Pass rush is an understated need for the Patriots. They simply don’t have enough of it, especially from their defensive ends. If they felt good about their DE depth they wouldn’t have cut all the young veterans off the roster last summer and wouldn’t have signed Andre Carter 1/3 of the way through the year. Jake Bequette’s time is up, so it’s time to add at LEAST one defensive end that can rush the passer.
Kony Ealy has the size and athleticism that the Patriots like in a DE. He can play on his feet or with his hand in the dirt. If he makes it to their pick in the first round, he’s someone that needs to get a long look. Scott Crichton is a player in the Rob Ninkovich mold. He wins with effort, motor, and power. He’s not very flexible and lacks a fluid frame. If the Patriots want to add a hybrid DE/DT then Tuitt is their guy. They have longed to find a big, strong, athletic DE that can bounce outside or inside. I like Tuitt in the Red Bryant role at the next level.
Aaron Lynch is someone that could explode after the combine. Perhaps the most gifted natural athlete at this group, he has failed to progress since his great Freshman year at Notre Dame. It’s a critically important week for him.
1. Kony Ealy, Missouri
2. Scott Crichton, Oregon State
3. Stephon Tuitt, Notre Dame
4. Aaron Lynch, South Florida
5. Will Clarke, West Virigina
6. Jeoffrey Pagan, Alabama
I’d be willing to wager that the Patriots will spend one of their first three picks on a Defensive Tackle. It’s a deep group, but also a group I feel is top heavy. Louis Nix is the prize of the group from a Patriots perspective. The combine is important for him to check out medically, which will help him rebuild his draft stock. After Nix there are two explosive players, both under 300 pounds.
Aaron Donald is going to put on a show this weekend. With his quickness there’s a good chance he posts impressive numbers in the agility drills and even the 40. Easley, like Nix needs to check out medically. He’s been stricken with injuries since his arrived on campus and teams will be anxious to see how bad things really area. After the top three, watch out for DaQuan Jones, he’s a powerful run stopper that shed weight to become more explosive this past year and it showed.
1. Louis Nix III, Notre Dame
2. Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh
3. Dominique Easly, Florida
4. DaQuan Jones, Penn State
5. Anthony Johnson, LSU
6. Caraun Reid, Princeton
7. Justin Ellis, Louisiana Tech
8. Khyri Thornton, Southern Mississippi
9. Jay Bromley, Syracuse
The Patriots are likely set at OLB for starters, but as I said above, they are always thinking ahead. Depth behind the starters is lacking and there is a group of middle-late round prosepcts that the Patriots may find attractive. Both Jordan Tripp and Tyler Starr are under the radar guys that fit that mold. Starr is interesting because he’s already come out and said he plans to break the 3-cone record, we all know how Belichick feels about that.
This position isn’t on top of the needs list, but these are players they will be looking at closely none the less.
1. Kyle Van Noy, BYU
2. Christian Jones, Florida State
3. Christian Kirksey, Iowa
4. JordanTripp, Montana
5. Tyler Starr, South Dakota
Brandon Spikes departure has already been conceded for the most part and with him the team loses their physical, run stuffing presence in the middle of the defense. As with Outside Linebacker, this position isn’t a priority, but there are a few player that Patriots could look to bring in to supplement the run defense and add positional depth. James Morris isn’t as good as his teammate Christian Kirksey, but he is a high-character player, with special teams experience, and a good head on his shoulders. He’s a late round value.
1. Shayne Skov, Stanford
2. Jordan Zumwalt, UCLA
3. James Morris, Iowa
Everything at this position revoloves around Aqib Talib. If Talib returns, then the Patriots can slot their top four CB back together and perhaps look to add a depth guy in the final rounds. If Talib does leave and they don’t add another #1 cornerback in free agency, then his position jumps to the top of the needs list. Kyle Fuller is a guy at the end of the first round the Patriots will consider. He’s an aggressive, instinctive corner, that isn’t afraid to play against the run. Jason Verrett has some Asante Samuel to his game and the Patriots have shown they will tap into Gary Patterson’s program for defensive backs.
Without Talib the Patriots would need size and man coverage ability. That’s where CB like Bashaud Breeland, Keith McGill, Travis Carrie would come into play. A corner like E.J. Gaines would add depth and physicality, but lacks a high ceiling. Without Talib you can add the top guys like Dennard and Gilbert to this list.
1. Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech
2. Jason Verrett, TCU
3. Bashaud Breeland, Clemson
4. Keith McGill, Utah
5. Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Nebraksa
6. E.J. Gaines, Missouri
7. Travis Carrie, Ohio
Your guess is as good as mine when it comes to trying to figure out how the Patriots evaluate this position. I could throw a bunch of names out there that I think they’d be interested in but, I’d just be guessing. Instead, I’ve put togeter a list of guys that I believe would help improve the position. Devin McCourty is great, but he’s a finesse player and Steve Gregory can’t tackle a parked car.
The Patriots need more impact in the run game from the safeties and players that thrive on playing downhill, taking away underneath crossers. They could also use some high end depth players that can fill a certain role in a sub packages, similar to what they envisioned with Tavon Wilson (ugh). Here’s some of those guys.
1. Lamarcus Joyner, Florida State
2. Jimmie Ward, Northern Illinois
3. Deone Bucannon, Washington State
4. Vinnie Sunseri, Alabama
5. Craig Loston, LSU
6. Daniel Sorensen, BYU
7. Johnathan Dowling, Western Kentucky