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 the Patriots' highest 2017 draft pick.
Name: Derek Rivers
Position: Defensive edge
Jersey number: 95
Opening day age: 23
Size: 6'5, 250 lbs.
2016 review: After two productive campaigns in 2014 and 2015, defensive edge Derek Rivers was able to improve even further during his 2016 senior season at Youngstown State. The communication studies major, who also served as a team captain, started all 16 of the Penguins' games and earned second-team All-Amercian honors and a nomination to the All-Missouri Valley Conference first team in the process.
Rivers was able to do that by putting up impressive numbers. He was credited with 58 tackles – 5.5 of which for loss – and registered an additional 14.0 sacks. The North Carolina native furthermore had 21 quarterback hurries, one forced fumble and three recoveries and added one pass breakup. In short: Rivers did what was expected of him, namely dominating the lower-level competition he faced.
The best example of this came in week five of the season, when Rivers registered three sacks and a tackle against Illinois State. Overall, his 0.88 sacks per game – he had a quarterback take-down in 11 of his 16 contests – ranked 10th in the FCS and second in the conference. Due to his stellar play, he was invited to the scouting combine – and ultimately selected in the third round (pick #83) of the 2017 NFL draft.
2017 preview: When the Patriots drafted Derek Rivers, he joined a defensive edge group in flux. The team had lost Chris Long and Jabaal Sheard in free agency and would soon lose Rob Ninkovich to retirement while adding Kony Ealy via trade and Deatrich Wise Jr. through the draft. Rivers, who is a lock to make the team, will therefore be one of the players counted on to replace the talent New England has lost.
So far, he is off to a solid start. While he did not stand out as much as fellow draftee Wise Jr., Rivers appears to be on an upwards trajectory. He also does not seem overwhelmed by the challenges of adapting to life in the NFL. If he can continue this growth, it would not be a surprise to see him become a core member of the defensive edge rotation – or, depending on Ealy's development and Wise Jr.'s injury, even one of its leaders.
With last year's group of Ninkovich, Long and Sheard as the benchmark, Rivers might be in line to play around 50-60% of the team's defensive snaps (while simultaneously also seeing some time in the kicking game). But no matter how exactly his role and usage will ultimately look like, it appears to be a safe bet that he will see considerable time on the field during his first season in the league.