Has Matthew Judon Been the NFL’s Best Free Agent Signing of 2021?

Bill Belichick made it his mission to revamp the New England Patriots this past offseason. After posting his first losing season in twenty years, it makes sense as to why. He did not disappoint, spending a record $268 million in free agency and hitting on some big names.

The massive spending spree that Belichick went on this past offseason is perhaps the biggest reason why the Patriots are currently sitting at 9-4, first place in the AFC East. In the midst of the team’s seven game winning streak, New England looks like a legit Super Bowl contender.

Belichick was able to bring aboard some very talented and impactful players. Guys like TE Hunter Henry and WR Kendrick Bourne have made their presence known on the offense. S Jalen Mills and DT Davon Godcheaux were smaller names, but have made a significant impact on defense.

No addition however, has been larger nor more important than that of OLB Matthew Judon. He has been the key piece to a revamped defense, bringing pressure that the team simply didn’t have a year ago.

On paper, his numbers pop out as impressive. Judon currently ranks 5th in the NFL with 12.5 sacks through 13 games. Last season, Chase Winovich led the Patriots with 5.5 sacks for the entire season. What a difference a year makes.

Judon also currently ranks 7th in the NFL in tackles for a loss (TFL) with on the season so far. What he excels in though particularly is pressuring the quarterback. He’s been one of the best all year when it comes to rushing the passer, with 55 quarterback pressures on the season. Even when he’s not registering a sack, he’s constantly making opposing QBs feel uncomfortable.

I could go on for a while posting Judon clips. Admittedly, the man with the red sleeves is a lot of fun to watch. He’s brought an energy this defense has clearly been lacking in past years. New England hasn’t had a pass rusher like this since Chandler Jones in 2015. It’s a breath of fresh air for sure for Patriots fans. He’s instantly become a fan favorite.

What I love most about him is that he’s just so clutch. Whenever there’s a big 3rd down, or a play you absolutely need a stop, you have faith he’s going to make that play. There are numbers to back this up to.

The man is just a menace on the field and he fits in so perfectly in Foxborough. He’s not just the Patriots’ best signing though, I believe he’s the best free agent signing across the entire league in 2021.

Really sit back and think about who got signed back in March that has had the kind of impact Judon has? The Patriots as a TEAM last season registered a total of 24 sacks. Judon already has more than half that on his own with four weeks still to go.

Last season New England had a 4.63% sack rate, ranked 25th in the NFL. They currently rank 9th in the NFL with a 6.93% sack rate. I would say a big chunk of that difference comes from Judon alone.

In 2020, New England ranked 26th in sacks per game with 1.5. Fast forward to 2021, and they currently rank 10th with 2.5. That one sack per game difference is literally Judon, who is averaging about a sack per game this season.

His presence has completely changed the nature of this defense, as they are now able to bring serious pressure and force teams to make even more mistakes. He’s a human wrecking ball, and I just don’t know what free agent has made a larger impact.

The only player that I would say comes close is Trey Hendrickson of the Cincinnati Bengals. He’s put up similar numbers to Judon this year, and has helped transform Cincinnati into a solid defensive team.

Outside of him though, no one is close. Yannick Ngakoue of the Raiders has been a great addition, but his numbers pale in comparison. Beyond that you have a lot of letdowns (looking at you Kenny Golladay and Shaquill Griffin), and a lot of guys who have been okay but nothing overly special.

Judon is now the face of the top scoring defense in the NFL. His addition marks the crown jewel of a free agency class that was meant to put New England back on top. It’s done just that, and a lot of that credit goes to Judon. As great as Hendrickson has been, I have to give the title of best free agent signing to Matthew Judon. That man in the red sleeves is just built different.

*Also, if you’re a big time fan of Matthew Judon just like I am, check out our Judon Red Sleeves Premium Hoodie. It’s a must have item for every Pats fan this holiday season!

Photo: (Jim Davis/Boston Globe Staff)

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