The New England Patriots are going to retool their edge defender position in the wake of winning Super Bowl LI in the same way that they revamped their cornerback position after winning Super Bowl XLIX.
The Patriots will say good bye to Chris Long and probably Jabaal Sheard just like they said good bye to Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner, while allowing Super Bowl LI star Trey Flowers to ascend into a larger role much like how Super Bowl XLIX star Malcolm Butler emerged the following season.
The parallels are endless, folks.
The Patriots double dipped at edge defender in the 2015 NFL Draft and walked away with Flowers and Geneo Grissom and it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Patriots did the same in the 2017 NFL Draft, which NFL Draft Analyst Mike Mayock says is extremely deep and talented at the position, with eight receiving a first round grade.
“I think it's one of the best defensive drafts I've seen, and I think the defensive edge rusher [group is great], whether it's 4-3 or 3-4,” Mayock said.
“I really like Derek Barnett,” Mayock continued. “I think Tim Williams is going to slide a little bit with the off-the-field stuff, but he's more of a 3-4 guy. Derek Barnett, Solomon Thomas, Taco Charlton, I think they're all 4-3 guys and really all first-round picks. Then you get to the 3-4 guys, Takk McKinley, T.J. Watt, Charles Harris can probably play in either. There are eight guys that I have potential first-round grades on the edge. So anybody looking for an edge in the first round is going to find them.”
The eighth player that Mayock does not list is Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett, who is a contender to go first overall.
Don’t be surprised if the Patriots select a pass rusher in the first round, like how they selected Chandler Jones in the opening round of the 2012 NFL Draft. The Patriots draft picks could depend on whether or not they trade QB Jimmy Garoppolo for a first round pick.
If the Patriots acquire an early first, they could have a chance at a player like Barnett, who Mayock considers one of the hardest working, toughest edge rushers in this draft or any draft.” Barnett reminds me a bit of 2015 Jabaal Sheard in the sense that he’s not going to fly up the field to make a play every snap, but he can generate consistent pressure and is stout against the run.
Another early option would be Thomas, who “can play outside on run down, inside on pass downs,” according to Mayock, who also noted that he loves Thomas’ “versatility.” Thomas spent time on the inside of Stanford’s defensive line and could be the next Aaron Donald on the interior or a Michael Bennett inside-outside hybrid type.
If the Patriots add a pass rusher at the end of the first, a player like Charlton would be interesting as his bodyframe is almost identical to that of Chandler Jones, but Charlton is more consistent against the run after spending time as a 3-4 defensive lineman.
The Patriots should also look at adding another pass rusher in the third or fourth rounds and someone like Kansas State’s Jordan Willis would be an enticing option if still on the board. It’s clear that the Patriots are devoting a fair number of their pre-draft contacts to meeting edge defenders.