Why an ESPN stat model projects Matthew Judon to finish with much fewer sacks in 2023

Patriots

Judon had a career-high 15.5 sacks last season.

Matthew Judon is hoping to replicate the career-year he had in 2022. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

The Patriots had the NFL’s leading sack duo in 2022, but an analytical model is projecting that their top two pass rushers will take a step back in 2023.

ESPN Analytics’ Seth Walder’s model for predicting sack totals projects Matthew Judon to have nine sacks in 2023, a drop from the 15.5 sacks he recorded last year. In addition, the model projects that Josh Uche will have 6.7 sacks in the upcoming season, which is roughly five fewer than what he had in 2022 (11.5).

Walder’s model takes several things into account, such as sack total and rate in the prior two seasons plus pass rush win rate, team blitz rate, and even the player’s team’s win total, among other things. Judon doesn’t fare too well in many of those factors.

“The 15.5 sacks were three more than he has had in any other season,” Walder began as he listed his reasons to bet against Judon reaching the over on his sack total, which is set at 11.75 on DraftKings Sportsbook. “He just turned 31. His 13% pass rush win rate at edge was below average. The Patriots blitzed at a below-average 21% rate last season. Opposing quarterbacks on the Patriots’ schedule take sacks at a low rate.”

Walder didn’t detail why Uche’s projected sack total for 2023 is nearly half of what he had in 2022 as he only wrote descriptions for those projected to finish in the top 10 plus a few more. Judon was projected to have the 11th-most sacks in 2023 by Walder’s model.

The model seems to be a bit conservative in its projections. For instance, it projects Browns star Myles Garrett to lead the league in sacks with 13.2, which would be the fewest for a single-season sack leader since 1982.

But Walder claimed that his model has been more accurate than sportsbooks’ preseason sack projections for certain players, writing that his model has a “mean absolute error of 4.2, versus 4.6 for the betting lines” in his first two years of using his model.

However, the model was off the mark on Judon last year, projecting the Patriots’ star edge rusher to finish with roughly seven sacks. Judon has also arguably played his best football in his professional career with the Patriots, recording a then-career-high 12.5 sacks in his first season with the team in 2021. While he just turned 31, Judon is also only entering his eighth season in the league as many other players his age are entering their 10th or 11th seasons.

Of course, there are also valid reasons to think that Judon and Uche can’t replicate what they did in 2022. Judon only had 2.5 sacks in the final seven games of last season as he failed to record a sack in both games against the Bills. That could spell trouble for him in 2023 as the Patriots’ schedule is littered with many of the league’s best quarterbacks.

As for Uche, all of his sacks last season came in an eight-game stretch. He dominated the Colts and Cardinals’ poor passing attacks, recording three sacks in each game. He did record a few sacks though in games against better quarterbacks, posting two sacks against the Bills and recording a sack against the Vikings and Bengals.

The 2023 season is certainly a big one for both Judon and Uche. Judon recently earned a pay bump, earning $12 million more in guaranteed money for the 2023 season as he enters the penultimate year of his contract. Uche is entering the final season of his rookie deal.


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