It's evident more than ever that Bill Belichick wants his defensive front seven to be as versatile as ever before.
Jamie Collins is a former safety turned linebacker turned defensive end, back to linebacker.
Dont'a Hightower plays inside and outside linebacker, and can play defensive end in the 4-3.
Rob Ninkovich is the king of playing as an edge defender in both the 4-3 and the 3-4.
Dominique Easley aligned everywhere from 0-tech to 9-tech on the defensive line this past season.
Malcom Brown, the Patriots first round pick, is lauded for his ability to play inside-and-out of any defensive front.
Even if a player isn't a natural fit, Belichick will try and groom them to cover multiple roles. Jerod Mayo turned out to be a natural when asked to blitz up the middle. Chandler Jones has dropped back into coverage at times. If there's an opportunity for a player to line up at multiple spots, Belichick is on board because it makes the defense that much harder to defend.
So the Patriots pick at 97th overall makes perfect sense. Oklahoma's Geneo Grissom cannot be tied down to any specific position. While in college, Grissom aligned at every spot of the defensive line and he was asked to stand up and play linebacker. He showed a natural ability to drop and run in coverage and flashed skills, albeit inconsistent skills, as a pass rusher and run defender.
Grissom is a valuable weapon in the defensive arsenal. He is potentially the team's 4th linebacker, as well as the team's 4th edge defender, behind Ninkovich, Jones, and Jabaal Sheard. Grissom is likely expected to beat out Michael Buchanan in camp, as well as Jake Bequette and Zach Moore.
In his post-draft press conference, Belichick could barely contain his excitement when discussing Grissom. He had to hold himself back from comparing the rookie to Ninkovich, even stating that Grissom can play more interior line positions.
Belichick raved about Grissom's athleticism and versatility, and mentioned how he watched Grissom's Pro Day. Grissom is a converted tight end, so he ran tight end drills at his work out. Belichick claimed that his tight end drills "were as good as we saw all year."
It's clear that Grissom isn't a now toy. He's a later toy. He's extremely raw in every facet and his ability to diagnose plays as they're occurring is slightly lagging. In a way, he's the opposite of 2nd round pick Jordan Richards. Richards is physically limited, but makes up for it with his superior intellect and football IQ. Grissom has oodles of athleticism that shows up on tape, but he's still learning the position.
Grissom flashes speed and strength, but he needs greater consistency on a snap to snap basis.
Grissom is pretty quick https://t.co/v3rsFXiXEd— Rich Hill (@PP_Rich_Hill) May 2, 2015
Very next play. He's strong, too. https://t.co/0ZsV4pZp5I— Rich Hill (@PP_Rich_Hill) May 2, 2015
There are times where he spins the wrong way while in traffic, which opens up a huge rushing lane or allows for an easy block. There are times where he runs up the field instead of staying in his gap against the run.
But just as often, you can see him stonewalling a much larger blocker and walking them into the pocket. You can see him rip and shed that blocker to make a crucial tackle in the backfield. You'll see him rush with terrifying closing speed, and he'll get his hands up in the passing lanes if he's too far away.
Grissom will be a work in progress. Best case scenario means that he never sees the field this season and is a healthy scratch each week, because that would mean that Mayo, Hightower, Collins, Jones, Ninkovich, and Sheard all remained healthy. Grissom will back them all up as a rookie.
And if Belichick has it his way, Grissom will develop into a key defender to terrorize opposing offenses.