The world champion New England Patriots will have some busy weeks ahead: 24 of the players on the team’s 2018 pay roll — either on the active roster or a reserve list — will enter free agency in about a month, with 18 of them set to hit the unrestricted market. One of the position groups that could see significant turnover soon is the defensive line: players like Trey Flowers, Malcom Brown and Danny Shelton all will see their contracts expire soon.
And even though there is certainly a chance that all or at least some of them return or get extended before that happens, New England might look drastically different in the defensive trenches next season. It is therefore no surprise that the Patriots adding to their line with the 32nd overall selection in this year’s draft is a popular projection among analysts. One of them — Pro Football Focus’ Michael Renner — did just that in his latest mock:
32. NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS – DEXTER LAWRENCE, DI, CLEMSON
Not too many teams covet a nose tackle highly enough to take them in Round 1. The Pats are likely one that does. Lawrence’s quicks and pocket-pushing ability are rare for a young nose tackle.
A high-upside interior defender to potentially replace the likes of Brown and Shelton, Dexter Lawrence certainly is an intriguing prospect to watch in the late first round: he possesses the athletic skill set and size to become a difference maker at the next level but has not always lived up to his talents at Clemson. That being said, the junior defender has still been productive as a run stuffer and pass rusher as the numbers compiled by PFF illustrate:
“Lawrence’s play strength, size and processing skills make him an ideal fit as a 4-3 shade or nose tackle in a 3-4 alignment,” Joe Marino — an analyst for the Draft Network — says about the junior defensive lineman. “While he plays with a hot motor and outstanding effort throughout each rep, Lawrence doesn’t have the juice, flexibility or hand technique to be a consistent pass rusher in the NFL.”
“He is capable of pushing the pocket and does well to get his hands in throwing lanes. Lawrence should be an early starter, providing strong contributions on early downs and a consistent winner at the point of attack. He can help a defense become more stout,” Marino continues. Picking the 21-year old would certainly help the Patriots replace either one or both of Brown and Shelton as rotational players alongside returning interior defenders Lawrence Guy and Adam Butler.
All in all, the versatile 6’4, 340 lbs defender appears to be a sound selection at the end of the first round: one that might address a need while also bringing an NFL-ready player to New England. In that sense, Dexter Lawrence would become the team’s next Malcom Brown — and possibly prove to be an upgrade over the 32nd overall selection of the 2015 draft.