The Patriots have had some fluctuations over the years in terms of defensive scheming. Bill Belichick tends to go with the flow in terms of personnel and league trends when deciding how to best utilize his defensive linemen. New England has traditionally been willing to spend premium resources on young defensive linemen to fill a variety of roles, and this current crop is one of the strongest groups to date. It was what gave the Patriots the luxury of being able to trade star elephant Chandler Jones away and not miss a beat in terms of performance. Going into this offseason, New England looks to be in good shape on the interior but could use a boost on the edges.
EDGE DEFENDER - ONE GAPPER or TWO GAPPER
2000 Bobby Hamilton
2001 Bobby Hamilton
2002 Bobby Hamilton
2003 Bobby Hamilton
2004 Jarvis Green/Ty Warren
2005 Jarvis Green/Ty Warren
2006 Jarvis Green/Ty Warren
2007 Jarvis Green/Ty Warren
2008 Jarvis Green/Ty Warren/Mike Wright
2009 Jarvis Green/Mike Wright
2010 Mike Wright/Rob Ninkovich
2011 Andre Carter/Shaun Ellis
2012 Rob Ninkovich/Chandler Jones
2013 Rob Ninkovich/Chandler Jones/Michael Buchanan
2014 Rob Ninkovich/Chandler Jones
2015 Rob Ninkovich/Chandler Jones
2016 Rob Ninkovich/Chris Long/Trey Flowers
SUMMARY: The Patriots have shifted philosophy over the years, as their weakside end traditionally was a two-gapper until 2011, when the team reorganized its defense and sought to bring more pressure from the hands-down edge spot rather than with blitzers. Even then, Andre Carter was forced to two-gap more than he would have liked - and he performed admirably.
In 2016, the most two-gapping that hands-down Patriot ends have to deal with is when they stunt on rushes and look to split guard/tackle combos. Trey Flowers is masterful at that, with five of his sacks this year coming on the splitting of stunts. Chris Long and Rob Ninkovich do not have great burst anymore, but both play with good awareness and are reasonable starting ends. Geneo Grissom has great physical upside but has been a bust to date. Jabaal Sheard and Barkevious Mingo will not return.
New England could look for another edge this year a la to complement Flowers. Luckily, this is a deep edge class. It should be noted that whomever is picked will probably have to drop into coverage multiple snaps a game, since this is not Flowers’ forte and short zone drops are an important part of the Patriots’ disguises. It will be interesting to see how the Patriots use new acquisition Kony Ealy, as coverage is not something he thrives at.
2000 Chad Eaton/Henry Thomas
2001 Richard Seymour/Anthony Pleasant
2002 Richard Seymour/Anthony Pleasant/Steve Martin
2003 Richard Seymour/Ted Washington
2004 Richard Seymour/Vince Wilfork/Keith Traylor
2005 Richard Seymour/Vince Wilfork
2006 Richard Seymour/Vince Wilfork
2007 Richard Seymour/Vince Wilfork
2008 Richard Seymour/Vince Wilfork
2009 Ty Warren/Vince Wilfork
2010 Vince Wilfork/Gerard Warren/Brandon Deaderick
2011 Vince Wilfork/Kyle Love/Brandon Deaderick
2012 Vince Wilfork/Kyle Love/Brandon Deaderick
2013 Vince Wilfork/Sealver Siliga/Joe Vellano
2014 Vince Wilfork/Sealver Siliga/Alan Branch
2015 Akiem Hicks/Alan Branch/Malcom Brown/Sealver Siliga
2016 Alan Branch/Malcom Brown/Vincent Valentine
SUMMARY: Over the past two years, New England’s defensive tackle corps has been among the best in football. Bleacher Report’s NFL 1000 ranked all four of New England’s 2015 DT crop as top 25 defensive tackles in football, and the squad barely missed a beat in 2016 despite losing Dominique Easley and Akiem Hicks.
After years of the likes of Vince Wilfork and Richard Seymour holding down the two-gap fort, Alan Branch, Malcom Brown, and Vincent Valentine have taken up their mantle with aplomb. Branch was a top 15 defensive tackle in the NFL this year and both Brown and Valentine provide routine and exciting flashes. The young defensive tackles need to get more consistent, but they have a chance to be a great duo for years to come.
This defensive tackle class is weak, but if the Patriots only have Brown, Branch, and Valentine on their roster heading into the draft, I expect them to look for more prospects at this position unless they feel especially confident in rookie free agent Woodrow Hamilton. Hamilton did play well this year, but he’s still fairly unproven, and although this defensive tackle class is bad the team could look to beef things up here.
2000 Willie McGinest
2001 Willie McGinest
2002 Willie McGinest
2003 Willie McGinest
2004 Willie McGinest
2005 Willie McGinest
2006 Tully Banta-Cain
2007 Rosevelt Colvin
2008 Mike Vrabel/Mike Wright
2009 Tully Banta-Cain
2010 Mike Wright/Tully Banta-Cain
2011 Mark Anderson
2012 Trevor Scott/Justin Francis/Jermaine Cunningham
2013 Chris Jones/Tommy Kelly
2014 Chris Jones/Dominique Easley
2015 Jabaal Sheard/Dominique Easley
2016 Jabaal Sheard
SUMMARY: The Patriots look to bring pressure in a variety of ways, and much of that is a function of where their own offensive line fails. From 2013-2015, the team sought to dial up interior pressure while beefing up their own guard play. This past year, with Easley gone, the Patriots eschewed interior rushing for external pressures and blitzes from linebackers. I do think that, in an ideal world, the Patriots would like to have an interior rusher. Grissom was being groomed for that role and could still fulfill it, but New England could alternatively select a versatile player to generate push from the DT spot.
PROSPECT FITS: The Patriots could look for help at all of the defensive line position this year, so we’ll review positions from the outside in. This EDGE class is very strong, and the Patriots will look for above average jumpers and shuttlers with long arms. Their goal height and weight is 6 foot 4, 260, although they are willing to deviate based on athleticism and fit. Derek Barnett fits so many Patriots traits - he’s super competitive, a hard worker, tough against the run, and has some specific moves to his repertoire that make him an intriguing player at the end of Round 1 for New England.
Even though he may not go Round 1, Texas A&M’s Dae’Shon Hall has many of the physical traits of Minnesota Vikings EDGE Danielle Hunter and is a hustler with explosion. He’s not quite as talented as teammate Myles Garrett, but he’s also not a scrub. Some sleepers include Florida Atlantic’s productive Trey Hendrickson, who thrived against his toughest opponents over the course of his college career, and Ole Miss’ Fadol Brown, who is strong, stout, and has multiple pass rush moves. Hendrickson also destroyed the Combine, so he may be a bit more of a premium value than originally expected.
From a defensive tackle standpoint, this class is not as strong, although Clemson’s Carlos Watkins strikes me as a Malcom Brown clone. There is not a better defensive tackle in this class at dictating his position at the line of scrimmage, and Watkins is also an underrated athlete. Notre Dame has two prospects in Jarron Jones and Isaac Rochell who both flash as much as any player in this class but also have inconsistencies and effort questions. Two sleepers to keep an eye on are Vincent Taylor of Oklahoma State and Ralph Green of Indiana. Taylor has great athleticism for his size and Green is very consistent at the point of attack.
In terms of pass rushing hybrid players, Tanzel Smart of Tulane is a personal favorite. He’s a bull going forward with good awareness who makes run stops and creates quarterback pressures. Smart may go Round 3, but he would bring an explosive dimension to New England’s front four that the team currently does not have.