No one likes to be underestimated. On the other hand, that can be the fuel that pushes athletes to achieve greatness.
That’s the story of Matthew Judon. Division I college programs didn’t recruit him. Instead, he toiled at a Division II school in southwest Michigan. Despite that, he became an NFL prospect and was drafted in the fifth round of the NFL Draft. He’s on pace to become one of the elite linebackers in pro football.
That’s good news for Patriots fans. Massachusetts’ NFL franchise has the four-time Pro Bowler as an integral part of their defense. For Massachusetts sports betting, his performance will certainly influence the New England Patriots odds at Bay State sportsbooks.
He’s a name that fans will get to know quite well this year, so here are six facts about the linebacker.
1. High school coach had NFL connections
Judon played football at West Bloomfield High School in Michigan under head coach William Gholston.
Gholston’s football knowledge base was vast. Two of his sons, Vernon and William Jr., played in the NFL. Both were defensive ends defensive ends. Judon credits his high school coach as the first to have high expectations for his football career.
2. All-time sack leader for Lakers
When no Division I college programs offered him a scholarship, Judon narrowed his choices to two Division II schools in Michigan: Wayne State University in Detroit and Grand Valley State University, located just west of Grand Rapids. He picked GVSU because he fell in love with the campus and soon impressed the coaching staff for the Lakers.
“What kind of killed my confidence or my pride was when I had to go D-2,” Judon said in a profile for the Patriots website in 2021. “But when I got there, everyone was like, ‘You can play at that (NFL) level.'”
Judon recorded 35 sacks in 32 starts for GVSU during his four-year GVSU career. He was named Defensive Lineman of the Year in the Mid-American Conference his senior year. That led to his selection in the fifth round by the Baltimore Ravens in the 2016 NFL Draft.
3. Judon’s first NFL sack was a doozy
Judon recorded his first NFL sack in Week 6 of his 2016 rookie campaign. The result was a hit on Jets quarterback Geno Smith. The sack was so devastating that Smith tore his ACL and missed the remainder of the NFL season.
Judon added another sack later in the game against Smith’s backup.
4. First Pro Bowl led to franchise tag from Ravens
Judon’s collegiate career was spent on the defensive line. As a result, his first few seasons in the NFL were spent learning the linebacker position. He completed the transition in 2019 and started 16 games for the Ravens as a linebacker.
In 2019, Judon showed tenacity, forcing four fumbles, recording 9.5 sacks and 43 solo tackles. His 33 hits on an enemy QB led all Ravens linebackers, and he helped his team immensely with three strip sacks that season.
The hard work paid off, and the 27-year-old was named to his first NFL Pro Bowl. In the offseason, the Ravens slapped a franchise tag on Judon, indicating his importance to their team.
5. 4 Pro Bowls, 2 for Patriots
Coach Bill Belichick admitted that he had his eye on Judon while wearing the black and purple of the Ravens. When the outside linebacker became available as a free agent following the 2020 season, the Patriots’ future Hall of Fame coach and executive pounced.
In 2021, Judon signed a four-year deal with the Patriots worth $56 million. New England hasn’t regretted the decision.
Judon led the team in sacks in each of his first two seasons. Over those two years, Judon has twice as many QB hits as any other defender on the team.
6. Named #33 in top 100 rankings by his peers
Aretha Franklin famously sang about R-E-S-P-E-C-T. But respect is even more special when it comes from your colleagues and peers.
Following the 2022 season, Judon was ranked No. 33 on the NFL Top 100, a list compiled from player polling for an NFL Network special. Only four linebackers finished higher on the list than Judon: Micah Parsons of the Cowboys; Fred Warner of the 49ers; Roquan Smith of the Ravens; and T.J. Watt of the Steelers.
Thanks to his Pro Bowl seasons and stellar play in his first two seasons as a Patriot, the team renegotiated his contract this past offseason, making Judon one of the top-paid linebackers in the National Football League.