NFL Notebook: Have the Patriots lost too much on defense?

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Recently spent some quality time talking with Matt Manocherian and Aaron Schatz on their Off The Charts Podcast and they, specifically my guy Aaron from, brought up an interesting point about the 2020 Patriots that I really hadn't considered from 1,000 yards and it's a valid point of discussion:

From Schatz: "This is a little preview for the Alamanc — we're probably going to lower on the Patriots than anybody else. And the big reason why is the expected defensive regression. And the big reason for that, other than defenses just generally regress, is the Patriots were an average defense before last year when they were the best defense in the league. The first reason is they depended a lot on turnovers. The second is we have this stat that is "approximate value over replacement" of the players lost. The Patriots will have the most player talent lost on defense of any defense over the last 16, 17 years that we've built our projection system on. Now, that's not a guarantee ... but this team has lost a ton of veteran guys. How are they going to replace them?"

Here's the entire podcast (where we talk about what to expect from Jarrett Stidham and how much did the Patriots really try to give Tom Brady weapons in his last couple years with New England?):

It's a good, overreaching point from Aaron that we haven't really talked about in totality. We've talked about some of their free agents and how they fit, and we knew that guys like Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins were going out the door and weren't coming back given the Patriots' cap situation.

But how are the Patriots going to make up for those players?

Really the answers are both on a macro and micro level.

Let's start with what they've lost...

Jamie Collins, LB (14 AV - Approximate Value): Collins' AV was the highest among the departed players and was the highest of his career, which just goes to show that this number we're basing all this on is fairly flawed. Was Collins great last year for about the first half of the season? Yes. Does anyone remember him doing anything down the stretch in the second half? No. That's been Collins' entire career in a nutshell. Even according to PFF, Collins had four grades of elite (90 or above) in the first six games … and then had one over 70 in the final 11 games. I ended up giving Collins a C-minus grade for the season, which indicates average and declining.

Kyle Van Noy (13 AV): What I said after the season — Was arguably, on a down-to-down basis, the team’s MVP this season. Van Noy led the team in every pass-rushing stat (sacks, hits, hurries and total QB pressures) and was also the best edge player against the run, even with missing the first game for the birth of his first child. Far from the most physically gifted player, Van Noy used his smarts and leverage to win on the edge. One mild concern, and it could affect his free agency: Van Noy had 29 of his pressures in a nine-game stretch (3.2 average) after Week 1. He had 12 in the final seven games (1.7). In many ways, you could say that was emblematic of the defense as a whole and, perhaps, that unit went how Van Noy went. Grade: A-minus.

Danny Shelton (12 AV): After being a disappointment and not getting the scheme for much of 2018, Shelton found no takers on the free-agent market and had to return to the Patriots. That was a very good thing for them because Shelton built off his close of ’18 and had a very strong 2019 as the team’s only nose tackle. Finished second with 14.5 run stuffs and his 6.1 pressure percentage was solid. His durability was also huge for a team that went skinny on the defensive line. Might find more of a market this year, but the Patriots should want him back. Grade: C-plus.

Duron Harmon (5 AV): He usually plays deep safety and doesn’t miss many tackles, and he does fine at that. It’s just you’d figure they could find someone younger to do it for less money. Good leader in the locker room, and that definitely counts. Grade: C.

Elandon Roberts (4 AV): With no injuries to speak of on defense, Roberts was an extra part to the point he was used as a fullback. No shame in that. The team only played two linebackers most of the time, and Bentley got a little more run because of his upside. Grade: D-plus.

So that's what the Patriots lost. How are they replacing them?