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 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.
In today's final installment of the series, we will take a look at the player with the highest jersey number issued.
Name: Vincent Valentine
Position: Defensive tackle
Jersey number: 99
Opening day age: 23
Size: 6'3, 320 lbs.
2016 review: With their fourth pick in the 2016 NFL draft (round three, selection #96), the Patriots opted to invest in a highly athletic defensive tackle out of Nebraska: Vincent Valentine. After releasing former first rounder Dominique Easley just two weeks earlier, Valentine became an important piece of the interior defensive line before even taking a snap for the team.
As the number three defensive tackle behind Malcom Brown and Alan Branch, Valentine appeared in 13 of the Patriots' regular season games. He missed weeks five, six and seven due to a back injury but still managed to play a total 288 of a possible 1,044 defensive snaps (27.6%) – the third-most at the position. Valentine also added 47 snaps as a rusher on field goal and extra point attempts (of 449; 10.5%).
While seeing most of his action in run-first and goal line packages, Valentine also saw some select snaps in the passing game. Overall, he finished the regular season with 19 tackles – two of which for loss – while also adding one sack, one quarterback hit and seven hurries in the passing game. The rookie's usage looked similar during the Patriots' postseason run.
Playing 32 of 187 snaps (17.1%) on defense and 16 of 93 (17.2%) in the kicking game, Valentine finished with two tackles – one of which a key play in the AFC Championship Game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Facing a 2nd-and-goal from on their two-yard line, Valentine quickly was able to get through the line of scrimmage to tackle Steelers running back DeAngelo Williams for a loss of three yards.
It was the most memorable play of Valentine's first NFL season. And the season itself can be seen as a successful one given that a) it ended with a Super Bowl victory and b) saw the rookie establish himself as a key member of the rotation along the interior defensive line.
2017 preview: Even though the Patriots signed unrestricted free agent Lawrence Guy to a four-year, $20 million contract, Vincent Valentine is a near-lock to make the team's 53-man roster. After all, he is coming off a promising rookie campaign and only counts $720,000 against New England's salary cap – only the 43rd highest cap hit on the team. However, Guy's arrival might have still have an impact on Valentine.
While he played almost a third of the Patriots' defensive snaps last year, Valentine's role might become even more specialized – dependent on opponents, situations – due to the acquisition of Guy. It would therefore not be a surprise to see his playing time percentage look more like it did during the 2016 playoffs than the 2016 regular season. That being said, the 23-year old is still projected to see regular playing time.
And even though the circumstances might prevent Valtenine from having a breakout year like fellow defensive lineman Trey Flowers enjoyed last season, he should still remain an important cog in New England's defensive machinery.