One of the biggest issues for the New England Patriots defense in 2020 was its inability to stop the run. Whether it was setting a stout edge, controlling the gaps up front or fielding undersized second-level players, the Patriots’ inconsistency in all those areas played a big role in the defense taking a major step back just one year after leading the NFL in scoring.
Heading into free agency as one of the league’s most financially potent teams, however, New England was determined to upgrade. This was apparent along the interior defensive line: the team re-signed Deatrich Wise Jr. and Carl Davis, and also added Davon Godchaux, Montravius Adams and Henry Anderson. All of them should play a prominent role next year, with the latter in particular being an intriguing addition due to his vast experience.
Name: Henry Anderson
Position: Defensive tackle/Defensive end
Opening day age: 30
Size: 6-foot-6, 300 pounds
Contract: 2 years, $7 million
After a five-year career at Stanford that saw him appear in 48 games and register 17 sacks, Anderson heard his name called as the 93rd overall pick in the NFL’s 2015 draft. The third-round selection did have an up-and-down tenure with the Indianapolis Colts, though. While Henry showed promise as a big-bodied run stuffer in the middle, his limited pass rushing contributions and two separate stints on injured reserve led to him getting traded to the New York Jets following his third season in the league.
Anderson rejuvenated his career in New York. In his first season as a Jet, he appeared in all 16 games — a first for him — and finished with a career-best seven sacks. While he notched only one-and-a-half of them over his next two years with the team, he still played a prominent role on its defense versus the run. Nonetheless, the Jets decided to part ways with him earlier this year and two seasons into a three-year, $25.2 million contract extension he signed after the 2018 season.
In total, Anderson has 74 games on his NFL résumé as well as 11.5 sacks and 44 quarterback pressures.
What is his projected role in New England? The Patriots started to incorporate more 3-4 principles in 2019, and the addition of Anderson and other free agent defenders this season is a sign that this development will continue in 2021. In this base alignment, the veteran defender is projected to be used primarily as an end — possibly on the other side of Deatrich Wise Jr. — or as a rotational defensive or nose tackle in odd and even fronts.
Where does he fit on the defensive tackle depth chart? Anderson joins a revamped interior defensive line group. The Patriots, as noted above, signed three free agents and also brought back Deatrich Wise Jr. and Carl Davis. Even with Lawrence Guy remaining on the open market, this is a deep group — and one that is projected to see plenty of snaps out of Anderson on early downs and in short yardage situations.
Does he have positional versatility? While he is more of a run-stuffer than a penetrating interior lineman, Anderson has shown that he can succeed versus the pass as well. He also has proven himself capable of playing all over the defensive front: throughout his career he aligned everywhere from the 9-technique edge spot to the 0-technique nose position. New England will likely also move him around quite a bit.
What is his special teams value? While defensive tackles have limited value in the kicking game, Anderson can help the Patriots on the field goal and extra point blocking unit. He also has experience on the two place kicking squads as well as a front-line rusher on the punt return units. In total, the 29-year-old has averaged around 83 special teams snaps over the first six seasons of his career.
What does it mean for New England’s salary cap? The Patriots added Anderson on a relatively cost-effective two-year contract that will neither have too big an impact on the team’s books in 2021 nor in 2022. His salary cap hit this year is just $2.75 million — currently just the 25th highest cap hit on the team — and will increase to a still-manageable $4.25 million next season.
What does it mean for New England’s draft outlook? New England invested plenty of resources in its interior D-line over the course of the last week, but that does not mean the team will not address the position group in the draft as well. After all, Anderson and Davon Godchaux are playing on two-year deals while no long-term solution appears to be on the roster at the moment.
One-sentence verdict: Henry Anderson will finally get to show that his long-standing status as a potential Patriots target has been justified.
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