One of the major inconsistencies the New England Patriots defense suffered from last season was the team's ability to generate pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Even before a disappointing Super Bowl outing, the Patriots failed to string together positive performances when it came to rushing the passer. It would therefore not be unexpected if the team tried to add to its pass rushing department in the draft.
Among the most productive pass rushers likely to be in the team's range is local kid Harold Landry, who spent his college career at Boston College. Let's take a closer look at him.
Name: Harold Landry
Position: Defensive edge
School: Boston College
2017 stats: 9 games, 38 tackles, 5.0 sacks, 2 pass breakups
Size: 6023, 252 lbs, 32 7/8 arm length, 9 3/8 hand size
Combine numbers: 4.64 40-yard dash, 36” vertical, 9’11” broad jump, 24 bench-press reps, 6.88 3-cone drill
Expected Round: 1st
Strengths: Landry is an outstanding athlete that knows how to turn his measurables and impressive workout numbers into success on the field. His moving skills stand out in particular: He has the speed to rush around the edge and the burst to explosively attack the offensive line right out of his stance. A fluid runner, Landry's ability to bend and change his trajectory on the fly make him a tough assignment for any blocker lined up across from him.
What also makes Landry a first-round prospect are his technique and playing style. He knows how to use his long arms well against blockers and also has the ability to get low and take advantage of bigger linemen trying to block down to him. Most of the time Landry also is a rather patient defender that tries to set the edge in the run game and read the play development and ball carrier to make decisions.
Furthermore, Landry is a versatile player as Boston College moved him all over its defensive line: He played 5-, 7,- and 9-technique on both the left and the right side, attacked out of a two- and three-point stance and even dropped back into coverage on occasion. Due to his excellent quickness and change of direction skills he did not appear to be out of position no matter how he was used.
Weaknesses: As impressive as Landry's speed rush is, he needs to learn to become more proactive with his hands to counter opposing blockers who try to take advantage of his speed-first approach. In general, Landry often relies to much on his quickness and superior athleticism to win one-on-one battles. Adding to his pass rushing moves should therefore be a priority for him at the next level.
Landry, who is coming off an ankle issue that limited him to just nine games last season and prevented him from building on an impressive 16.5-sack season the previous year, also needs to work on his motor: At times, he follows hustle plays with a far less impressive effort. Furhtermore, he might also have to add some more muscle to his rather lean frame as well particularly to become more of a factor in the running game.
What would be his role? In New England, Landry would do what he does best: rush the passer. The 21-year old would serve as a rotational member on the team's defensive edge and early on see most of his action in passing situations and as part of specific pass-oriented packages.
How many downs can he play? Four further down the line, two to three as it is. With the Patriots having plenty of bodies at Landry's position, his role will likely be more focused on playing against the pass than the run early in his career with the team – all while seeing some time in the kicking game as well.
What is his special teams value? Landry's speed off the edge, long arms and vertical jump make for a potentially productive member of the Patriots' field goal and extra point block units. Furthermore, his excellent moving skills and vision could also be used on kickoff and punt coverage.
Does he have positional versatility? As previously mentioned, Boston College used Landry in various spots across its defensive line. Playing both in a two- and three-point stance, he aligned on the left and the right side everywhere from the 5- to the 7- to the 9-technique positions. Landry also dropped back into coverage regularly.
Will his role change from year 1 to year 2? With Trey Flowers entering the final year of his rookie contract, New England might identify Landry as his long-term successor as a de-facto starting defensive edge. If the team indeed lets Flowers go via free agency, Landry is expected to slide right into his former spot and serve as the team's number one pass rusher. Even if Flowers stays in New England, though, his role is expected to expand from year one to year two as he would gradually take over for Adrian Clayborn.
Which current Patriots will he have to beat out? The Patriots have plenty of bodies on their defensive edge depth chart with Trey Flowers, Adrian Clayborn, Derek Rivers and Deatrich Wise Jr. the current top four. Landry would compete against them for practice reps and playing time.
Why the Patriots? As noted above, the pass rush had been one of the 2017 Patriots' major weak spots. Adding Landry would certainly help in this department and give the team a highly talented player that can contribute from day one but still has room for additional growth. Inserting him into the lineup would also help take some pressure off the other members of New England's defensive edge and help reestablish a rotation like the one that worked well for the team in 2016.
Landry would also serve as a security option at the position. With soon-to-be 30-year old Adrian Clayborn no long-term solution and Trey Flowers about to enter unrestricted free agency, having Landry in the fold would a) bring stability to the team's defensive edge, and b) create a safety net in case Flowers left via the open market. And even if Flowers is retained beyond the 2018 season, a player of Landry's caliber would bring much-needed athletic quality to the Patriots' front seven.
Why not the Patriots? There are two major reasons why the Patriots might not come away from the draft with Landry. The first is his abilities which might lead to him getting picked before New England's first pick in round one (overall selection number 23) or even outside the team's trade-up comfort zone. His athleticism and past success might lead to another team pick him before the Patriots get a chance to do so.
The second reason is the composition of New England's current roster: With plenty of bodies along the defensive edge, the team simply might not be compelled to invest in a high-profile pass rusher. After all, Trey Flowers, Adrian Clayborn, Derek Rivers and Deatrich Wise Jr. should all be considered locks to make the team's 53-man roster this season. Other position, for comparison, do not have the same depth.
Verdict: If Harold Landry is available with the 23rd pick or falls into a range the Patriots would feel comfortable trading up into, it would not be a surprise to see him end up in New England. After all, he is an outstanding prospect that would help both in the short-term while simultaneously filling a potential long-term need. Landry would be a quality addition to the team's defense in the second half of the first round.