For this week’s theme, SB Nation is looking at the most underrated defensive linemen on each team in the NFL. Let’s jump right into it.
The New England Patriots defensive line isn’t flush with high-level talent. Adam Butler and Deatrich Wise are both rookies and while they’ve shown upside, they’re certainly still playing like it’s their first year in the NFL. Alan Branch regressed to the point of being a healthy scratch, although he’s made a recent return to the line-up. Cassius Marsh has been up-and-down more than any other player on the Patriots roster on any given drive.
There are only three defensive linemen that I would call consistently above average on the Patriots: Trey Flowers, Malcom Brown, and Lawrence Guy.
Flowers is a household name after his emergence over the second-half of the 2016 season and in the Super Bowl, so he’s certainly not underrated. He’s more valuable than his statline suggests (just 0.5 sacks since week 3) and the fact that he’s playing 91% of the defensive snaps highlights the lack of depth behind him on the roster.
And while Brown has missed the passed two games with an ankle injury, Guy has established himself as the top defensive tackle on the team, playing 56% of the snaps. Brown is the superior of the two players against the run, but Guy seems to have more value in the passing game.
Guy has been exactly what the Patriots have needed on a defensive front that has struggled this year. He’s stepped up when both Branch and Brown missed time and he’s done well enough against the run and the pass. Is he a game changer? No, not from what we’ve seen through ten weeks. But he’s one of those exceptionally solid role players that are necessary on any contending roster.
I don’t think any of the Patriots defensive linemen are “underrated.” Flowers has been a solid player who hasn’t really taken as big of a leap as expected, probably due to his enormous amount of playing time; Brown has been good against the run, but has also been hurt; and Guy is “just a guy” in the scheme of starting defensive tackles around the league.
As is always the case, the Patriots are greater than the sum of their parts and all of these players, including Wise and Butler and Branch and others, come together to form a defense that has really started to emerge in recent weeks.