The Patriots have seen unprecedented success in the 2010's that includes five Super Bowl appearances and three championships to go with the most wins of the decade. But for the defense it hasn't been total dominance from 2010. In fact, the team won despite their defense early in the decade and it wasn't until the defense was rebuilt that they were able to cash in on three more titles.
The candidates for the best defensive player of the decade are clear but who's the best is not. Devin McCourty's arrival in 2010 and position change to safety helped secure a secondary that was torched deep early and often until 2013. Dont'a Hightower was drafted in 2012 and contributed some of the biggest defensive plays in Super Bowl history.
Patrick Chung had a hiatus year in Philadelphia but returned to New England and became one of the most versatile safeties in the NFL and perhaps the most valuable piece of the defense. Rob Ninkovich emerged from the ashes of the defensive rebuild to become one of the steadiest and most reliable players ever to play for New England.
Then there's Stephon Gilmore, the rare high-priced free agent that lived up to the contract and became the best cornerback in the NFL, while also making some key playoff plays that helped delivered championships. All were great players, who played well over an extended time frame and helped deliver championships.
This week's Samsonite Make Your Case question is…
Who is the Patriots Defensive Player of the Decade?
Paul Perillo says…
This is a difficult task to be sure but I chose McCourty for a couple of reasons. First, he played the entire decade. Second, he did so at an extremely high and consistent level.
From the moment McCourty was drafted in the first round in 2010 he proved to be the consummate pro. He immediately entered the starting lineup at cornerback and played so well that he earned a trip to the Pro Bowl as a rookie. Shortly thereafter he was moved to safety, and rather than pout about it he simply excelled in his new role, earning three more trips to the Pro Bowl at his new spot.
McCourty missed just five games over the entire decade and racked up 26 interceptions during that time. He's consistently been among the team leaders in tackles and always seems to be in the right place along the back end of the defense.
But as solid as his play has been, he may be even more impressive off the field. He's been a captain and leader on defense for virtually his entire career, and when time are tough it's generally McCourty holding things together among the ranks.
People like to poke fun at Bill Belichick's penchant for picking players from Rutgers, but his decision to take McCourty was one of the best of his storied coaching career.
Mike Dussault says…
Hightower had a scoop-and-score in his first game and the Patriots have been welcoming the first-round picks impact ever since. In all three of the Patriots recent Super Bowl wins Hightower made monstrous, game-saving plays.
In Super Bowl 49, he made an incredible goal line tackle of Marshawn Lynch, stopping him from the end zone and setting up Malcolm Butler's interception on the very next play. In Super Bowl 51, it was Hightower's sack and forced fumble of Matt Ryan that set up the score that would get the Patriots within eight points of the Falcons. Then, in Super Bowl 53, Hightower had a critical sack of Jared Goff in the third quarter in the red zone that held the Rams to three points in a game where every point was huge.
Hightower's absence from Super Bowl 52 was conspicuous and while he doesn't have a pile of gaudy regular season stats, it's hard to imagine the Patriots winning the last three Super Bowls without him. Big time players make big time plays in big time moments and that sums up just what Dont'a Hightower is and he's well deserving of the Patriots Defensive Player of the Decade.