7-9 and had a negative point differential for the first time in 20 seasons. The 353 points against are the most for any New England defense during the Bill Belichick era.
Despite an underwhelming season for the Patriots, they will look to rebound in 2021 and make their case as the team to beat in the AFC East. New England will look to get back to their defensive dominance as a few key veteran players return from their 2019 defense that finished first overall.
Chase Winovich provided some unexpected production for dynasty managers in 2020. His 155.2 fantasy points on the season earned him a DL40 finish. He earned a 72.3 pass-rush grade by Pro Football Focus on 348 pass-rush snaps. Winovich totaled 5.5 sacks for his second consecutive year since being drafted out of Michigan. Despite only playing 58% of defensive snaps on the season, Winovich remained productive in spot starts for dynasty managers and was worth a roster spot. Especially for owners who lost players like Danielle Hunter or Nick Bosa last season.
Lawrence Guy is another player in a long line of Patriots defenders who just does their job. He would finish as the DL70 on the season, 6th on the team in tackles. Guy has never played more than 52% of snaps in his career, and he will always be a better real football player than a fantasy producer.
Matt Judon finished 2020 as the DL31 with 50 tackles and 6 sacks, and he carries a dual designation on Sleeper. The former Baltimore Raven collected 170.4 FP on 581 snaps in 14 games played. Judon was able to post back-to-back 50+ tackle and 6+ sack seasons. Judon was able to post his best-missed tackle rate at only 7.4% in 2020.
Only one Patriots EDGE rusher finished last season with more than 60% of snaps played, John Simon (69.03%). He led all players among the front seven. If you’re going to trust any Patriots EDGE rusher, it should be Judon. He has been consistently productive and should have another chance to finish in the top 36 of defensive linemen in 2021.
- Deatrich Wise
- Henry Anderson
- Ronnie Perkins
- Kyle Van Noy
This group of Patriot defenders is the early favorite to make an impact this season. Deatrich Wise finished with the second most QB pressures last season behind only Chase Winovich. Henry Anderson comes over from the New York Jets. He is coming off a career-high in tackles (42) and could find himself in the rotation for at least 50% of the defensive snaps. Ronnie Perkins will have to be a camp standout for him to be anything more than a taxi squad or deep roster stash in dynasty. Kyle Van Noy returns as a sack-dependent EDGE defender. If he can be around the 7+ sack mark, he can make an impact as a bye-week fill-in type player.
Ja’Whaun Bentley would finish as the highest-scoring New England LB in 2020 at LB67. Despite missing three games to injury, Bentley showed IDP managers something and posted a career-high 165.1 fantasy points in IDP123 scoring. I dug into the stats. In both weeks 6 and 12, Bentley played 62 snaps. He collected 26 tackles and a ½ sack in those games, good for 49.60 fantasy points which were 30% of his total points for the year. It’s likely Bentley starts at inside linebacker again this season. If he can keep that job, he has the potential to be a solid LB4 or LB5 for your dynasty teams.
D’Onta Hightower returns after sitting out last season. Hightower as the LB47 in 2019, scoring 201.8 FP. As good as Hightower is for the New England defense, he has only scored over 200 fantasy points twice in eight seasons. The Patriots inside linebacker surpassed 71 tackles twice in his career. But he hasn’t had over 72 tackles in a season since 2014. The veteran LB is a 30+-year-old LB that likely takes snaps away from a younger player with a higher upside.
Raekwon McMillan tallied 45 fantasy points in 2020 after making 177 tackles in his first two seasons. The former Ohio State Buckeye will be playing for his third different team in the last three seasons. Despite only finishing with 45 fantasy points last season it’s worth noting that McMillan was able to collect 177 tackles over his first two seasons.
Josh Uche would only appear in 9 games in 2020, playing only 18% of defensive snaps. Josh Uche did have 10 pressures, 7 QB knockdowns, and 1 sack.
Harvey Langi, the former New York Jets LB is coming off a career year, 60 tackles, and played 45% of the defensive snaps. Langi took over as a full-time starter in Week 9. He had at least 6 tackles in six straight games. It’s likely an injury would be the only hope for Langi to find his way onto dynasty managers’ radar.
Terez Hall is a former undrafted free agent who impressed in his first season. Hall managed 50 tackles in just eight games last season. He showed flashes during the season but will be recovering from off-season ankle surgery to start the 2021 season.
Cam McGrone, the former Michigan Wolverine fell to the fifth round of the 2021 NFL Draft after a dip in production in 2020. McGrone finished his career at Michigan with 91 tackles in 16 games played. Unfortunately, I don’t think we will see much of McGrone until next season unless he really flashes in training camp. He’s a taxi squad stash if you have an older LB core on your dynasty roster.
Adrian Phillips finished as the DB12 in 2020. His 233.4 fantasy points scored were the most of any Patriots defender last season. Only Devin McCourty (94.49%) and J.C. Jackson (83.68%) played more defensive snaps for New England last season. Phillips played 473 snaps in the box, according to PFF. I like Adrian Phillip’s chances to stay in the box safety role with a weak LB unit. After this season, Phillips will be a 30-year-old safety. I fully expect that the Patriots will get the most out of him during what is likely his last season with the team.
Kyle Dugger started seven games as a rookie. He would finish as the DB135. Dugger played at least 40 snaps or more in every game from week 10-17. (43 tackles) registering four double-digit fantasy performances during that span. It’s likely with Adrian Phillips finding himself in more of a hybrid LB role that Dugger will spend more time in a true safety role. Dugger led all Patriots rookies on defense, playing 50.93% snaps.
Devin McCourty is always going to lead the Patriot’s secondary in snaps. Unfortunately, he is a much better football player than he gets credit for but does nothing for you as a dynasty manager. He remains a spot week starter at best. He’s just too inconsistent.
If you’re completely fading DBs in your league, there are options in the New England secondary. J.C. Jackson finished as the DB37 in 2020 and scored 10+ fantasy points in all but six games. Former NFL Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore was the DB17 in 2019. He collected 53 tackles and 6 interceptions.
It’s no secret that the way Bill Belichick coaches defensive football isn’t going to get dynasty managers excited. We rarely see a Patriots player in the top 12 of their respective positions by the season’s end. Adrian Phillips DB12’s finish last season was the highest an IDP has finished at their position since Devin McCourty DB13 in 2017. Only four defensive players played more than 70% of snaps last season. All four were DBs. In 2019 three different LBs played 70% of snaps or more the highest percentage in 2020 was Ja’Whaun Bentley at 59.78%.
There is potential for spot starts from this defense but depending on any of them for the week to week production is a bad strategy. Adrian Phillips and Kyle Dugger I’d gamble on the most of anybody. Stay clear of the messy situation at LB unless you’re extremely desperate or can stash one of the rookies or second-year players on the taxi squad.
As always, I appreciate you taking the time to check out another IDP fantasy forecast. I know it’s not always easy to check out some of the more boring teams from a fantasy scoring perspective. As a good dynasty manager, you should be looking to take advantage of any edge you can’t get, and the staff here at dynasty nerds has you covered on both sides of the ball.
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