The New England Patriots made Nebraska defensive tackle Vincent Valentine the 96th overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. While Valentine is an intriguing prospect, there were other far more well-regarded prospects still on the board, like Texas' Hassan Ridgeway or Michigan's Willie Henry or Notre Dame's Sheldon Day, so it begs the question why?
What is so intriguing about Valentine that the Patriots skipped over other prospects in his favor?
It all boils down to his absurd athleticism.
Valentine is a physically imposing prospect at 6'3 5/8 and 329 lbs. His 5.19 second 40 yard dash is incredibly impressive for his size, becoming just the 16th defensive tackle prospect to weigh greater than 325 lbs and run a sub-5.2 over the past decade.
Even more impressive are his explosion and agility scores. His 9'2 broad jump is the best of any 325+ lbs defensive tackle in the past decade, and his 4.59 second shuttle is the second best of the era (trailing only Chiefs stalwart Dontari Poe).
Valentine is far from a polished prospect, but the Patriots believe enough in his potential for them to take the risk- and his size is absolutely a benefit, as he falls into the same category as Alan Branch and Terrance Knighton- and it would appear the Patriots want to get larger on the interior.
I don't think the Patriots are going to move to a 3-4 front, even though Valentine has the ability to play multiple fronts. Instead, I think New England is going to count on heavier defensive tackles moving forward.
Most teams are valuing penetrating defensive tackles, like the recently released Dominique Easley, at a premium. Space-eating defensive tackles are falling- just ask former first round prospects Andrew Billings (still on the board), A'Shawn Robinson, and Jarran Reed. This looks to be the next market inefficiency for the Patriots to capitalize upon.
As more and more teams play nickel defenses, head coach Bill Belichick is of the belief that teams will eventually start running the ball more- because that's what he'd do. When offensive coordinators see defenses with five defensive backs on the field, they see an opportunity to run the ball against a lighter defense. Belichick could be adding beef in the middle of the field to remove that advantage from opposing offensive coaches.
Valentine, Branch, Knighton, and to a lesser extent Malcom Brown, are all capable of eating up multiple blocks in the middle of the field to allow the linebackers and defensive backs to make plays on the ball. All are also large enough that they can discard one-on-one blocks pretty consistently. Valentine lacks the strength of the defensive tackles on the roster, but he could develop into a quality mountain in the middle of the field.
The Patriots already use defensive ends on the interior in pass rushing situations. Chandler Jones had a history of kicking inside, and it's likely that the Patriots will ask the same of Geneo Grissom, Trey Flowers, and Rufus Johnson. The fact that Valentine, who is actually a fantastic run defender, can't rush the quarterback isn't that big of a deal.
He's a one trick pony that's really good at that trick.
And that's what the Patriots want: they want to control the line of scrimmage. That happens to be Valentine's specialty and he can use his elite tier athleticism to develop further into a dominating player on the inside.