The New England Patriots were ready to trade the 32nd selection of the 2015 NFL Draft. They were until the highest rated player on their board fell into their lap: Malcom Brown. New England drafted the former Texas Longhorn and over the course of his rookie season, Brown became the team's most reliable defensive tackle.
This year, the Patriots might get the chance to go back to the Texas-well to draft a former teammate of Brown: defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway. The 21-year old elected to forgo his redshirt senior season in Austin to enter the 2016 draft.
In his three years at Texas, Ridgeway appeared in 36 games, starting 18. An honorable All-Big 12 mention in 2015, the Texas-native had his best season in 2014 when he played alongside Malcom Brown. With New England in need of depth at Ridgeway's position, the 6'3 defensive tackle could be an option in the early-middle rounds to get re-united with his former college teammate.
Name: DT Hassan Ridgeway
Stats: 36 tackles, 6.5 TFL, 3.5 Sacks, 2 FRs
Size: 6033, 303 lbs with a 5.02 40-yard dash, 32" vertical, 9'5 broad jump, 8.28 3-cone, 24 bench press reps
Expected Round: 3rd
Strengths: At 6'3, 303 lbs, Ridgeway offers good size as an interior defensive lineman. He might need to add a little bulk at the next level to improve against the run but offers a solid frame with which to work. For a player his size, Ridgeway displays nimble footwork and lateral quickness, which help him to quickly react to plays.
He attacks opposing linemen with a fundamentally sound technique, but is also able to use his strength to beat opposing linemen. Ridgeway's bull rush in particular is worth noting, as he attacks with good hand placement while keeping his feet working through contact. In general, he displayed an ability to get off blocks because of how he uses his hands.
Ridgeway, who improved every year in Austin, also has some scheme versatility: he played multiple techniques up front (mostly 4-tech and 1-tech), while being used in three- or four-men fronts, as a defensive tackle, defensive end and nose tackle.
Weaknesses: While Ridgeway is a well-rounded prospect, there are a few aspects of his game he needs to improve. After all, while he has immense talent, he has not been able to consistently play the way his talent should allow him to play.
His rush-lane integrity, for example, has to be a point of emphasis, as Ridgeway allows himself to get blocked out of the play too often. He is a little inconsistent as a penetrator and at times gets stood up rather easily by offensive linemen. Working on diversifying his pass-rush moves is another area to improve.
Another knock on the former Longhorn is his conditioning and overall health. While he plays with a high motor, he has a tendency to run out of gas late in games. He also has had to deal with injuries last season (back, shoulder).
What is their role? Depending on the defensive front, Ridgeway has shown that he can line up and produce as a 0-tech, 1-tech and 4-tech tackle/end-hybrid. Until he becomes a more well-rounded interior defender and improves his pass rushing skills, he is probably best suited to play as an early-down defensive tackle.
Will it change from year 1 to year 2? Ridgeway has the talent to be a three-down defensive lineman, he just needs to continue working on his overall technique and his conditioning. Once he improves in those areas, he could become a very good defensive tackle. It remains to be seen if he is able to do so over the course of one year but the potential is definitely there.
How many downs can he play? Three, but he will probably play less early on. As noted above, Ridgeway needs to improve in certain areas to become an every-down defender.
Which current player will he beat out? Markus Kuhn, Frank Kearse and Joe Vellano for a roster spot; Alan Branch and Terrance Knighton for playing time.
What's his ST value? At Texas, Ridgeway has been used as an interior penetrator in the kicking game – a role he also projects to have in the NFL.
Does he have positional versatility? Ridgeway has had experience and success playing in multiple defensive techniques and fronts. Should he get drafted by the Patriots, this versatility would definitely be a big reason why.
Why the Patriots? After parting ways with Dominique Easley and Chris Jones, and after losing Akiem Hicks in free agency, the Patriots appear to be in the market for quality depth at the defensive tackle position. As noted by Rich Hill yesterday, it looks as if New England wants to get bigger at the interior defensive line and Ridgeway would fit that mold.
Furthermore, he played his best football alongside current Patriots starter Malcom Brown, and could form a very solid defensive tackle tandem with his former college teammate – eventually taking over for Alan Branch and Terrance Knighton as part of the rotation.
Ridgeway's positional versatility as well as his athleticism and projected growth are further reasons why the Patriots might be willing to spend one of their earlier draft picks on the former Longhorn.
Why not the Patriots? While his athletic abilities and potential growth are two reasons the team might bring him in, Ridgeway is a bit of a gamble as he has not been able to play up to his talents on a consistent level.
Furthermore, the defensive tackle's injury history might be a bit of a concern. While Ridgeway has never suffered a season-ending one, he has dealt with nagging injuries throughout his 2015 season.
Verdict: Ridgeway seems like a good fit for New England and what the team does on defense. He has scheme versatility, has a ton of talent, and has formed a very good interior duo with current Patriot Malcom Brown. While he – just like every other prospect – comes with questions, he would be inserted into a situation where he could work on them behind the scenes, without being called upon to play as an every-down player (at least early on).
If the Patriots view Ridgeway as a potential successor to Alan Branch and Terrance Knighton, then the team should not shy away from spending one of its day two selections on him if the chance presents itself.