How New England Patriots Pro Bowler Matthew Judon Turned Disappointment into a Golden Opportunity in the NFL: ‘Never Felt Like An Underdog’

The New England Patriots struck gold in the 2021 offseason, making one of the best free-agent acquisitions of any team. Matthew Judon spent the first five seasons of his NFL career with the Baltimore Ravens. Baltimore decided to let him walk, and Bill Belichick just couldn’t pass up the opportunity.

While Judon is one of the best at what he does, his path to the league wasn’t the easiest. However, he made the most of his opportunities.

Matthew Judon didn’t receive much interest from college football programs

Patriots outside linebacker Matthew Judon looks on after a game
Matthew Judon of the New England Patriots leaves field after loss to the Indianapolis Colts | Justin Casterline/Getty Images

When you watch a player dominate on the defensive side of the ball like Matthew Judon, it’s easy to assume he came from a notable college football program. That wasn’t the case for the New England Patriots outside linebacker.

Judon played his high school ball at West Bloomfield High School in Michigan. He wasn’t a highly-touted prospect, and 247 Sports didn’t even give him a rating.

No Power Five programs gave Judon a look. According to ESPN, the only Division I school that showed interest was the University of Buffalo. The program ultimately decided not to offer him a scholarship. The Patriots star ended up committing to play for Division II’s Grand Valley State.

Judon finished his college career with 204 tackles, 51.5 tackles for loss, and 34 sacks. He holds the Division II record for sacks in a single season (21).

Since he played at a small school, the Michigan native didn’t come out of college with a lot of hype. He didn’t play against elite competition like some of the other edge-rushers in his draft class. As a result, teams seemed to have Judon graded lower than he deserved.

Being overlooked just made Matthew Judon work that much harder.

The Patriots Pro Bowler has become one of the NFL’s best edge-rushers

After waiting patiently, Matthew Judon finally heard his name called when the Baltimore Ravens selected him in the fifth round of the 2016 NFL Draft.

The Grand Valley State product opened up on how being overlooked fueled him as he transitioned to the next level.

“I believed, I actually just believed,” said Judon. “I just made sure I put in the work each and every day, and God took me to where I was meant to be. Just continued to work my butt off and never felt like I was an underdog but just always worked. Tried to work the hardest and outwork everybody that I see.”

Hard work has paid off so far for the 3-time Pro Bowler. Judon recorded 236 tackles, 54 tackles for loss, and 34.5 sacks in five seasons in Baltimore. He started to establish himself as a player that opposing offenses need to account for.

The outside linebacker’s contract was up after the 2020 season. The New England Patriots offered the 6-foot-3, 275-pound edge-rusher a four-year, $56 million contract. The Ravens had an opportunity to match the offer but declined.

New England gave Matthew Judon a clean slate, and the move has been mutually beneficial for both sides. The sixth-year veteran has enjoyed the best season of his NFL career.

Judon recorded 60 tackles and 12.5 sacks during the regular season. He’s tied for seventh in the league in sacks.

Judon will be key to New England’s success in the playoffs

The New England Patriots were once one of the hottest teams in the NFL. The hype train has somewhat died down, but all records go out the window in the playoffs.

Bill Belichick‘s squad is gearing up for a third matchup against the Buffalo Bills during Wild Card Weekend. The two teams split the season series, but no meeting will be more meaningful than the tiebreaker.

The matchup will feature the two best defenses in the league statistically. Freezing cold temperatures are on the radar for the wild-card tilt, which could bode well for another defensive struggle between the Pats and Bills.

Expect a highly-competitive game between the AFC East rivals. Opportunistic plays on defense could end up deciding the winner. That’s where Matthew Judon comes in.

The Pro Bowl outside linebacker excels at creating havoc in the backfield. Opposing offenses need to game plan to slow him down because he can beat most offensive linemen one-on-one. Even when he doesn’t get the sack, he makes life difficult for signal-callers. Judon registered 25 quarterback hits in the regular season.

The Patriots must get pressure on Josh Allen. Judon recorded one sack and two QB hits in the first meeting but was quiet the second time around. For New England to win, he must be dominant.

If Matthew Judon doesn’t impact the game, it could be an early exit for the Patriots.

All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference.

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