The New England Patriots selected two defensive ends in a four-pick span during the 2015 draft.
One was Arkansas’ Trey Flowers at No. 101 overall. The other was Oklahoma’s Geneo Grissom at No. 97 overall.
The former went on to play in one game during his rookie season before landing on injured reserve, while the latter entered for 14 games and logged six tackles to go with a sack against Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill in the finale.
But Flowers and Grissom are in different spots now.
Flowers broke free in 2016 and finished with 45 tackles and a team-high seven sacks while appearing in every game and starting eight of them. The 23-year-old had three multi-sack games during the regular season and saved his best for last, bringing down NFL MVP Matt Ryan for 2.5 sacks in Super Bowl LI.
Grissom’s 2016, on the other hand, nearly ended five months before the Patriots made the trek to NRG Stadium to face the Atlanta Falcons. The 6-foot-4, 265-pound Sooner was waived on Sept. 3 as part of the 53-man roster cut, and he passed through unclaimed before returning as a member of the practice squad a day later.
Grissom would eventually make his way back to New England’s active roster on Oct. 15. It was then that veteran linebacker Jonathan Freeny was placed on IR and a spot opened up on special teams. He proceeded to play in all 11 regular-season games from that point forward – as well as all three postseason games – totaling five tackles with four coming in that phase.
He was credited with one assisted tackle on defense when he lined up next to Flowers at the tail end of a 41-25 victory.
It was the hidden contributions from No. 92 that counted during a campaign in which he collected more practice player of the week awards than stops.
It was his scout-team simulation, his recovery of captain Matthew Slater’s fumble against the Buffalo Bills, his help wedging linebacker Shea McClellin’s field-goal block against the Baltimore Ravens, and the initial hit he delivered to catapult running back Dion Lewis’ 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against the Houston Texans.
But to this juncture, the 2014 All-Big 12 honorable mention has not been able to do what the player drafted four spots, one round and one day after him has: carve a role up front.
That is ultimately what Grissom’s stay in New England will be judged upon. And with March’s trade for Kony Ealy compounded by April’s third- and fourth-round selections of edge-rushers Derek Rivers and Deatrich Wise Jr., the 25-year-old is running short on time to present his case.
During Grissom’s time at Oklahoma, he made his case anywhere from defensive tackle to outside linebacker. He played under two different defensive coordinators, worked in a 3-4 and a 4-3, kicked inside on passing downs, tallied 2.5 sacks and two fumble recoveries in the Sugar Bowl versus Alabama, and was even momentarily tested out at tight end. His willingness to fulfill multiple roles filled multiple holes on the depth chart.
“I love playing this game and I never saw it as, ‘Now I have to learn a new position,’” Grissom said on his post-draft conference call. “I saw it as, ‘I get to grow my game and expand my knowledge of this game.’”
To some, that expanded background made it unclear just where Grissom’s true home was. But his blend of athleticism and scheme flexibility did not look out of place in the Patriots’ eyes.
Head coach Bill Belichick made that known in his press conference the night Grissom was chosen.
When asked about Grissom’s pro-day drills at tight end, Belichick said, “If you didn’t know he didn't play tight end, you would look at that workout and say ‘that’s a pretty good tight end.’” When addressing Grissom’s film playing four-technique at 260 pounds, Belichick added, “He didn’t look like a linebacker. You wouldn’t probably think he was that light if you didn't know it, not by the way he played.”
And as for what Grissom brought to the table elsewhere on the defensive side, his scouting report remained dynamic.
“I’d say he's very instinctive as a pass-rusher, and he's in coverage a decent amount of time as a walked-off linebacker,” Belichick said. “You see a guy play out in space, out in the slot – he does a lot of that. So you've seen him playing the three-technique, to the end of the line, to a walked-out linebacker. At the Senior Bowl, they actually played him off the line, like in a tackle bubble. So, he's a pretty athletic, versatile guy."
His private workout and official visit are in rearview now. So too are his two regular seasons and 25 appearances. After playing 130 snaps on defense and another 132 on special teams as a rookie, Grissom accounted for 250 snaps on special teams – sixth-highest on the Patriots – and only 11 on defense in 2016.
Perhaps that value as a core special-teamer will be enough for him to stick around in 2017. It is a role Belichick envisioned Grissom earning early on, though it isn’t likely the only one he expected the third-round pick to earn by his third season.
The strides of Grissom will be monitored closely over the next few months in result. New England’s evaluation of him hasn’t been completed nor curtailed as of yet.
“Geneo's done a lot of different things for us,” Belichick told reporters in the midst of mandatory minicamp last Wednesday, via Patriots.com. “He continues to work hard and improve. He improved a lot in the kicking game last year and he's doing a lot of things for us on defense now, both outside and inside. So, we'll see how it goes. Great kid, though. Works hard, does everything you ask him to do.”
Grissom has been asked to do a little of everything. The time to answer what he can do on defense is now.