Prior to 2019, the Patriots have had legendary defensive backs such as Ty Law and Rodney Harrison and Hall of Fame linebackers like Tedy Bruschi and Andre Tippett, yet none of them have ever won Defensive Player of the Year.
In fact, Stephon Gilmore is the first Patriot to ever receive the honor in the history of the franchise.
Gilmore, who’s 29 years old, began his playing career in Buffalo, where he was selected in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft. He played for the Bills for five years and experienced a revolving door of coaches and defensive coordinators.
In that five-year span, Gilmore had three different head coaches and four different defensive coordinators. Though he was an excellent cover cornerback while he was in Buffalo, he made the transition from great to elite while in New England.
— El Capitãn (@DomGonzo12) May 1, 2020
Gilmore credited his successful career to the Patriots’ organization on the Double Coverage Podcast with the McCourtey twins.
“Me in Buffalo, the first five years, I had four different defensive coordinators, three different head coaches, so I was kind of trying to learn each and every year,” Gilmore said. “Once I got to New England, I got some consistency and the same guys around, same coaches. I feel like that is why my game took off more.”
Gilmore signed a five-year, $65 million contract with the Patriots in 2017. However, he appeared to be a bust in his first year in New England, finishing with 50 combined tackles. In 13 games he recorded just nine pass deflections and two interceptions.
He began to settle down in his second year with the Patriots, starting all 16 games as the No. 1 cornerback. Gilmore finished the season with 45 combined tackles, including the first sack of his career. He totaled a career-high 20 pass deflections to go along with two interceptions and two forced fumbles. That earned him his second Pro Bowl appearance and his First Team All-Pro debut.
To cap off the season, Gilmore intercepted a fourth-quarter pass from Rams quarterback Jared Goff in Super Bowl LIII to seal the deal for the Patriots’ sixth Super Bowl title.
Stephon Gilmore was worth every penny
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) February 4, 2019
Last season, however, was the best of his eight-year career. Gilmore started all 16 games again and helped the Patriots’ defense become number one in the NFL. Gilmore led the NFL in pass deflections by tying his career high with 20 and had a league-leading six interceptions, two of which he returned for touchdowns.
Still, some critics question whether Gilmore can follow up his career year and become the first defensive back to win the DPOY award in back-to-back years.
The NFL officially released teams’ regular season schedules for the 2020-2021 season last Thursday. The Patriots’ schedule is the toughest in the NFL based on opponents’ average winning percentage from last season.
Gilmore will face talented receivers like D.K. Metcalf, Sammy Watkins, Courtland Sutton, and DeAndre Hopkins, as well as the Bills’ newly acquired Stefon Diggs twice.
Your 2019 DPOY – Stephon Gilmore pic.twitter.com/3HAFTVcgQr
— 𝙍𝙞𝙡𝙚𝙮 ☘️ (@CullerSports) January 7, 2020
Last season, Gilmore held opposing quarterbacks to a league-low 44.1 passer rating. He faced the likes of DeAndre Hopkins, Sammy Watkins, Odell Beckham Jr., John Brown, and Amari Cooper.
Gilmore has never allowed a touchdown to DeAndre Hopkins. Last season, Hopkins was able to catch four of his seven targets for a total of 47 yards against Gilmore. Watkins also faced off against the All-Pro cornerback last year, and Gilmore limited him to four catches on eight targets for 50 yards.
When Gilmore prepares to face some of the premier wide receivers in the NFL, he becomes more focused. On the podcast, Gilmore explained, “It is tough every week going against the best guy…. [You can’t] have one play that you slack off…When you’re covering the best guy the ball can come to you every single play, so that is the thing that drives me each and every week.”
Though Gilmore will face many high-level receivers throughout the upcoming season, it won’t be new to the top cornerback in the NFL. If he can play with the same intensity as last season and continue to grow, there’s no reason why Gilmore can’t repeat as the DPOY.