The New England Patriots are in the middle of their 2017 training camp, which has started in late July. Over the remainder of camp, the 90 players currently under contract with the team are now in the process of fighting for spots on either the 53-man roster or the 10-man practice squad.
As we have done throughout the offseason, we will continue to take a look at the men fighting for those few select spots on the 2017 Patriots – and to find out who will and might be asked to help the team defend its Super Bowl title.
Today, we will continue the series with one of the Patriots' offseason acquisitions.
Name: Kony Ealy
Position: Defensive edge
Jersey number: 94
Opening day age: 25
Size: 6'4, 275 lbs.
2016 review: Coming off the best game of his professional career – he registered an MVP-worthy 3.0 sacks plus an interception in Super Bowl 50 –, expectations were high for Carolina Panthers defensive edge Kony Ealy entering the 2016 season. However, as has been the case during his entire three-year career with the team, the former second round draft pick was not quite able to live up to them.
Overall, though, Ealy was still a reliable and productive member of Carolina's defense. Appearing in all 16 of the team's games, the Missouri product played a position-high 623 (of 1,070; 58.2%) snaps and in flashes performed well against both the pass and the run: He registered 5.0 sacks and seven additional quarterback hits while also intercepting a pass and breaking up three others.
Ealy also forced two fumbles and of his 32 tackles, five resulted in a loss of yardage. However, while the numbers look solid, he struggled with inconsistency throughout the season and failed to take another step in his development as a complete edge defender. As a result, Ealy was was replaced in the starting lineup by Wes Horton after the first six games of the season.
And even though Horton was no more productive, Ealy was unable to regain the starting spot on the right edge and finished the year as the team's top backup. The story of his 2016 season, which also saw him play 88 of a possible 480 special teams snaps (18.3%), was therefore more of the same: Ealy not living up to his potential.
2017 preview: Because of his inconsistent play and loss of a starting role, the Panthers opted to put Kony Ealy on the trading block after the 2016 season. On March 10, the team found a trading partner in the Patriots: New England sent its second round draft pick to Carolina for Ealy and a third round selection, which meant that the Patriots acquired the defensive lineman for a drop of a mere eight draft spots.
The 25-year old, who enters the final year of his rookie contract, will hit New England's salary cap with a modest $900,000 (37th highest number on the team). But despite his relatively small financial impact on the Patriots' books, his high athletic upside and the retirement of starting defensive edge Rob Ninkovich, Ealy is no lock to ultimately make the team's 53-man roster – especially considering the quiet training camp he is having.
Ealy's major problem is once again his consistency. As has been the case in Carolina, he has had some really good moments but also disappeared at times. Yesterday's preseason opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars was more of the same. The major question therefore is, whether or not the veteran will be able to improve this aspect of his game over the next three weeks.
If he is able to do that, Ealy should be able to earn a spot on the team as at least a rotational option on the edge and potentially the interior as well. However, if not, then it would not be a surprise to see his tenure in New England come to a quick end and one of the other players at the position – Geneo Grissom or undrafted rookies Harvey Langi and Adam Butler, for example – take his spot.