NEPD Staff Writer: Mike Gerken
Yikes! We are not less than two weeks away from the NFL Draft. There is so much to get done in such a little amount of time. The Patriots continue to make moves, making my life much more difficult. Typically, as we get closer to the draft, we can start to get an idea of the positions we think the team will target. This year however, I find myself more confused than ever. The team has made some interesting cuts and rumors are flying that the team might be looking to shift back to a 3-4 base defense. If that is the case, a position like Defensive End will have a different type of prospect to target than if the team decides to stick with the 4-3 they have played in recent years. Who the Patriots draft at both Defensive End and Defensive Tackle should give us a peak behind the curtain as to what the team wants to do defensively this year. So let’s take a look at some of the prospects the Patriots might target at Defensive End.
POSITION: Defensive End
Jabaal Sheard (age 26, signed through 2016)
Rob Ninkovich (age 32, signed through 2016)
Chris Long (age 30, signed through 2016)
Geneo Grissom (age 23, signed through 2018)
Trey Flowers (age 22, signed through 2018)
Rufus Johnson (age 25, signed through 2016)
Even with the loss of Chandler Jones, the position seems fairly set, at least in the short term. Sheard, Ninkovich, and Long should make for a good rotation and I really like the potential of the young guys. That being said, 4 of the 6 guys, including the 3 guys expected to play the majority of the time are only signed through this season. Ninkovich and Long are getting up there in age as well, so bringing in some youth is probably something the team will want to do. This draft does lack in elite pass rushers at the Defensive End position, but there are some good players with potential. Regardless of what defensive philosophy the Patriots want to employ, they should be able to find guys throughout the draft who fit what they are looking for. Here are the guys that I have targeted for the Patriots.
*note: The next in the big board series will be LB/Edge players, so if you are looking for guys like Jordan Jenkins, Victor Ochi, or James Cowser, they will be a part of that section.
Defensive Ends With Draftable Grades:
Carl Nassib- Penn St. (6’6″, 277 Lbs.): Nassib is a great sized athlete with room to grow. He is a try hard guy who has made a name for himself through his hard work and effort both on and off the field. He has shown great improvement since being a walk-on at Penn State. Nassib shows great burst and snap anticipation to quickly get past his opponent. He has a nice combination of speed and power and uses them both to his advantage. Nassib is a good enough athlete to drop in coverage and does not look out of place doing so. He is an intense player who plays the game right. He lives, eats, and breathes football. Nassib is stiff in his lower body and probably won’t be a true pass rusher in the NFL. He wins with athleticism and hustle and needs to develop his pass rush skills and counter moves. He put up great stats in his one year of starting, but did play along a very talented line, so was his production aided by the guys around him or the other way around? I really like Nassib and think he has Patriot written all over him and I think he could be the perfect replacement for Chandler Jones. (2nd/3rd round pick)
Bronson Kaufusi- BYU (6’6″, 284 Lbs.): Kaufusi is very similar to Nassib in many facets. Both are similar in size and weight and both play the game the same way. Kaufusi lacks a little of the athleticism that Nassib does and does not move in space like Nassib has shown. His pad level is too high at times and needs to continue to develop his strength. Here is the write up I did on him back in early February http://www.nepatriotsdraft.com/2016/02/scouting-report-bronson-kaufusi-de.html (3rd round grade)
Ronald Blair- Appalachian State (6’2″, 284 Lbs.): Blair will be an interesting player to watch in the draft. If the Patriots were to pick him, I think it would signal that they are going to stay with the 4-3 look on defense. Blair is a very smooth athlete for a guy his size. He shows and excellent combination of quickness and power. He shows the ability to get skinny and weave his way through defenders. Blair also shows good lower body flexibility and balance to get low coming off the edge. He is a physical player with long arms and does a nice job of directing traffic. He flows naturally and shows good awareness to find the ball and make the play. He is a very aggressive player that is both a positive and a negative. He played at a lower level of competition and will have to adjust to the speed and strength of the NFL. Blair won in college because of his physicality and athleticism and needs to work on his technique as a pass rusher. (3rd round round pick)
Charles Tapper- Oklahoma (6’2″, 271 Lbs.): Tapper is one of the most intriguing players for me in this draft and one of the most frustrating to watch on film. Not because of what he did, but how he was used in Oklahoma’s defensive scheme. Tapper has a compact body with long arms. He is very physical and powerful, both in his upper and lower body. He has the leg strength to generate pressure as well as hold up against double teams. Tapper has active hands and a powerful punch to get his opponent of balance. He also uses his long arms to keep defenders off him. He plays with great intensity and effort on every down. He has experience at multiple position and in multiple fronts. Tapper does not have bend the edge type of athleticism, rather he wins with power, hand use and motor. He was asked to primarily set the edge at Oklahoma and his growth as a pass rusher was stunted. Tapper played out of a 4 point frog stance that made him consistently late getting off at the snap. I think Tapper’s best football is ahead of him. (3rd/4th round grade)
Matt Judon- Grand Valley State (6’3″, 275 Lbs.): I really like what I saw from Judon in the limited viewing I had of him. He has a great combination of size, speed, and quickness. He was ultra productive, with 35 career sacks, including 21 as a Senior. He shows good balance to get low and dip his shoulder around the edge. He is a smart player who shows great awareness on screens and in the running game. He has long arms and power to manipulate opponents. Judon was productive beyond his sacks; creating 8 forced fumbles and 12 pass defenses. He will wear down during games and his technique will suffer. Judon needs to work on playing with leverage and better hand use. He is too aggressive at times and will take himself out of plays. Judon will need time to develop the mental processing aspect of his game with the jump in competition. He plays the game with passion and energy and despite playing at a small school is physically ready to play in the NFL. (4th round grade)
Dean Lowry- Northwestern (6’5″, 296 Lbs): Lowry has intriguing size and quickness for the position. He gets off the snap quickly and uses his hands well to shed defenders. He has a better than average array of pass rush moves. Lowry shows good use of power and leverage to set the edge in the run game. He is a smart player who reads and reacts to plays quickly. Lowry does a nice job of reading the QB’s eyes and getting his hands up, knocking down 20 passes in his career. He is a hard worker who shows enough athleticism to have some versatility along the line. Lowry has crazy short arms for a guy his size. He is a stiff athlete and is not a threat as a pass rusher off the edge. He needs to add mass to his frame. (5th/6th round grade)
Anthony Zettel- Penn State (6’3″, 277 Lbs): Zettel is the 3rd Defensive Lineman from the Penn State defense to make the big board. At one point, Zettel was though to be the best of the group, but will probably be the last of the three to get drafted. Zettel is a smart player who does a nice job anticipating the snap and quickly getting out of his stance and attacking the backfield. He is a hardworking player who wins with instincts and awareness, figuring out his opponents weaknesses and exposing them. Zettel is a team first guy who puts in the work in all facets of the game. He does not have great length to play the position and might not have a true position in the NFL. He lacks the lower body strength to hold up against double teams in the run game. Zettel may be limited in his role, but has the intangibles to be a solid role player for a team. (6th/7th round pick)
Interesting UDFA Prospects:
Drew Iddings- South Dakota (6’5″, 290 Lbs.)
Terrell Lathan- TCU (6’3″, 292 Lbs.)