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Senior Bowl Prospects: Defensive Line

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Which defensive linemen prospects could appeal the most to the Patriots.

Glenn Andrews-USA TODAY Sports

The one area where the Patriots are significantly stacked is the defensive line, both in the interior and the edges. However, most of that depth is set to become free agents after this season. The Patriots have Trey Flowers, Geneo Grissom, Dominique Easley, and Malcom Brown all under team control past 2016. I believe the Patriots will sign either Chandler Jones or Jabaal Sheard to a long term contract, but until that happens I will write under the assumption they won't. The Patriots top needs are mostly on offense, but the defensive line is better when they are able to rotate guys in and out. This post will include both the interior and edge guys.

Interior Defensive Line

Jihad Ward: Ward has the traits of your classic 5-technique defensive end. Ward played defensive end in Illinois, but will likely transition to an interior role in the NFL. Ward features 33 5/8" arms and a 81 3/8" wingspan, so he has adequate enough length to succeed in the role. Since there is a natural learning curve, he's probably best served to get more comfortable with the job behind the scenes. There is literally no need for him to contribute in Year 1, so the Patriots probably shouldn't use more than a 4th round pick for him, but he provides depth for the future.

Vernon Butler: Butler is the player you create in Madden. He's 6'4" 325 to go with 34 1/8" arms and a wingspan of 83 1/2". His physical traits are very similar to Patriots DT Akiem Hicks, who played phenomenally for the Patriots down the stretch in 2015. Butler is more ready to plug and play in Year 1 than Ward and could wind up playing his way out of the Patriots draft range and potentially into the first round.

Carl Nassib: Shawn Oakman isn't the only edge defender in this Senior Bowl class with freakish length. Nassib comes in at 6'7" 273 with 34 1/2" arms and a 82 7/8" wingspan. Nassib moves very well for a player of his length and is very good at defending against the run. I'm not sure what kind of pass rusher he could develop into, they may have to match him up inside in NASCAR packages on 3rd downs. Perhaps a move to the 1, 3, or 5-technique would be an idea for the future. Nassib has plenty of room to add muscle to his frame and could play at 300+ pounds.

Edge Rushers

Jordan Jenkins: Jenkins is listed as a linebacker, but he's really a pass rusher in Georgia's 3-4 defense. Despite being 6'2", Jenkins has 34" arms and a wingspan of 82 1/2" which means he easily satisfies the length requirement I have for edge rushers. Jenkins played a rush LB role, which means teams don't have to worry too much about transitioning to a linebacker role. For the Patriots, he may wind up playing a hybrid role where he's a defensive end in certain packages and an linebacker in others. Having a scheme versatile player is not necessarily a bad thing overall because the more you can do, the easier it is to attack the weaknesses of the opponent's offense.

Charles Tapper: Tapper was a teammate of Grissom at Oklahoma and offers the right combination of size and length. My primary concern with him is the ability to transition to an OLB role since he weighed in at 276. Belichick schemes around the players he has instead of trying to fit a square peg in a round hole, so he'll figure out something. Most likely the Patriots will redshirt him in Year 1 as they figure out if he's going to be an edge or interior guy. If it's the latter, he probably needs to bulk up about 15-20 pounds.