The New England Patriots’ defensive edge has experienced some notable personnel turnover so far this offseason. Veteran Kyle Van Noy, who played a starter-level role for the team last season, was released ahead of free agency. A short time later, Chase Winovich — the Patriots’ sack leader in 2020 — was traded to the Cleveland Browns in exchange for off-the-ball linebacker Mack Wilson.
With those players gone and move linebackers Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins as of yet unsigned in free agency, the team’s edge group currently consists of only three players plus another young hybrid:
- Matthew Judon: 29 | Signed through 2024
- Josh Uche: 23 | Signed through 2023
- Ronnie Perkins: 22 | Signed through 2024
- Anfernee Jennings: 24 | Signed through 2023
With Anfernee Jennings not a pure edge — he played more snaps off the line of scrimmage during his lone season so far (2020) — the Patriots have only three players who qualify as pure edges. Pro Bowler Matthew Judon is the only truly proven among them, with former Day 2 selections Josh Uche and Ronnie Perkins relatively unknown commodities heading into the third and second seasons of their respective pro careers.
Uche offers plenty of promise and has seen the field comparatively regularly in 2020 and 2021. Perkins, meanwhile, is coming off what was effectively a redshirt rookie season. Unless the team trusts the two to form a reliable rotation alongside Judon — or if it believes Jennings will play a Hightower-esque role in Year 3 — some investments appear to be necessary; New England prefers to be four-deep along the edge.
Luckily for the Patriots, there are a lot of suitable prospects available in this year’s draft.
(Just for clarity’s sake: players are listed alphabetically within their respective groups)
Jermaine Johnson II, Florida State: The Patriots will not move up the board to pick a marquee prospect like Kayvon Thibodeaux or Tavon Walker (let alone Aidan Hutchinson); Johnson, on the other hand, appears to be a more realistic target. Offering ideal size at 6-foot-4, 254 pounds, he can be a factor on all three downs as either an edge-setter in the running game or a pass rusher.
Targets at No. 21
George Karlaftis, Purdue: While his length is a bit below expectations, Karlaftis has all the tools to become a starter-level edge at the NFL level. He is powerful, versatile and has the first step to make life hard for opposing offensive tackles. The 21-year-old offers every-down upside and could be a Day 1 starter.
David Ojabo, Michigan: Ojabo tearing his achilles tendon during the pre-draft process will put him on a recovery timeline entering the NFL, but he can make a team very happy if able to fully recover. The 6-foot-4, 250-pounder offers intriguing size as well as the speed to fly around the edge as a pass rusher. Patience is the key with him, though.
Day 2 targets
Nik Bonitto, Oklahoma: Bonitto fits what the Patriots are looking for at the edge. He can play with his hand in the dirt and in a two-point stance, has the agility to be highly disruptive as a pass rusher, and is well-built to defend the run. He also played in a system New England has recently pulled some talent from: Ronnie Perkins also spent his college career at Oklahoma
Arnold Ebiketie, Penn State: While he has plenty of experience — entering the draft after four seasons at Temple and one at Penn State — Ebiketie does need some work to fill a starter-level role at the NFL level. That being said, his athleticism is considerable and his ceiling high.
Drake Jackson, USC: Jackson had his ups and downs in three seasons as a Trojan, but he combines good size with a good baseline athleticism. He also has experience dropping into coverage after playing an outside linebacker role in college.
Boye Mafe, Minnesota: The Patriots love their Senior Bowl participants, and few have looked as good this season as Mafe. The 6-foot-4, 261-pounder will likely start his career as a rotational pass rusher, but he has the size and raw skill to eventually grow into an every-down role.
Josh Paschal, Kentucky: Paschal’s versatility will make him such a hot commodity on Day 2 of the draft. He can play anywhere from the 3-technique spot out, and his skillset is a versatile one. He can be used as a run defender on the edge before sliding inside on passing downs to help disrupt the pocket. | Full draft profile
Myjai Sanders, Cincinnati: Sanders appeared to be on his way to become a first-round pick before a dip in production in 2021 forced his stock to slide. Part of the problem was a change in role, though, and he would play a role better suited for his skillset at the next level: Sanders projects as a classic outside linebacker rather than a 5-technique end.
Cameron Thomas, San Diego State: Thomas moved anywhere from the nose to the edge during his four seasons at San Diego State, but he best projects as an edge linebacker at the next level. At 6-foot-4, 267 pounds, he has good size to grow into a three-down player.
Sam Williams, Mississippi: Even though he needs to work on his run defense, Williams is an intriguing Day 2 prospect. He has experience playing both in a three- and a two-point stance, after all, and at 6-foot-3, 261 pounds has the size to become a factor when attacking the pocket from outside or inside the tackle box.
Day 3 targets/Free agency targets
Amare Barno, Virginia Tech: Barno is a project, but his athleticism might make him worth an investment on Day 3. He has good length at 6-foot-4 and his 4.36-second 40-yard dash is impressive. The question is whether he can continue his work as a speed rusher if he adds more bulk.
Darrian Beavers, Cincinnati: Beavers has considerable experience after having started 62 games over the course of his five-year career at UConn and Cincinnati. He is a bit of a tweener and needs to add bulk, but could fill the move role in New England previously held by players such as Dont’a Hightower or Kyle Van Noy.
DeAngelo Malone, Western Kentucky: Malone might be seen as more of an off-the-ball defender at the next level, but like Beavers has plenty of experience on the line as well; he too appeared in 62 games in college. A speedster around the edge, Malone has sub rush potential.
Dominique Robinson, Miami (OH): A former wide receiver, who only moved to the defensive side of the ball in 2020, Robinson will need time to adapt to the NFL. His raw athleticism is legit, though.
While this year’s draft features some intriguing first-round talent along the defensive edge, the second day might be the Patriots’ sweet spot to invest. Player such as Nik Bonitto, Boye Mafe or Josh Paschal all fit what the team is looking for and would be nice complementary pieces alongside the likes of Matthew Judon, Josh Uche and Ronnie Perkins.
As can be seen, though, there are plenty of players worth keeping an eye on. One of them ending up in New England when all is said and done could very well happen given the current state of the team’s edge group.