The New England Patriots traded away veteran 4th string tight end Michael Hoomanawanui to the New Orleans Saints in exchange for 6'5, 325 lbs defensive lineman Akiem Hicks.
Hicks was a rising star in New Orleans before the entire franchise imploded. The front office completely mismanaged the salary cap and a once-annual Super Bowl contender should now enter rebuilding mode.
For his part, Hicks never developed as the coaching staff desired and constant injuries hampered his growth. Hicks finished the 2014 season on the injured reserve and was sidelined during joint practices against the Patriots in the 2015 preseason due to a minor injury.
After watching Hicks in 2014 and in 2015, it's clear why the Saints wanted to move on. They had undrafted rookie Bobby Richardson stealing away snaps and the 2015 version of Hicks wasn't much different from the 2014 version. For a player touted over the offseason as a breakout star, seeing more of the same, clearly flawed, performance on the field would certainly be a let down.
Hicks is not a pass rusher. He has one move that he's good at (the bull rush) and everything else is just a liability.
Hicks probably not in the best position... pic.twitter.com/qaPeVTng5l— Rich Hill (@PP_Rich_Hill) October 1, 2015
The Saints utilized Hicks all over the formation, from nose tackle to defensive end and everything in between, and it's clear that he's better on the interior. When he's on the edge, Hicks can move in a straight line up the field, and that's about it. That sort of skill isn't helpful in this NFL where every quarterback can scramble.
He is also extremely raw in his technique.
Hicks gets so high/forward in his stance, tackle has no problem pulling his momentum away from the gap. pic.twitter.com/muX5fIiUlD— Rich Hill (@PP_Rich_Hill) October 1, 2015
This was a play from 2014 and he hasn't gotten much better. He rises too quickly in his stance because his functional strength allows him to compensate and control offensive linemen. But when he plays against good linemen that get to square up against him, he can be turned and his impressive range as a defender shrinks.
So why would the Patriots make this trade? Watching his game shows how Hicks wins on an every snap basis and while the skill set doesn't align with what the Saints do with their defense, it's the perfect fit for New England.
While Hicks offers little in the pass rush, the Patriots don't really use their defensive tackles in that fashion, especially with Dominique Easley and the roster of pass rushers on the roster. Hicks shows a great ability to get his hands in the air to either deter passes or attempt to bat them down. He finds a way to stay on his feet when opposing offensive linemen cut block for the quick pass. All little things that the coaches appreciate.
Hicks will mostly be contributing to the Patriots against the run. He is a good run defender and could quickly challenge Sealver Siliga for top snaps, especially since Siliga hasn't been shedding blockers as well as he has in the past.
The Patriots currently rank dead last in the league in defending the run on first down, with teams averaging 5.86 yards per carry on first down. 22.2% of first down runs convert for another first down, which is the 3rd worst rate in the league.
Some might point to the Patriots blowing out other teams as a reason for the easy rushing yardage. When looking at one score games, New England is allowing the 3rd worst yards per carry rate, and the 2nd worst first down conversion rate.
New England needs help shoring up their run defense.
New #Patriots DT Akiem Hicks pic.twitter.com/tQ6TtSUmUx— Rich Hill (@PP_Rich_Hill) September 30, 2015
Hicks is really strong. pic.twitter.com/oOwaS9kvHK— Rich Hill (@PP_Rich_Hill) September 30, 2015
Very next play Hicks launches a really good RT in Ricky Wagner to make the backfield hit. pic.twitter.com/8FU4Jx5Esf— Rich Hill (@PP_Rich_Hill) October 1, 2015
Akiem Hicks controlling the point of attack against #70 Logan Mankins. pic.twitter.com/tRBZRQ2Wy0— Rich Hill (@PP_Rich_Hill) October 1, 2015
Hicks is a huge body that can act like an Alan Branch in the middle. When Hicks is asked to go downhill as an edge defender, he leaves a huge hole for the offense. When he goes downhill on the interior, he wreaks havoc. He can control the point and sling offensive linemen out of his way to get to the ball carrier. He can hold his ground against double, triple teams.
The flaw that rookie Malcom Brown shows on film is the exact place where Hicks wins: squaring his body against double teams in the run game.
The Patriots are getting a player who topped out in an defense that doesn't really fit his skill set. He needed a change of venue because he was, deservingly, getting passed by younger players on the depth chart. Hicks isn't going to be an every down player, but if he listens to the coaching from the Patriots staff, and his role is reduced to a pure run stuffer, he could be a key piece for this defensive line.