BOSTON (CBS) — The underwhelming quarterback play in 2020 grabbed much of the attention when it came to analyzing and criticizing the 7-9 Patriots season. While that assessment was of course fair, it did potentially overshadow some other weaknesses on the roster.

Arguably the largest of those leftover deficiencies could be found in the Patriots’ pass rush, or lack thereof. The team recorded just 24 sacks in 16 games, tied for sixth-fewest in the NFL. Chase Winovich led the team with 5.5 sacks, which had him tied for 48th-most in the league.

That number can be somewhat deceiving, as the Patriots did generate pressure on 26.4 percent of opponents’ dropbacks, which was fifth-best in the league. But their QB knockdown rate of 8.8 percent ranked in the bottom 10 of the league.

No matter which way you look at it, the Patriots need to improve in that area. Fortunately for them, some talented players are available in the free-agent market. Whether the Patriots shell out the dough for the premier players is anyone’s guess, but here are the top possibilities.

Shaquil Barrett
2020 Sacks: 8.0

Shaquil Barrett (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

Barrett figures to cash in with a massive payday after winning the Super Bowl. He’s 28 years old and entering the prime of his career, thus likely taking him out of the mix for the Patriots. Nevertheless, he may just set the market for the rest of the free-agent crop.

UPDATE: Cross Barrett off the list. He’s staying with Tampa.

Leonard Williams
2020 Sacks: 11.5

Leonard Williams (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Perhaps overlooked because of the Giants’ 6-10 season was the performance by Leonard Williams. The 26-year-old set a career high with 11.5 sacks, in his first full season with the G-Men. That was his first double-digit sack season, so it will be interesting to see whether teams think it was an aberration or if his ascent has begun.

Leonard Floyd
2020 Sacks: 10.5

Leonard Floyd (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)

You can mark Floyd down as another Leonard who hit double digits in sacks for the first time of his career at the exact right time, as he hit 10.5 in 2020. His previous single-season high came as a rookie in 2016, when he sacked the quarterback seven times.

Trey Hendrickson
2020 Sacks: 13.5

Trey Hendrickson (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

The 26-year-old Hendrickson had 6.5 total sacks in 30 career games from 2017-19. In 2020, he had 13.5 sacks, tied for second-most (with Aaron Donald) in the entire NFL. The 6-foot-4, 270-pound Hendrickson was a third-round pick by the Saints in 2017.

Bud Dupree
2020 Sacks: 8.0

Bud Dupree (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)

Dupree was having an excellent season last year before tearing his ACL. He recorded eight sacks in his 11 games, but his knee injury is certain to shape his market this offseason.

Matthew Judon
2020 Sacks: 6.0

Matthew Judon (Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images)

Coming off a 9.5 sack season in 2019, Judon was paid on the franchise tag last year with Baltimore, and he didn’t quite live up to the salary. He’ll still be a hot commodity in free agency, even if he’ll be making a bit less than he did a year ago.

Yannick Ngakoue
2020 Sacks: 8.0

Yannick Ngakoue (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

Since entering the league with  Jacksonville in 2016, Ngakoue has racked up 45.5 sacks while forcing 18 fumbles. He had a messy divorce with the Jaguars a year ago, eventually forcing a trade to Minnesota. He was then traded midseason to Baltimore, so he’s bounced around a bit recently. But he could very well be a long-term cornerstone for whichever team signs him.

Haason Reddick
2020 Sacks: 12.5

Haason Reddick (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

A common theme among this group, Reddick exploded in 2020 with 12.5 sacks. That came after he recorded 7.5 sacks in his first 48 games from 2017-19. Given his age (26) and that huge season, he’s in line to make some cash.

Justin Houston
2020 Sacks: 8.0

Justin Houston (Photo by Chris Unger/Getty Images)

The old man of the group at 32, Houston has seemingly been around forever. He’s also consistently gotten to the quarterback for a decade, as evidenced by his 97.5 career sacks.

Carl Lawson
2020 Sacks: 5.5

LANDOVER, MARYLAND – NOVEMBER 22: Carl Lawson #58 of the Cincinnati Bengals pulls down Alex Smith #11 of the Washington Football Team during the first half at FedExField on November 22, 2020 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)

A fourth-round pick in 2017, Lawson became a starter in 2020, registering 5.5 sacks, 36 tackles, 32 QB hits, and two forced fumbles.

Melvin Ingram
2020 Sacks: 0.0

Melvin Ingram (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

After making three straight Pro Bowls from 2017-19, Ingram played just seven games in 2020 and registered zero sacks. His knee injury plus that drop in production will hurt his value, but the 31-year-old could be a value signing for whoever acquires his services.

UPDATE: Judon is the guy. The Pats threw a lot of money his way, and he gladly accepted.

CBSBoston.com Staff