The New England Patriots’ defensive front will likely see a lot of departures this offseason, increasing the need to continue the rebuild. Assuming no cap cuts or a handful of free agent signings at the defensive tackle poistion, the team is poised to start third-year player Byron Cowart and free agent signee Beau Allen at its top two interior spots with no one behind them. That obviously will change, as the Patriots like to be at least four players deep at the position (except against very pass-heavy offenses).
What the Patriots will do in free agency is anyone’s guess, but the team definitely needs to invest draft capital at the defense’s first level. New England will add veterans to the interior of the defensive line, but the team can get value for pennies on the dollar through the draft.
Name: Tommy Togiai
Position: Defensive Tackle
School: Ohio State (Junior)
2020 Stats: 7 games, 19 tackles (8 solo), 3 sacks, 1 pass deflected
Size: 6’2”, 300 lbs
Expected Draft Range: 3rd
Strengths: Togiai is a sturdy defender against the run and will be an early-down impact defender. His shorter stature gives him a natural advantage in a game where the low man wins. He also has plenty of lateral mobility to be able to slide down the line on off-tackle runs, cleaning up on outside runs that cut back towards the inside. His abilities in the passing game are somewhat limited, although he did pick up three sacks in five games during his junior year at Ohio State, so there’s potential for growth in that area.
Weaknesses: Togiai was not a starter until his junior season, but he performed well in the seven games that the team played. He dominated the 18th ranked Penn State with seven tackles and three sacks in his second game of the year, but the rest of the year didn’t put up much production in the passing game. With the questionable fit on late downs, he’s more of a rotational piece alongside a pass-rushing defensive tackle like Adam Butler.
Another thing to note is Togiai was not a starter until his junior year, so there is only one year of solid production to his name.
Why the Patriots should draft him: Togiai provides immediate rotational depth on the interior of the Patriots’ defensive line. The defensive philosophy for the D-line in the pass rush is to collapse the pocket on the quarterback and sacks aren’t necessarily a premium. That fits into Togiai’s skilset on the defensive front. If New England can unlock more of his pass rush potential, his upside goes from the lower half of the interior defensive line rotation to the top half.
Why the Patriots might not draft him: Due to the limited passing game fit, the Patriots should explore other options at the position earlier in the draft before turning to Togiai. He’s a solid run defender and OK-enough pass rusher to play on early downs, but he’s not someone who should play more than 40-50 percent of the snaps on the defensive line.
2021 role: Togiai would be a plug-and-play run stuffer in the Patriots’ defensive tackle rotation as a rookie, likely as the third or fourth player in the lineup. It’s unlikely he would play in tandem with Byron Cowart, but perhaps Beau Allen or a veteran tackle signed in free agency would work out.
Who he has to beat out: Cowart is likely one of the starters on the defensive line in 2021, but the rest of the position is up in flux. After not playing in Year One of his deal, Allen will have to justify his roster spot if the Patriots make multiple additions at the position. Nick Thurman finished the year on the Patriots’ practice squad after being yo-yo’d to the active roster early in the season.
2022 and beyond role: The hope is that Togiai develops into a starter on the defensive line, whether it’s next to Cowart or playing alongside another player. The key towards getting the best out of him is unlocking his abilities as a pass rusher. There is some hope, as three sacks against a top-20 team is not a joke and he does flash some disruptive capabilities when it comes to pushing the pocket back into the quarterback.
He may need to add a bit more weight to handle double team blocks in the NFL, though. On defense, he’s likely to be deployed as a 1-tech in even fronts and a 5-tech in odd fronts on base downs. On passing situations, he likely moves to the nose tackle if he is on the field for the Patriots’ amoeba package defense.
Conclusion: With the Patriots’ defensive tackle position close to as barren as it gets, adding someone who can give you snaps over a four-year span helps to build depth. Togiai isn’t going to be the team’s first, second, or third option at the position, but if he’s still there in the third round he could make for an interesting selection even as a part-time defender.