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2021 Patriots positional preview: Defensive line

The new look defensive front has a chance to be a scary sight for opposing offenses.

New England Patriots Mandatory Minicamp Photo by Kathryn Riley/Getty Images

Watching Bill Belichick completely rebuild the defensive line this offseason was like watching an artist at work. The Patriot’s head coach was a man possessed, adding not one but four starting-caliber frontmen in Davon Godchaux, Christian Barmore, Henry Anderson, and Montravius Adams and re-signing two stalwarts in Lawrence Guy and Deatrich Wise.

In addition to beefing up the group, he ensured that they’d be competing for a smaller share in playing time this season, as other free agency moves have signaled that the Patriots will be looking to run their defense out of a three-man front instead of the four-man front we saw in 2020.

So to recap: more players fighting for fewer roster spots. It’s clear that Belichick had one thing in mind while building this group, making them compete and earn their playing time. Iron sharpens iron as they say.

Lawrence Guy

Like a lot of the Patriots pending free agents, it was uncertain if Guy would return to New England after the Patriots signed Davon Godchaux and Henry Anderson on Day 1 of free agency. However, Guy inked a four year, $11.5 million dollar deal to return to the Patriots later in free agency. If there was a most underrated player award for the Patriots, Lawrence Guy would win the award every single year. A lot of what Guy’s role doesn’t necessarily show in the box score or sometimes catch your eye on tape, however, having him man the Patriots front is one of the more important aspects to the team.

Guy has started every single game that he’s played for the Patriots over the last two seasons and picked up 57 tackles while adding two sacks a season ago leading a Patriots front seven that couldn’t seem to stay healthy or find consistency. Guy repeatedly took on double teams and was one of the only bright spots to the Patriots front a season ago. A multi-time team captain, the Patriots get one of their most important and under-valued players back in the fold for the next few seasons.

Davon Godchaux

There’s no such thing as certain when it comes to Bill Belichick and free agency, but adding a 310lb nose tackle the first chance he got following a season where his team ranked 26th in run defense is close.

Davon Godchaux was brought to New England in the first step to reconfigure a defensive line that is expected to be more effective than last year’s iteration.

Playing more of a classic nose tackle type role, Godchaux’s presence will allow for better versatility within the group. Having someone that can play all three interior positions, along with multiple players who can play both inside and out, will re-introduce one of the Patriots’ defenses core values, versatility.

Christian Barmore

Someone that many people thought could be an option for the Patriots in the first round, fell into their laps on Day 2 of the NFL Draft when the Patriots traded up to pick number 38 to select Alabama’s Christian Barmore. Barmore’s position versatility and variety of pass rush moves to get to the quarterback make him a sure lock to be an immediate Day 1 impact player for the Patriots.

With a re-loaded defensive front, Barmore may see time in what was Adam Butler’s role in early on in his career as a rotational lineman that can collapse the pocket and get after the quarterback on passing downs. He has a ways to go but all signs point to this being one of the steals of the second round as the Patriots easily got the best defensive lineman in the draft later than most expected.

Henry Anderson

A long time adversary with the Colts and Jets, Henry Anderson played in seven career games against New England Patriots, making a strong enough impression to convince Bill Belichick and co. to sign him to a two year contract this past March.

His role is expected to be that of a plug and play guy. Do you need a 5-technique? Henry Anderson can do it. A 4-tech? He can do that too. What about a 3-tech? You betcha.

In a season where the Patriots will be introducing a new defensive front, Henry Anderson will prove to be a vital player to the success of that switch. He’ll likely be the top reserve to multiple starters, and see his fair share of reps in sub-packages.

Montravius Adams

At 6’4”, 310 lbs the Patriots added a whole lot of beef to a front seven that consistently got gashed on the ground in 2020. Adams signed a one-year, $2.5 million dollar deal in late March making him the fourth new addition to the Patriots front. Adams has had trouble staying healthy for most of his career after the Packers took him in the third round of the 2017 NFL draft.

With Guy, Godchaux, Barmore and Anderson locks to make the initial 53 man roster out of camp, Adams will compete with guys like Akeem Spence and Byron Cowart as a rotational type lineman that can play in the Patriots 3-4 front.

Deatrich Wise

Deatrich Wise was another one of those guys that we thought we had seen the last of in New England due to the free-agent acquisitions but ended up returning to the Patriots on a four-year deal. Wise later spoke on the Patriots ‘culture and atmosphere’ for his reasoning to return to the team who called his name in the fourth round in the 2017 draft.

Wise is a reliable rotational pass rusher who appeared in all 16 games for the Patriots in 2020 — the third time he’s been able to accomplish that feat in his career. Wise will certainly have some bodies in front of him on the depth chart but his ability to play special teams and chip in as a pass rusher makes him a viable depth piece heading into the 2021 season.

Byron Cowart

Heading into his third year, the former #1 ranked player coming out of high school will look to battle his way into the mix in a loaded front seven. After starting 14 games for the Patriots in 2020 and picking up just one sack and 27 tackles, Cowart will need to really blossom in training camp to lock himself into the teams 53 man roster.

Cowart is loaded with talent but has had trouble staying on the field and ultimately putting it all together at the pro level.

Carl Davis

A career journeyman, Carl Davis found his way to New England last October by way of the Jaguars practice squad. He provided an immediate spark to the Patriots retched run defense before a recurring head injury caught back up with him and put him on the shelf in November.

Returning for year number two in Foxboro, Davis has a great opportunity to earn a role for himself on sub packages, as long as he can prove to hold his own as a single DT during camp.

Akeem Spence

Another journeyman, Akeem Spence found his way to New England after stops in Tampa Bay, Detroit, Miami, Philadelphia, and Jacksonville.

Only playing in one game for New England as a practice squad elevation, Spence’s chance to find the field again will likely be by taking that same route. A preseason body and possible practice squad addition is what Spence will be eyeing as training camp gets underway.

Tashawn Bower

Perhaps the only positive that comes from having an uncompetitive team is that it allows for experimentation with your personnel. Tashawn Bower was one of the players that benefitted from that experimentation the most.

Starting the year on the practice squad, Bower was eventually signed to the main roster and started in three of the seven games that he was active in. Unfortunately for him, his play was lacking, and the likelihood that he makes the Patriots roster is slim after their free agency upgrades.

Rashod Berry

Though much isn’t expected out of Rashod Berry, few “training camp bodies” can benefit from a strong summer as much as he can.

His profile is what Belichickian dreams are made of. Berry was a highly touted recruit who spent five years at a blue blood program in Ohio State, where he played and contributed in all three phases of the game.

The climb to a roster spot doesn’t quite look like it will be in the cards, but proving worth in all three phases of the game will certainly get you on to the newly expanded practice squad. There he will be able to continue his growth in the Patriots system and perhaps see some game action as he did in 2020.

Bill Murray

Bill Murray wasn’t quite ready in 2020.

The former William & Mary standout was the only practice squad defensive lineman to not get a call to the active roster at some point in 2020. Perhaps finding his way back onto the practice squad and eventually getting a gameday call-up can become a realistic goal for him in 2021.

When will the team unleash Christian Barmore?

There’s no question that Christian Barmore will have a role in the Patriots defensive front. His positional versatility and ability to get after the quarterback are top tier. However, despite being a high pick in this years draft, Barmore will have to prove in training camp that he is worthy of taking on a big role in the Patriots defense. With veterans like Lawrence Guy and Davon Godchaux leading the way, Barmore has all the talent and resources he needs to be a dominant chip in the Patriots front seven for the next few seasons.

Will the odd man front stick?

There has been a good amount of conjecture regarding New England making the switch to a primarily odd-man defensive front, and we here at the Pulpit deserve some of the blame for that. In all honesty, none of us know if the Patriots will make that change, but if one thing is for sure, we know that they will at least test it out.

The team’s defensive additions, from Davon Godchaux to Matthew Judon to Kyle Van Noy, spelled 3-4 defense. The question is whether or not that front will stick. The answer (depending on health of course) is yes.

The Patriots added a tremendous amount of talent, and with that talent comes the added bonus of being able to mix things up. Running a base 3-4 defense would allow the Patriots to maximize different personnel groupings and packages to mirror that of their opponents.

Who are the odd men out?

It will certainly be a much more competitive and talented group than 2020 which means they’ll likely be a few surprise cuts come training camp. Obviously, there’s a ton of time left and plenty of positions unfilled but with Guy, Barmore, Anderson and Godchaux locks to make the roster, it will be a battle for guys like Wise, Cowart, Adams to find a role on this team for the 2021 season.