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Curran & Perry: Time to rank the top 10 free-agent signings (so far) originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
The Senator and I were tasked with a simple chore for this weekend. Rank the acquisitions the Patriots have made this offseason.
Re-signings. Free-agent signings. Trades. All eligible. Opt-outs returning? Not eligible.
It’s not necessarily who’s going to have the best season statistically. It’s who makes the biggest impact.
Let’s get it on! (Mills Lane voice. Not Marvin Gaye voice).
Curran's top free-agent signings
1. Matt Judon, EDGE
All of us schooled in the Belichickian Football Worldview understand that sacks are an overrated stat. Especially individual sacks since the guy who brings the quarterback down often had said QB flushed in his direction.
Be. That. As. It. May. The Patriots didn’t get enough pressure on quarterbacks in 2020. Their team sack total dropped from 46 to 24. Also telling? Opposing quarterbacks completed 67.4 percent of passes after being at 56.5 percent in 2019. And YPA went from 6.0 in 2019 to 7.7 in 2020.
Judon mess with him
Judon's average sacks per year
Judon, 29 when the season starts, becomes the pass-rushing, edge-setting weapon the Patriots really haven’t had since Rob Ninkovich retired.
Look, Belichick wants his team carried by smart, fundamentally strong defenses. That was as important as sexing up the offense. So Judon is my No. 1.
2. Jonnu Smith, TE
Why is Smith No. 2? Hybrid ability. He’s a good receiver and good blocker with the speed and elusiveness of an average wideout. Which, for a tight end, is outstanding. Give this a read to appreciate how good he’s been aside from catches-yards-TDs.
He’s just one of the best in the league at his position. He makes the team better in the running game, in the red zone on short yardage and is the kind of player who will make the quarterback better too.
3. David Andrews, C
A little aggressive, maybe. But I’m looking at worst-case landscape here. Joe Thuney left. And regardless how Michael Onwenu will perform at left guard (just fine, is my guess), the Patriots didn’t need to be going into 2021 with two frequently injured tackles, a new left guard and a center in Ted Karras who is just OK.
Andrews coming back gives stability and continuity to the Patriots strongest position group, puts Karras in the position to be the interior depth guy at center and guard -- which is great -- and generally keeps the Pats from having a strong spot go to a concern.
4. Hunter Henry, TE
“HunnahHenry!” Get used to it. If things go as they should, we’ll be hearing it a lot this year as a player who’s caught 68, 73, 72 and 65 percent of the passes thrown his way in his four active NFL seasons rides to Cam Newton’s scattershot rescue.
Between Henry and Smith, the Patriots have a 1-2 red-zone punch in the passing game. In 2020, they had … no red zone threat in the passing game. None. It still rankles if you think about it. But NEW DAY! NEW DAY!!
5. Henry Anderson, DT
The Patriots were sneaky horrendous against the run last year. How so? Try 26th in rushing yards per game allowed (131.4), 20th in YPC allowed (4.53), 27th in percentage of red zone touchdowns allowed (65.3 percent) and 29th in goal-to-go touchdowns allowed (83.3 percent).
Anderson is the best of the beefy guys added up front to help stop the nonsense. Some of it will be repaired by the return of Donta Hightower and the addition of Davon Godchaux. And getting Lawrence Guy back would be a delight.
But Anderson is our standard-bearer for the interior run defense/pocket collapser the team needed to bring in since Beau Allen didn’t work out.
6. Kyle Van Noy, OLB
I could very, very easily make the argument Van Noy will make the biggest impact of all the adds. He’s 29. He knows the defense better than Judon. He rushes very well, covers adequately, is a factor against the run, frees up Hightower to not be the nerve-center at the second level and he brings an attitude the Patriots kind of need as they get their mojo back.
If the Patriots creep, Van Noy and Dugger up in the box with Hightower and Judon on the edges, that will make an offensive line take notice on third down.
7. Nelson Agholor, WR
A lotta talk as this week’s unspooled that the Patriots overpaid for Nelson Agholor. So what are we contending, Bill doesn’t know the right way to go on a splurge? Is that it? I don’t caaaaaaaarrrreeee. Agholor is rare speed and the geometry of an offense relies on someone being able to threaten downfield. Especially when the quarterback isn’t a surgeon and able to do the things the previous quarterback did in the LOS to 10-yard range.
When Bill Belichick thinks back to the nine catches on 11 targets for 84 yards Agholor had in Super Bowl 52 and envisions a player like that being here with Josh McDaniels scheming, it’s got to take some of the sting out of paying a lot for Agholor.
8. Jalen Mills, DB
Versatile. A straight-up attempt at replacing Patrick Chung even though the oodles of subtle skills and attributes Chung brought are impossible to fully replace. Plays all over the secondary and is a smart and energetic player. Good add on and off the field.
9. Trent Brown, OT
We’ll see on how this works. The Patriots either brought back one of the NFL’s most physically dominant players at his position after a star-crossed two-year aberration with the Raiders. Or the 2018 season that got Brown paid more than any offensive lineman in NFL history at the time was the aberration.
Either way, with Thuney leaving, Onwenu needing to move to LG, Marcus Cannon not interested in returning and a hole at RT looming, it’s a smart move to get Brown in house.
10. Kendrick Bourne, WR
What I liked most in my Bourne deep dives was his power and run-after-catch ferocity. Anyone who nearly threw up their hot dog watching N’Keal Harry get trucked by a Dolphins DB last year will welcome the sight of Bourne bringing the fight to defenders.
He’s not real fast. At least as far as wideouts go. But he’s sure-handed and tough. Kind of a little like Jakobi Meyers in terms of build but a little tougher style. I like the size of the wideouts and tight ends the Patriots have brought in to flag down Cam’s offerings if it comes to that.
OL Ted Karras
DE Deatrich Wise
Phil Perry's top free-agent signings
1. Jonnu Smith, TE
The Patriots needed tight end help desperately. They were also desperate to get more explosive offensively. Smith provides on both fronts. He can align anywhere, handle just about any tight end role, and he has the ability to turn a five-yard throw into a 40-yard gain. Home run.
2. Hunter Henry, TE
Want to talk desperate? How about New England's passing offense on third down and in the red zone? Henry isn't on Smith's level athletically, but his sure hands and understanding of how to use his frame make him a vital add for the team's "situational football" performance. Impact imminent.
3. Matt Judon, EDGE
The Patriots have long been able to scheme up a pass-rush. While Judon's ability to get to the quarterback in one-on-one moments matters, his size and athleticism on the edge will make him a much-needed early-down defender. Plus, he's athletic enough to blitz up the gut and spy athletic quarterbacks. He's a do-it-all piece who will do it all in Bill Belichick's "D." Definition of impactful.
4. David Andrews, C
If the Patriots want to be a grind-it-out team offensively that thrives on running the football and playing mistake-free? This is a massive addition. If the Patriots want to eventually add a new and/or young quarterback (we'll get to that in a minute), bringing back Andrews is gargantuan.
5. Trent Brown, OT
Brown carries with him plenty of risk. He's missed 16 games the last two years. His level of motivation has been in question at various points in his career, including very recently in Las Vegas. When he's right, though, he can be dominant. Run game. Pass game. Whatever. It's just that risk factor that prevents him from being any higher here.
6. Kyle Van Noy, OLB
The Patriots were so soft on the edges of their defensive line at times, there were weeks in 2020 when they simply had no shot. No longer. Van Noy can do plenty. He can play on the line. He can play off. He can rush. He can cover. He can communicate and understand the intricate machinations of the team's pre-snap adjustments. And even though he's not as thick as Judon, he can play the run as well. Impactful return.
7. Nelson Agholor, WR
One would think any receiver brought aboard would sit high atop this list just based on what the Patriots had last season. Agholor (16 games in 2020) had 167 yards more than Jakobi Meyers (14 games) last year in a better offense with a very accurate quarterback. He brings speed to the table.
Cut from the same cloth?
Agholor's receiving yards per 16 games
Meyers' receiving yards per 16 games
But his fit in New England right now -- can Newton get him the ball deep consistently? -- and his productivity spike in a contract year are worthy of some concern.
8. Cam Newton, QB
This is a projection-based ranking. I'm projecting that there will be another quarterback on the roster who will be starting relatively early in the season. So in terms of impact? My expectation is Newton's will be low.
If Newton was the de facto starter and set to remain in that spot, he'd probably have to be No. 1 on this list by default based on the importance of the position. He'd be undoubtedly impactful. But whether his net impact would be positive or negative is up for debate.
9. Henry Anderson, DT
Run the ball. Stop the run. Cover kicks. That's what makes a tough football team, the Patriots like to say. To accomplish No. 2, they needed to get bigger in the middle of the defensive line. Anderson could end up being, based on his contract, the best dollar-for-dollar addition of the offseason.
10. Jalen Mills, DB
Hard to envision a clear path to the field for Mills. Stephon Gilmore and JC Jackson remain on the roster. Jonathan Jones is the slot corner. Devin McCourty, Adrian Phillips and Kyle Dugger seem to have things set at safety.
But the Patriots gave Mills $9 million guaranteed over two years. They're going to figure out a way to use him. The money alone is enough to slot him ahead of other free-agent signings like Deatrich Wise, Raekwon McMillan and Kendrick Bourne.
Nick Folk was a tough omission here. Call him No. 11, the first out.