The New England Patriots don’t have many openings on their roster, but one universally accepted need is on the defensive edge with another pass rusher. Trey Flowers looks like he could be a star, but Rob Ninkovich is 33 years old, Kony Ealy could be a one-year rental, and Geneo Grissom hasn’t proven to have value on defense. The Patriots could use a pass rusher that can push Grissom and eventually replace Ninkovich.
The 2017 NFL Draft is stacked with edge defenders, with 12 prospects receiving grades in the first two rounds (Myles Garrett, Derek Barnett, Taco Charlton, Charles Harris, Takkarist McKinley, Tim Williams, Carl Lawson, T.J. Watt, Tarell Basham, Tyus Bowser, Jordan Willis, and Derek Rivers).
Unfortunately for the Patriots, they don’t have a pick in the first two rounds and don’t select until 72nd overall, which might eliminate some of the listed players as options. Fortunately for New England, an average of 9.2 edge defenders have gone in the first 71 selections over the past five years, so a few of those top prospects might remain on the board in the third round.
The Patriots have shown an interest in Harris, Lawson, Watt, Basham, Willis, and Rivers, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Patriots were interested in Bowser one year after taking LB Elandon Roberts. Most of these prospects are considered fringe first rounders with a chance of falling to the bottom of the second or into the third round.
With Flowers managing one end, while also playing some 4-technique on the interior of the 5-man front, the Patriots are looking for a versatile edge player that can play 4-3 defensive end and can also drop back into coverage in the 5-man front.
Bowser, Watt, Willis, and Rivers are all on the lighter side at 245-255 pounds, but are four of just seven 245+ pound prospects that possess sub-4.7s 40 yard dash speed, sub-7.0s three cone quickness, and 10+ foot broad jump explosion; the other three are top 10 prospect DL Solomon Thomas and first round TEs O.J. Howard and David Njoku.
There are only eight pass rushers in the ten years prior (2007-2016) to match these physical feats: Brian Robison (2007), Connor Barwin (2009), Justin Houston (2011), Von Miller (2011), Bruce Irvin (2012), Ty Powell (2013), Jackson Jeffcoat (2014), and Vic Beasley (2015). That’s incredible company.
When you expand the limit a couple inches or a few hundredths of a seconds, players like Chris Long, Cliff Avril, Jerry Hughes, Koa Misi, Cameron Jordan, Shea McClellin, Jamie Collins, Anthony Barr, and Khalil Mack fall into the net. The net also catches 2017 prospects Trey Hendrickson and Vince Biegel, projected fourth round options.
If the Patriots are to pounce on a pass rusher at 72nd overall, it should be one of those seven players if they remain on the board.