The New England Patriots have churned the back-end of the roster at the defensive tackle position in hopes of bolstering the depth.
Malcom Brown and Alan Branch return as the team's starting defensive tackles in 2015 and they should be even better next season. Brown finished the season on a strong note as one of the top run defenders in the league, while Branch has always been a consistently good contributor.
The Patriots added Terrance Knighton in free agency and added Vincent Valentine in the draft to round out the main quartet. Knighton is close to a lock due to the easily reachable guaranteed money in his contract prior to the start of the season (signing bonus, workout bonus, weight incentives). Valentine is also a lock as a 3rd round pick.
Over the past five seasons, the Patriots have kept either four or five defensive tackles on the roster at any given time. That means that Brown, Branch, Knighton, and Valentine are your projected defensive tackles for 2016.
There is one possible spot remaining should any of the other players on the roster standout during the offseason.
There are two distinct tiers of players competing for that spot.
First, there are the experienced veterans. Frank Kearse has bounced around the league and has played extensively for the Panthers and Washington. Markus Kuhn started for the Giants last season, although he was atrocious by all accounts. Joe Vellano has started at various points for the Patriots over the past few years.
Then there are the young guys with little-to-no experience. The Patriots added former Miami and Washington defensive tackle Anthony Johnson and undrafted rookie Woodrow Hamilton. I had Johnson as a 3rd or 4th round pick back in the 2014 draft, while Hamilton was one of the better run defenders in college.
If the Patriots add a 5th defensive tackle, who will it be?
Check out our Running Back poll here. (James White: 26%, D.J. Foster: 25%, Donald Brown: 24%)
Check out our Wide Receiver poll here. (Devin Lucien: 40%, Nate Washington: 34%)
Check out our Tight End poll here. (Clay Harbor: 63%)
Check out our Interior Offensive Line poll here. (David Andrews: 46%, Tre Jackson: 36%)
Check out our Offensive Tackle poll here. (Joe Thuney: 42%, Marcus Cannon: 33%)
Check out our Edge Defender poll here. (Trey Flowers: 52%, Rufus Johnson: 24%, Geneo Grissom: 24%)