While the New England Patriots are currently in the middle of what appears to be at least another run towards the playoffs, they will have their hands full whenever their season ultimately comes to an end: 24 of the players currently on the team’s pay roll — either on the active roster or a reserve list — will enter free agency next March, with 19 of them about to hit the unrestricted market.
One of the position groups that could see significant turnover is the defensive front seven: players like Trey Flowers, Malcom Brown and Danny Shelton all will see their contracts expire in a little more than three months. While there certainly is a chance that all or at least some of them return or get extended before that happens, New England might look drastically different up front next year.
It is therefore no surprise to see two recent mock drafts address this area of the Patriots defense. Sport Illustrated’s Albert Brier and Kalyn Kahler, for example, have the team add to its pass rush by selecting a Florida defender:
Jachai Polite, DE/OLB, Florida
Aside from Trey Flowers, the Patriots have been rolling out a middling group of pass rushers. Polite would provide a more explosive presence coming off the edge, especially as he improves his technique.
At 6’2, 240 lbs, Polite is an explosive pass rusher off the edge that wins with fluid moving skills and a quick first step. Playing on one of college football’s better defenses, the junior currently leads Florida with 11.0 sacks while also registering 43 tackles and five forced fumbles. Polite’s abilities against the pass are not his only positive trait as he also has shown the ability to properly set the edge in the run game.
All in all, he would be a nice addition to a Patriots defense that might lose the aforementioned Flowers — clearly the team’s best defensive lineman — to the free agency market next March. While Polite still needs to become more consistent in order to become a successful difference maker at the next level, he brings solid athleticism to the table and might be a good fit for New England’s scheme.
A lot depends on Flowers, however, and the development of the Patriots’ other youngsters at the defensive edge: Deatrich Wise Jr. and Derek Rivers. If the 2017 mid-round draft picks can continue their development, a player like Polite might be more of a luxury than a need — despite his high upside.
Ben Burr-Kirven, LB, Washington
If Bill Belichick was drafting for other teams to help stop his own club, BBK would probably be near the top of the board for defensive players. A fast, twitchy coverage linebacker with NFL veteran-like block-shedding skills, the Washington linebacker has been very productive in college, and that will continue at the pro level.
Burr-Kirven is in the middle of a career-year at Washington. Through his first 12 games, the senior linebacker leads the Huskies with 155 tackles while also registering 1.0 sack, two interceptions and four forced fumbles with three recoveries. A physical and explosive defender that excels in short-area pass coverage, Burren-Kirven brings all the traits to the table you would want from an off-the-ball linebacker in today’s NFL.
The questions surrounding him have to do with size: listed at 6’0, 222 lbs, Burr-Kirven is undersized for the linebacker position at the next level. Teams might therefore opt to use him in more of a tweener-role between his college position and strong safety — think a mix between Patrick Chung and a hyper-athletic Elandon Roberts. He would therefore fit in well in New England and with a coaching staff usually putting its players in a position to succeed.
The question is whether or not the Patriots would consider adding another linebacker, one that is more of a project, to a group that already has a solid one-two punch in Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy and is projected to get rookie Ja’Whaun Bentley back off injured reserve next season.