Players on the Roster:
Ron Brace (DE)
Landon Cohen (DL)
Brandon Deaderick (DE)
Marlon Favorite (NT)
Kyle Love (DL)
Myron Pryor (DL)
Darryl Richard (DL)
Ty Warren (DE)
Kade Weston (DL)
Vince Wilfork (DL)
Mike Wright (DL)
Gerard Warren (DE)
The Patriots appeared stacked on the defensive line at first look. However, most realized that the Patriots' depth was almost nonexistent as the unit limped into the post-season. Players like Ty Warren, Wright, Weston, Richard, Pryor, and Brace were all unavailable for the playoffs, while Favorite was signed during the playoffs. That means that only Gerard Warren, Wilfork, Love, Deaderick and Cohen were available- and Wilfork was the only player with over a season with the Patriots. Basically, this unit was ravaged with injuries.
I believe that this unit could be solid and I wouldn't be surprised if the Patriots didn't draft a defensive end. I would highly advise the Patriots to draft a top notch DE, but I wouldn't be shocked if they completely ignored the position and, in a DE heavy draft, opted to select the top prospects who dropped as a result of a DE run in the late first round. If the Patriots resign Gerard Warren, the line-up of Warren, Warren, Wilfork, Brace, Love and Wright would be a solid rotation and players like Deaderick, Pryor and Cohen could fight for additional spots on the roster. There are a bunch of solid players on the roster- any of the first 6 players I listed could start- but Wilfork remains the only elite player on the defensive line. The Patriots could use an elite player on their line, but will they use an average defensive line in order to draft an elite linebacker core? Possibly- that's what the Steelers have thrived on for the past decade.
I hope the Patriots take an elite defensive end. I won't be surprised if they do not.
Here's a quick summary of each player:
Ron Brace (DE) - Brace emerged as a solid starter in the wake of Ty Warren's off-season injury. He entered the season out of shape, but quickly earned a starting spot. I believe he could become a solid defensive end in the NFL and he will push Ty Warren for a starting spot next season. Brace is a space eater who can stop the run and draw the double teams, but he lacks the penetrating ability to reach the quarterback. He'll never be a threat to reach the quarterback, but he makes a solid LDE.
Landon Cohen (DL) - Cohen signed on the squad when the season was drawing to a close; an indicator of how injured the squad was in the final stretch. He played well as a stop-gap player, but I wouldn't expect him to return next season. He provides solid depth and will remain on Belichick's list of "contact players" and could even fight for a roster bubble spot, but I don't see him making the roster with all players healthy.
Brandon Deaderick (DE) - Is Deaderick in the dog house? He was suspended at the end of the season, supposedly for slacking off in meetings. He'll start the season on the bubble, but he provides solid depth at RDE. He can play defensive end and can penetrate the blocking, but he needs to show he's committed to the Patriot Way. He had a solid and helpful rookie season.
Marlon Favorite (NT) - Favorite was signed to the practice squad right in January. He'll be a camp body.
Kyle Love (DL) - Love emerged as a solid rotational player as an UDFA rookie this season. He was a "better" version and surprise in comparison to last season's Pryor. Love is solid depth at defensive tackle and nose tackle and should make the roster next season. He developed as the season wore on and earned his locker space.
Myron Pryor (DL) - Pryor spent most of the season injured and, to be honest, I don't think he was missed. I believe that Love has replaced Pryor on the roster, so I wouldn't be surprised if Pryor was let go during training camp cuts.
Darryl Richard (DL) - After spending his rookie season on the practice squad, Richard spent his sophomore season on the IR with a foot injury. Didn't see the field. Most likely a goner.
Gerard Warren (DE) - Warren spent most of the season playing "Wilfork light". Well, as "light" as a defensive lineman can be. He lined up at all defensive lineman positions, from end, to nose, to tackle- and he played pretty well at each spot. If Warren can be brought back for a reasonable price, I can see him getting a roster spot for depth. Warren was one of the most consistent players throughout the season.
Ty Warren (DE) - Other Warren has been injured in each of the past three seasons and spent the most recent on the injured reserve with a hip injury. He needs to come back playing strong or else a younger player might take his position in the starting line-up and make Warren expendable. I expect Warren to come back strong and to be a contributor.
Kade Weston (DL) - Weston spent his rookie season on the injured reserve with an "abdomen injury". I wouldn't be surprised if he was asked to put some weight on his frame. Weston did not see the field and I would not be surprised if he was cut during training camp.
Vince Wilfork (DL) - Wilfork was Wilfork. He did everything that was asked of him and he did it at an elite level. Teams ran away from him, but he definitely missed having top talent around him on the defensive line. Next year, if the Patriots bolster the defensive line with more talent and/or health, Wilfork should have an even better season.
Mike Wright (DL) - Wright was the Patriots' leading sack artist, despite only playing 10 games. Wright has always struggled against the run, but he's built for the Patriots' sub defense, which was 60% of all of defensive snaps, as a pass-rushing defensive tackle. He should be back for another solid season, where he won't be asked to play out of position.
As I said before, I wouldn't be surprised if the Patriots ignored the defensive line in the draft. I still hope that the Patriots utilize one of their top picks on an elite defensive end who can be a part for the defensive line for the next decade. The Patriots need another elite lineman next to Wilfork if they wish to generate more pressure on the quarterback. They have no space for an interior defensive lineman with Love, Wright, Wilfork, and Pryor returning, but there is definite room for improvement at defensive end. A player like Cameron Jordan, Cameron Heyward, J.J. Watt, Muhammad Wilkerson, or Christian Ballard could be a strong player at defensive end. They will be taken in either the first or second round.
Best Case 2011 Defensive Line Roster:
RDE: Draft Pick - Gerard Warren
NT: Vince Wilfork - Kyle Love
DT: Mike Wright - Myron Pryor
LDE: Ty Warren - Ron Brace
Practice Squad/Camp Bodies: Landon Cohen, Brandon Deaderick, Marlon Favorite, Darryl Richard, Kade Weston