The New England Patriots’ sixth Super Bowl title is only four days old and still being celebrated, but the team will quickly turn its attention to what lies ahead: the preparations for a 2019 season in which the Patriots will be chased by 31 other clubs trying to get their title. Two big parts of this are free agency, starting in a month, and the draft coming up in late April — and the former will at least to some degree impact the latter.
Naturally, it is no surprise to see the defensive line as one of the areas the Patriots might target in the draft from today’s point of view. One of the analysts feeling that way is ESPN’s Todd McShay, who just released his second mock draft of the season and gives New England a defensive tackle with the 32nd overall pick:
Gerald Willis III, DT, Miami (FL)
Trey Flowers, Malcom Brown and Danny Shelton will go to free agency, so the champs will likely address defensive line this offseason. Willis has quick hands and lots of power at the point of contact. If the Patriots opt to go another way, they could look for an heir to Tom Brady or another tight end (Noah Fant?).
McShay’s reasoning behind the selection is a sound one considering that the three players he mentions are all scheduled to hit the open market this year. While Trey Flowers is the biggest name of the bunch, Malcom Brown and Danny Shelton are half of New England’s active defensive tackle group and the position might see an overhaul this offseason — not just because they might leave via free agency.
While both Brown and Shelton played solid at times (see: Super Bowl 53), they are coming off a mostly inconsistent season. Of course this could mean that the Patriots might be able to re-sign them on the cheap, but it appears to be more likely that the team just looks for younger and cheaper options to integrate alongside returning interior linemen Lawrence Guy, Adam Butler and practice squad member Frank Herron.
Enter Gerald Willis, a senior defensive tackle out of Miami. The 6’2, 280 lbs lineman comes with plenty of concerns — frequent clashes with coaches and teammates led to his transfer from Florida to Miami in 2015, he also sat out all of 2017 due to “personal reasons” — but is without a doubt a high-upside prospect if he can get it all together. New England would certainly be a solid environment for that to happen, considering the team’s track record.
That being said, Willis might be a bit too much of a gamble for the team to spend a first-round draft pick on him. Not only does he come with red flags, he also a) is a bit undersized and b) has been an inconsistent player during a 2018 season that saw him register 59 tackles and 4.0 sacks. While Willis was a dominant force at times and looks like a player that can thrive from an interior spot with the right coaching, he also has an active off-switch when it comes to his technique.
For the Patriots to consider him, Willis will likely have to stand out in interviews and pre-draft drills. Otherwise, New England might just go with other safer options.