The Patriots need for a third defensive end isn't a secret and was rated the second greatest need in the upcoming draft. The Patriots were eerily quiet during the free agency period and left the roster in the same position as it was at the end of the season- or perhaps in a weaker spot with veteran Andre Carter still on the street.
As the team stands, there's Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones who are both dangerously playing over 95% of the snaps. There's sophomore Michael Buchanan who was benched for the to-be 35 year old Andre Carter. And there's the third-year Jake Bequette, with 43 snaps in his career (both Ninkovich and Jones posted over 50 snaps every single game last season).
The depth is questionable and there is some clear talent in the draft. UNC's Kareem Martin is a great fit, as is Missouri's Kony Ealy, Oregon State's Scott Crichton, Boise State's Demarcus Lawrence, and Standford's Trent Murphy. All of these players should be available between the first and second rounds and could plug and play as day one starters.
That's fair. But we can look at the current roster and propose some interesting line-ups.
Both Dont'a Hightower and Jamie Collins have experience rushing the passer as a defensive end and both have shown their ability when when delay blitzing up the middle. Chandler Jones had success rushing the passer when he kicked inside to defensive tackle, so there's an available spot on the line in these situations.
Factor in that both Hightower and Collins are flexible enough to both rush the passer and drop into coverage and it's enough to give opposing offenses fits. With one on the edge and one standing up next to Jerod Mayo, the Patriots could send either one and drop the other back into coverage- or they could send both.
And then there's the need for depth at linebacker. With the departure of Brandon Spikes and Dane Fletcher, the team is dangerously thin at the stand-up position. Moving Collins or Hightower on passing downs would allow the Patriots to pick up some of the more athletic linebackers in the draft, like Ryan Shazier, Kevin Pierre-Louis, or Howard Jones, to play as needed. The added versatility of Collins and Hightower could allow the Patriots to address their defensive front seven with simply the best players available.
If the Patriots choose to draft players on the defensive front seven with their first two picks, they have the ability to use their current players on the roster to mold themselves around the new additions. Picking a defensive end allows Hightower and Collins to stay at linebacker. Picking a linebacker allows them to slide up to defensive end. Grabbing a defensive tackle just bolsters their interior.
There's no question the Patriots need to address their depth at defensive end. But there's more than one way to fix the issue.