The New England Patriots look to be entering a second straight offseason where they will be facing more questions than answers.
In the immediate aftermath of New England’s playoff loss to the Buffalo Bills, many pounded the drum saying New England’s defense needed to get faster and more versatile. One month later, following a multitude of offensive coaching staff changes, those same people have shifted their focus into trying to find out who will be next in line to help quarterback Mac Jones make that all important second year leap.
So yes, it’s another busy offseason in Foxborough. There are spots to be filled on the roster, coaching staff, and in the front office, making it difficult to truly decide whether or not New England would have interest in a particular player in the upcoming NFL Draft. That’s why we’re starting off with a guy who plays like he was built in a Patriots lab, Josh Paschal.
Name: Josh Paschal
Position: 3-4 defensive end
School: Kentucky (RS-Senior)
Opening day age: 23
2021 stats: 12 games; 52 tackles (24 solo), 5.0 sacks, 15.0 tackles for loss, 1 forced fumble.
Size: 6’3”, 275lbs
Expected round: 2nd-3rd
2022 #Patriots Draft Target Thread— Keagan Stiefel (@KeaganStiefel) February 18, 2022
DL Josh Paschal#Kentucky #BBN
(6’3” - 275lbs)
A strong, powerful edge defender who is well versed in stopping the run and has cinder blocks for hands. Fits New England to a tee. pic.twitter.com/bWZ0b6SELS
Strengths: Josh Paschal made a case for being the best edge run defender in all of college football last season. That’s great news for a Patriots team that has relied on safeties to do that job for the last two seasons. He’s a versatile run stopper, getting the job done as either a penetrating 5-tech or a two-gapping 3-tech. His raw power far exceeds what you would expect from a guy at his size. His patience, ability to diagnose gap schemes, and reset the line of scrimmage will make him an impact player on day one.
Josh Paschal can flat out stop the run. Here’s three plays where he demonstrates his ability to get the job done in a number of different ways.— Keagan Stiefel (@KeaganStiefel) February 18, 2022
He can penetrate, two-gap, and stay under control on the edge. #4 is a bulldog. pic.twitter.com/3AylKHuxSQ
Paschal’s versatility is what will make him such a hot commodity on day two. He can play anywhere from 3-tech out, and his skill set lines up with that of a player who can be used as a run defender on the edge before sliding inside on passing downs to help disrupt the pocket. A three-time captain at Kentucky, Paschal is certainly a leader and plays that way. He’s a communicator and does well to help correct teammates along the front line. His patience and ability to diagnose plays was a big reason why Kentucky’s defense has had so much success over the last four seasons.
Smart football players are super fun to watch. Paschal is one of them.— Keagan Stiefel (@KeaganStiefel) February 18, 2022
He reads the screen all the way here and almost houses it. pic.twitter.com/OjNJHOGLGI
Weaknesses: I’d be lying if I told you that Paschal was a dynamic athlete or a superstar pass rusher. He’s not, and that’s ok. He just found another, less valued, lane and became great at doing that.
The reason Paschal isn’t such a great pass rusher is due to his size and inability to stay in the same spot. Like I mentioned earlier, he can do a ton, but that means he doesn’t quite excel in any particular area. Jack of all trades, master of none. He added weight in college, and got a lot stronger to help hold up on the interior, but with that added size and strength came a decrease in flexibility and short area agility. That’s why he projects as a guy that teams will target on day two. Most teams won’t see his value as much as a New England type team who places significant emphasis on finding edge defenders who stop the run.
What would be his role? Great New England defenses have always had an outside run defender/inside pass rusher type to help contribute to keeping their versatile linebackers on the field. Richard Seymour, Trey Flowers, Michael Bennett (for a short period of time), and Chandler Jones are some high end examples of players who have held a similar role. The standard that those men set far exceeds anything you would expect out of a second or third round pick, but the role has always been one that the Patriots have looked to fill, and Josh Paschal is a fit to step in and do so.
Does he have positional versatility? The entire paragraph above displays that Paschal certainly does have positional versatility. He can line up anywhere from nose up with the guard to all the way outside of a tight end, but he can also step back and rush from a two point stance and provide some value on special teams.
Who’s his competition? Matthew Judon and Deatrich Wise Jr. handled the edge defending duties for New England in 2021, and Ronnie Perkins is coming into training camp as an unknown after not playing in his rookie season. That is three players, all signed through 2024. Add in the wealth of interior defensive lineman that New England has and it’d be a steep climb for Paschal to a game day roster spot.
Why the Patriots? It’s undeniable that Paschal has what New England is looking for out of an edge defender. Building a deep rotation along the front lines will be paramount in protecting a linebacker corps with a number of fresh new faces. That’s not to mention the fact that Paschal’s ability to hold up against the run from the edge is something that they struggled to find in 2021.
Why not the Patriots? It’s a crowded defensive front seven as is. Adding another name in on day two over a cornerback, linebacker, wide receiver, or offensive lineman would be groan-inducing for many.
Verdict: If New England can take care of the needs listed above throughout free agency and the first two rounds of the draft, then by all means they should take a stab at Paschal if he slips to the third round. In any other scenario, I don’t see a union between these parties coming to fruition.