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Patriots draft preview 2023: Defensive linemen who could interest New England

New England brought back its entire defensive line from last season.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 03 Big 10 Championship - Michigan vs Purdue Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The New England Patriots have decided to run it back on the defensive side of the ball so far this offseason.

In the trenches, that means the return of Carl Davis and Daniel Ekuale to provide valuable depth behind Lawerence Guy, Christian Barmore, Deatrich Wise Jr., and Davon Godchaux. Last year’s sixth-round pick Sam Roberts, who didn’t play much as a rookie, and UDFA DaMarcus Mitchell, who mainly contributed on special teams last year, also remain on the roster.

After a strong season from the group last year, the interior of the defensive line does not project to be a pressing need in this year’s NFL Draft. But, with Lawerence Guy entering his age 33 season and some potential depth questions, it could be an area New England looks to address at some point.

Let’s dive into the trenches to see which prospects could potentially be on the Patriots’ radar.

Patriots positional draft preview: Quarterback | Running back | Wide receiver | Tight end | Offensive line

Round 1

Jalen Carter (Georgia): Carter was largely considered the best player in this draft class for most of the 2022 college football season but has since seen his draft stock fall.

His off field issues came on the first day of the Combine when a warrant was issued for his arrest. The warrant was related to a car incident that involved the death of a college teammate and another Georgia staff member. After quickly leaving the Combine, Carter then failed to finish his Pro Day workout and weighed in nine pounds heavier than expected.

How far he will now fall is the question. Carter himself shared he expects the off field issues to hurt his draft stock while multiple teams have reportedly removed him from their draft boards all together. On the contrary, Carter’s agent Drew Rosenhaus has declined visits with teams that reside outside the top-10 picks. Perhaps he falls all the way to 14, where New England could find the risk worth it.

Calijah Kancey (Pittsburgh): If Carter is off the board and New England still prefers a top defensive tackle, Kancey could be the next top option. An explosive pass rusher, Kancey showcased his athleticism at the Combine where he racked up a 9.6 Relative Athletic Score. He is undersized at 6-foot-1, 281 pounds, but was productive at Pittsburgh piling up 14.5 sacks and 27.5 tackles for a loss the past two seasons.

Bryan Bresee (Clemson): The last interior defensive lineman who has a chance to come off the board in the first round is Clemson’s Bryan Bresee. Bresee was a three-year starter for Clemson after being the No. 1 overall high school recruit three years ago, but did miss time the past two years after an ACL tear and kidney infection.

He is a big (6-5, 298), powerful defensive lineman that has the ability to play either 3-4 defensive end or defensive tackle. New England got a first-hand look at him at Clemson’s Pro Day.

Day 2

Mazi Smith (Michigan): Smith headlines the Day 2 list of defensive linemen. He is an extremely powerful lineman at 6-foot-3, 323 pounds who is immovable at times in the run game. The Wolverines used him up and down their defensive front. He will never light up the stat sheet but has the ability to cause some disruption as well with his quickness and size combination (25 pressures in ’22). There are some shades of Alan Branch to his game.

German Dexter Sr. (Florida) (6’6”, 310 lbs) and Keeanu Benton (Wisconsin) (6’4”, 309 lbs) are two big bodies up the middle. Both are plus athletes for their size which allows them to move along the middle of interior defensive lines. Either would be a strong addition to Davon Godchaux on New England’s roster.

Siaki Ika (Baylor): Ika is another big nose tackle who has flashed some short area quickness at 6-foot-3, 335 pounds. Ika is strong against the run due to his size, strength, and ability to control gaps and hold up double teams.

Adetomiwa Adebawore (Northwestern): Adebawore was primarily an outside rusher during his college career but may have more of a NFL future kicked inside. He is a freak of an athlete who may have posted the best performance of any player at the Combine. He recorded a 4.49-second 40 at 282 pounds to go along with a 1.61-second 10-yard split, 37.5-inch vertical, 10-foot-5 broad jump, and 27 bench press reps (9.71 RAS).

Tuli Tuipulotu (USC): Tuipulotu is another of one of these tweener defensive lineman due to his lack of size (6-3, 266) and arm length. He was mostly used along the edge at USC but did impress at times along the interior. Tuipulotu is an impressive pass rusher who posted 13.5 sacks and 22 tackles for a loss in 14 games last season.

Early Day 3

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Karl Brooks (Bowling Green): A five-year starter for the Falcons, Brooks is a versatile defensive lineman who can align in multiple techniques. He’s an athletic tackle who had quite the production in college, which included 27.5 sacks and 46 tackles for loss in 48 games.

Jaquelin Roy (LSU): New England held a meeting with Roy at the Tigers Pro Day. Roy is a powerful defensive tackle at 6-foot-3, 305 pounds but has just average athleticism. Sticking in the SEC, Alabama’s Byron Young was a four-year starter for Nick Saban, playing everwhere from the edge to the nose. He’s a smart run defender and grew as a pass rusher posting 28 pressures in 2022.

Zacch Pickens (South Carolina): A former five-star recruit, Pickens was the No. 1 defensive tackle in the 2019 recruiting class. He committed to South Carolina where he played in 47 games in four years for the Gamecocks. He has the size and athleticism to be dependable in the run game, but did not cause much havoc as a pass rusher.

New England got a first-hand look at the Texas boys, Moro Ojomo (Texas) and Keondre Coburn (Texas), at the Shrine Bowl. Both former Longhorns are projected Day 3 picks after a strong showing out in Vegas. Oromo is strong against the run but has promise as a pass rusher due to his length. Coburn on the other hand lacks those plus traits but projects as a powerful early-down nose tackle.

Colby Wooden (Auburn): Wooden offers intriguing position flexibility along the D-line. He was mostly used as a defensive end for the Tigers but could be best kicked inside, where his pass rush was more effective. Wooden started every game for Auburn the past three seasons.

Late Day 3

Dante Stills (West Virginia): Stills projects as a strong value pick in the later half of Day 3. Another Shrine Bowl standout, he showed off his pass rushing ability in Vegas after recording 23.5 sacks in five seasons at West Virginia. He doesn’t have typical strength of an interior rusher but proved to be a disruptive force (he left Morgantown as the school’s all-time leader in tackles for loss with 52.5).

P.J. Mustipher (Penn State): Another lineman who flashed at the Shrine Bowl, Mustipher played nose tackle for the Nittany Lions and was deemed a “coach on the field” from his defensive coordinator. The two-time team captain could on New England’s radar as a late Day 3/UDFA option.

Jerrod Clark (Coastal Carolina): Clark of Dorchester, Mass. took part of New England’s local Pro Day recently. The massive nose tackle (6-3, 334) has raw power but also moves well for his size as a former high school tight end. Clark, who was a three-year starter at Coastal Carolina, battled with some injuries but has the tools to become an eventual NFL nose tackle.

D.J. Dale (Alabama): Another run defender is the Crimson Tide’s D.J. Dale. Dale was a three-year starter for Saban in Tuscaloosa and projects as a two-down run defender.

Jacob Slade (Michigan State): New England could find value late in the draft or in rookie free agency from Slade. A strong 2021 season from the 6-foot-4, 315-pound tackle left high hopes for the ’22 season. However, Slade was limited to just eight games due to injury. When healthy, he looked strong against the run for the Spartans.

Tyrus Wheat (Mississippi State): Again in the Shrine Bowl department, Wheat left a strong impression on New England’s coaching staff as a physical and sturdy edge defender.

In more of the pass rushing department is Jose Ramirez (Eastern Michigan) and Caleb Murphy (Ferris State). Murphy won the Cliff Harris Award as the best non-Division I player in college football last season after he posted 25.5 sacks (!) in 15 games. The last two winners of the award were both drafted by the Patriots (Kyle Dugger in ’19, Sam Roberts in ’21).

Other Shrine Bowl participants include Devonnsha Maxwell (Chattanooga) and Desjuan Johnson (Akron). New England reportedly spent extra time with Johnson, who recorded 10 sacks and 29 tackles for a loss over the past two seasons.

Other late Day 3/UDFA players to watch include Scott Matlock (Boise State) and Darel Middleton (Bethel University TN). Both have met with New England during the pre-draft process.