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' top edge defender.
Name: Trey Flowers
Position: Defensive edge
Jersey number: 98
Opening day age: 24
Size: 6'2, 265 lbs.
2016 review: After appearing in only one game during the 2015 season – ending his rookie campaign on injured reserve –, Trey Flowers had a breakout year in 2016. The former fourth round draft pick was able to establish himself as the Patriots' number one edge defender and as such started the team's final 11 games of the season, making numerable big plays in the process.
Flowers started the year as the team's fourth rotational option on the edge and had his breakout party in week eight against the Buffalo Bills: He registered two sacks and five tackles during New England's blowout victory. After having played 43.1% of defensive snaps over the first half of the regular season, the Arkansas product played 66.0% after the team's week nine bye.
Overall, the second-year man finished the regular season having played 564 of 1,044 snaps (54.0%); the third-highest number of New England's defensive edge depth chart. In the process, he had 45 tackles and led the team in sacks (7.0), quarterback hits (11) and fumble recoveries (2). Flowers also registered 26 hurries and broke up one pass attempt.
Whether he was the Patriots' best defensive player, as ESPN's Jon Gruden claimed during week 14's game against the Baltimore Ravens, is up to debate. What is not, however, is that Flowers has become a key contributor for the team late in the season. And his momentum carried over into the playoffs when Flowers again led the team in multiple statistical categories.
Playing a position-high 162 of 187 defensive snaps (86.6%), Flowers recorded 2.5 sacks, five quarterback hits and three hurries – all numbers being team-highs. He also added 16 tackles, trailing only cornerback Logan Ryan in this department. Furthermore, Flowers had one of the biggest defensive plays of New England's victory in Super Bowl LI – a game during which he registered 2.5 sacks and two hits.
With the Atlanta Falcons in range to kick a potentially game-icing field goal late in the fourth period, Flowers sacked quarterback Matt Ryan for a loss of 12 yards – and out of field goal range. It was the most memorable play of Flowers' second year in the NFL, and the highlight of an impressive season.
2017 preview: Entering the third year of his NFL career, Trey Flowers – hitting New England's salary camp with a mere $755,000 (the 41st highest number on the team) – is a lock to make the Patriots' 53-man roster. Furthermore, he also is projected to resume his number one position in the defensive edge rotation and as such see at least the same playing time percentage as in the second half of the 2016 season.
As has been the case last year, Flowers, who turns 24 today, will mostly align over the left tackle with his responsibilites ranging from setting the edge in the run game to rushing the passer. Depending on the situation, he will also again likely move inside to serve as a quasi-defensive tackle on obvious passing downs – a role that he looked very good in during his 2016 breakout campaign.
With his usage pretty much set in stone, the major question entering the 2017 season therefore is how Flowers will respond to a potentially bigger workload throughout the year and the pressure that comes with it. If his late-2016 performance is an indication, though, he will be up to the challenge. And New England better hope he is, given the relative uncertainty surrounding the other edge defenders on the current roster.