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New England Patriots roster breakdown: #99 DT Vincent Valentine

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Will the rookie see regular playing time on a crowded defensive tackle depth chart?

UCLA v Nebraska Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images

The New England Patriots‘ 2016 training camp is underway. Players fight for practice repetitions and playing time to earn one of the 53 spots on the roster. They have until late August, when each team has to start making its roster cuts, to secure a role.

Until then, players have to secure their spots on the team; they need to do their jobs (well) or someone else will. Over the course of the next few weeks, we will take a look at the men fighting for those spots on the 2016 New England Patriots. Today, we’ll continue the series with rookie defensive tackle Vincent Valentine.

Name: Vincent Valentine

Position: Defensive tackle

Jersey number: 99

Age: 22

Experience: Rookie

Size: 6’3, 320 lbs.

2015 review: After a very good 2014 sophomore season, expectations for Valentine were high entering his junior campaign with the Nebraska Cornhuskers. However, he failed to live up to them as he was slowed by an ankle injury throughout the season.

While he still appeared in 10 games – starting seven –, his statistics were not as good as they were the previous two years. Valentine finished the season with 10 tackles, although four of them were for loss, 3.0 sacks and one quarterback hurry.

The injury was one reason for his statistical decline, a coaching change that brought a different defensive philosophy – one that suits Valentine’s style of playing less – was another. Still, despite 2015 not being his best year, Valentine decided to forgo his redshirt senior year and enter the NFL. The Patriots drafted him with their fourth overall selection, near the end of round three (pick #96).

2016 preview: At 6’3, 320 lbs., Valentine is one of the bigger defensive tackles on the roster – and arguably the strongest. Given his frame, the roster lock (due to his draft status), might see most of his playing time as a member of the team’s short yardage and goal line defense as well as on punt and kick blocking teams. However, it might be tough for him to regularly crack the defensive tackle rotation.

After all, Malcom Brown is a shoo-in to play a vast majority of early down snaps at one interior spot, with veterans Alan Branch and Terrance Knighton projected to see time at the other. Valentine might substitute in every now and then to keep all four tackles as fresh as possible, but it would not be a surprise to see his defensive playing time limited his rookie year.

Still, the 22-year old is a prime candidate to succeed Branch and/or Knighton on the interior in the future as he has the talent to become a contributor; especially considering New England’s controlling style of playing defense. 2016 might not yet be the year he does that on a regular basis, but it is the foundation upon which to build by honing his technique and learning the defensive playbook.

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While he is a raw defensive tackle, Vincent Valentine is an intriguing athlete whose skill set should translate well to what the Patriots do on defense. While he might be able to show this in flashes his rookie season, he projects to be the number four defensive tackle on the roster and accordingly see only minor playing time – at least in 2016.