Chris Board drew rare praise from Bill Belichick leading up to the Patriots 2022 matchup against the Lions, when Belichick called Board "the best special teams player we'll play against all year." So it was little surprise this offseason when the Patriots signed Board to a two-year deal in the first week of free agency.
Board is definitely a special teams stud and one who should help the Patriots bounce back after a 2022 season that saw them rank dead last in the league in the third phase according to Football Outsiders' DVOA metric, but he's also an underrated defensive contributor as a linebacker.
After breaking into the league with the Ravens as an undrafted rookie out of North Dakota State at the FCS level, Board appeared in all 16 games as a rookie in 2018 with the majority of his contributions coming as a core special teamer. However, by his final two seasons, Board was playing nearly a third of the defensive snaps, carving out a role on Baltimore's respected defense. He logged 72 tackles, 2.5 sacks and seven quarterbacks in 2020 and 2021 combined.
"My story, it was a little different," recalled Board. "I came into rookie minicamp and I didn't play because I had an injury. So I signed a little later in the summer, but when I came back for training camp, that's when I kind of just competed and ended up making the team."
After four consistent years with Baltimore during which time he missed just one game, Board signed a one-year deal with the Lions, but saw his role relegated to mostly a special teams one, playing just 14 percent of the defensive snaps.
When he hit free agency again this past spring, the Patriots unsurprisingly made Board a priority and that attention went a long way with the player, especially on the heels of Belichick's comments.
"There were a lot of teams that wouldn't mind having me but there was definitely emphasis and a priority to get me here, which I really appreciated," said Board of the courtship process this past March. "So that was kind of what went to the whole process of me deciding to come here and I appreciate just the respect that I've had out here and that I've had here so far."
Now in Foxborough, there's little doubt Board will be a key cog for the Pats special teams, a role he's embraced to maintain his spot in the league and one that Belichick clearly sees as a special fit for the player.
"He's a very hard guy to match up against," said Belichick when asked to further assess Board as a player last season. "The size matchup is a problem for the faster lighter guys. The speed matchup is a hard matchup for the bigger guys who don't run as well as he does. He has a great combination of size and speed as well as experience, instincts, and techniques. It's all of the above. There are really no weaknesses in the player. You've got to figure out how to deal with him. He's seen everything."
"[Special Teams] is very important, and I've definitely had to embrace it over the years," said Board. "That's really how I've made my money over the years and have continued to stay in the league. So it's definitely very important to me and just my game overall for sure. They always say the more you can do, the better. I've kind of just tried to have my hand in as many roles as I possibly can."
With spring OTAs underway, Board is already getting an early crash course in Patriots football where he hopes to make the kind of impact Belichick described him making last season.
"Again, it's still early, but I'm just really working as of right now and then it's just let the chips fall where they may. So just really getting into observing and seeing how everything works and just finding my role and figuring out where I fit in," said Board. "I really haven't had any expectations coming in. Just really coming in with an open mindset but what I've heard is just a lot of hard work and a lot of continued success, which I definitely want to be part of for sure."