National Football League
Why Patriots LB Matthew Judon is one of Bill Belichick’s best-ever signings
National Football League

Why Patriots LB Matthew Judon is one of Bill Belichick’s best-ever signings

Updated Nov. 30, 2022 8:47 p.m. ET

When Bill Belichick completed his massive 2021 free agency class, the chatter was about how the offensive skill players would fit. But with hindsight, there's one deal that stands out more than the rest as an indisputable win. 

It was the New England Patriots' most expensive deal: a four-year, $54-million contract with outside linebacker Matthew Judon.

The move felt like Belichick was pushing in his last stack of chips to go all-in on that free agency class. And you can argue that his defensive signings (which also included cornerback Jalen Mills and defensive tackle Davon Godchaux) were the only successful ones, given how inconsistent tight ends Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith and receivers Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne have been. But there's no doubt that the addition of Judon has been invaluable.

There were questions about upside. In his five years with the Ravens, Judon wasn't really known as a sack artist, but rather as an every-down edge defender. He was an elite run defender, which wasn't the flashiest skill for a position at which the top players rack up as many as 22.5 sacks, like Steelers edge T.J. Watt did last season. Judon was seventh in the NFL with 12.5 sacks last year, his career high at the time.


This year, he's setting the pace for the league. He has an NFL-high 13 sacks, already a career-high for Judon. And we're just 11 games into the season. He has six more games to build his personal record and is on pace for 20 sacks. 

Ask Belichick about Judon's sacks and the coach doesn't have much to say.

"The sacks are the sacks," the Patriots coach said on Nov. 6 after Judon posted three in a Week 9 blowout of the Colts.

Ho hum.

But it's Judon's run defense that gets Belichick's blood pumping. Through Week 12, Judon is posting the second-best run defense grade of his career (67), per Pro Football Focus.

"Jude's an instinctive player. He does a good job of getting vision on the ball and also taking the right angle or making the right decision based on where the blocker is, where the ball is, how fast the runner's going, or what angle he's at and so forth," Belichick said. "Those are football skills that are hard to coach because they happen so fast. It's just a decision that the player has to make on the field in a split second." 

Sacks? Check.

Run defense? Check.

Leadership? Also check.

Patriots captain and longstanding veteran Devin McCourty can attest to that. Judon has been as much of a cultural fit in New England as he has been a schematic fit. McCourty has been a leader in the locker room for more than a decade. That's what makes the following comment about Judon so special.

"The way he's rolling, I think we are all just trying to follow his lead," McCourty said last week.

The addition of Judon has been reminiscent of when the Patriots signed cornerback Stephon Gilmore before the 2017 season. Just like Gilmore ascended into his status as one of the best players at his position, Judon has earned equal levels of recognition. The Patriots have built the defense around Judon's abilities.

"Matt's got a lot of good energy, loves football, plays hard," Belichick said. "Came in obviously as a very experienced player, like all the UFAs do, with at least four years in the system. Good system in Baltimore. Like I said, he has good energy, anxious to learn, gave us a lot of productive plays, able to work well with his teammates."

Judon has had a clear impact across the New England defense. Not only is he helping others achieve career-best seasons, but he's at the center of one of the NFL's best units. Defensive end Deatrich Wise, for example, has 6.5 sacks, a career-high, with two forced fumbles and three pass breakups. He has been an absolute revelation, with an entirely unexpected year-six breakout — and it's hard not to link his success with what Judon has done for New England over the past two years.

The Patriots defense as a whole ranks second in sacks (37). New England is No. 2 in DVOA, per Football Outsiders. And in terms of counting stats, the Patriots are allowing 18.4 points per game (sixth in the NFL) along with 307.8 yards per game (fourth).

There's a reason why New England's defense is elite. It's not all about Judon. But it has a lot to do with him. 

There's a reason why the Patriots defense has excelled without a true No. 1 cornerback. It's not all about Judon. But it has a lot to do with him. 

Free agency is a dangerous game to play. But Judon is likely to go down as one of the best signings of Belichick's career.

Top stories from FOX Sports:

Prior to joining FOX Sports as the AFC East reporter, Henry McKenna spent seven years covering the Patriots for USA TODAY Sports Media Group and Boston Globe Media. Follow him on Twitter at @McKennAnalysis.


Get more from National Football League Follow your favorites to get information about games, news and more