The reigning Super Bowl Champs are finally caught up to everyone else in the 17-18 season. The patriots aren’t known for acquiring big name free agents, and if they do, it’s for the ring and not the money. Although they have many stars including Dont’a Hightower, Rob Gronkowski, and of course Mr. Brady, there are many underrated players that contributed much more to their Super Bowl run than most would expect. Let’s take a look.
5. Kyle Van Noy
Kyle Van Noy, the midseason underrated trade. Kyle was brought in for a swap of 2017 draft picks. The Lions acquired the Patriots’ 6th round pick, and in return the Patriots got the Lions’ 7th round pick. Van Noy bolstered the Patriots’ thin depth of quality linebackers. They had Hightower, a star, combined with a rookie and a mediocre linebacker in Shea McClellin. Van Noy was a second round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, it’s also interesting to know that the Patriots had an interest in him before he was drafted. Detroit was unable to utilize Kyle to his strengths, which led to the trade and foreshadowed the eventual trade of the drifting Jamie Collins. Van Noy was able to be the play caller when Hightower was injured, also being able to contribute in key plays. He brought a steady pressure on opposing quarterbacks, being used as a pass rusher at times. He also was an above average pass coverage linebacker, while making an impressive interception against rookie Jared Goff. In the end, Van Noy helped stabilize the Patriots’ linebacker corps and contributed in many ways. Belichick got his guy.
4. Eric Rowe
Eric Rowe, the Utah product was brought to the Patriots in an offseason trade with the Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles would then receive a conditional 2018 fourth round draft pick. Rowe, a 6’1″ cornerback was a 2015 second round draft pick that the Patriots also were interested in, just like Van Noy. Even though Rowe did have a few iffy moments this season, he bolstered the quality cornerback depth chart behind All Pro Malcom Butler and the struggling Cyrus Jones. He brought length and speed, being able to match up with the leagues bigger and stronger receivers. Most people will remember Rowe for being the man allowing Julio Jones to make an outstanding toe catch in the Super Bowl, but in reality Jones just made an outstanding catch as his coverage was very good. The eye opening play was Rowe’s coverage of AJ Green in Tom Brady’s return to Gillette Stadium. The Bengals were attempting a potential comeback, but Rowe literally swatted those intentions down. In the end, Rowe brought a sometimes inconsistent force to the cornerbacks group, but when the game needed him the most, he brought it.
3/2. Dynamic Duo Defensive Line
Alan Branch’s big bodied presence is a roadblock for all running backs. He finished second place in run percentage for all defensive tackles according to Pro Football Focus. Malcolm Brown’s second year jump was not as big as expected, but he still had a big presence while ranking third overall in run percentage. The combination of Branch and Brown allowed the patriots defense to seal the Texans, Steelers and Falcon’s running attack. Although Freeman had a few breakthroughs, they were coming from the outside and not the inside where backs dare to enter with the dynamic duo of the two best run defensive tackles waiting for them. Commanding a low salary, Branch was a great pickup for the Patriots this offseason, keeping their stout run defensive line in tact (3rd ranked in the 2016 season). A bonus with Branch is his sideline dancing. If you ever go to a Patriots game, I highly suggest watching him walk off the field after a third down. You won’t regret it. Here’s a sneak peek.
1. Trey Flowers
My number one pick is Trey Flowers. Everyone knows his name by now mainly because his performance in the Super Bowl. Flowers came out of Arkansas as a fourth round pick in the 2015 draft. His first year was cut short due to a trip to the injured reserve. But, in 2016 Flowers had a steady presence on the defensive line showing he was worth a roster spot and that’s what he earned. Trey’s season started off slow partially because he didn’t notch his first sack until December 30th versus the Buffalo Bills. He actually had two sacks that game. He then notched back to back games with two sacks, jumpstarting his relevance in the Patriots defense. Trey had four two plus sack games this season, the biggest one in the Super Bowl. He had 2.5 sacks on Matt Ryan, one on a crucial play in the 4th quarter pushing the Falcons back out of field goal range. His constant pressure in that game ultimately led to the Patriots historic comeback and Tom Brady’s fist full of rings. He ended as the Patriots’ leading pass rusher in sacks in his first full professional season. Flowers sure is not underrated anymore, but he will rise to the task as he is aware teams will now scheme for him. Trey Flowers, number 98 of the New England Patriots, is my number one underrated player. Be ready for more head shakes in the upcoming season as everyone should be excited for the up and coming strategically and fundamentally sound defensive end.