Building The Big Board: Defensive End

With the recent moves the Patriots have made, we could be seeing a shift in scheme, so who are the players that might fit what the Patriots are looking for?

With the recent moves the Patriots have made, we could be seeing a shift in scheme, so who are the players that might fit what the Patriots are looking for?

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 (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.)









43 Responses to “Building The Big Board: Defensive End”

  1. Matt says:

    2(60) Chris Jones DT
    2(61) Kenneth Dixon RB
    3(91) Joe Haeg OT
    3(96) Kalen Reed CB
    6(196) DJ White CB
    6(204) Keyarris Garret WR
    6(208) Nick Kwiatkowski LB
    6(214) Kevin Hogan QB
    6(221) Joel Heath DT
    7(243) Marquez North WR
    7(250) Keenan Reynolds RB/WR

  2. Daniel R. Martin says:

    Any thoughts on Xavien Howard CB from Baylor for one of those late 2nd round picks? Also, best LT/RT to fill what I perceive as huge weaknesses along the Offensive Line. I don’t like the prospect of counting on the health of Solder and the oft injured Vollmer, despite the return of Scarnecchia.

  3. Stephen J says:

    Just did a Fanspeak’s Mock Draft 7 rounds

    Wow look who fell to 60 and 61

    • Jim R says:

      You checked a lot of the boxes off. Good job there. I do not think they would take 2 wr’s at 60/61. If they take a WR at one of those picks, I would like to see them get Boyd.

      • Stephen J says:

        Yes I was just having fun with it. It would be shocking if both of them fell to those spots

  4. acm says:

    Great work with the analysis, as always, Mike!

    Not the best draft class when it comes to 4-3 DEs, imo. Most of the really good prospects at that position will be gone before the Pats would get to pick. I’d say this year there is more depth in 4-3 DTs, 3-4 DEs and 3-4 OLBs than 4-3 DEs.

    I like both Nassib and Kaufusi as Pats-type of players – offer versatility between 3-4 and 4-3 DEs with room to grow into that frame. Both are bigger than CJ.

    Other than those two, I am not sure I am a big fan of the rest on that list:

    Ronald Blair I somewhat like as a potential replacement for Easley – a situational interior rusher – but don’t think he can work on the edge. IMO he lacks the short area quickness and burst to help him overcome his lack of size and athleticism (for the edge) and succeed at the next level. I think Blair belongs in the NFL as a depth/situational player, just don’t see him become a long-term starter.
    As much as I hated the Easley pick, he had natural talent and athleticism in abundance. Blair, not so much.

    Charles Tapper reminds me a lot of Trey Flowers when it comes to measurables/physical tools. I am just not convinced he actually knows how to use them at the line of scrimmage. A project that has the tools but lacks the polish, and maybe even the football IQ, of Flowers, imo.

    Judon I like quite a bit, although it’s always tough to guess how a prospect would deal with such a jump in the level of competition. He has the tools and the instincts but will be more of a project than a contributor in his 1st 1-2 seasons, me thinks. Still, worth a 5th round pick, imo.

    The other two guys, as much as I like their character traits (especially true for Zettel), would be limited by their lack of athleticism, strength or length, to varying degrees. Neither Lowery nor Zettel project to be edge players in the NFL, imo. They would have the best chance for success as interior lineman. Intriguing prospects but hard to get excited about them as true starters/difference-makers in the NFL.

  5. GM-in-Training says:

    So the mystery of why Gaffney was released and then brought right back may have been solved.

    It looks like it saves the Pats $150K because Gaffney has no actual accrued seasons so he can be paid like a rookie, and it lets the Pats do a split contract that reduces their exposure if the player ends up on IR again.

  6. defineely will be aggressive on draft day

  7. Stephen J says:

    Latest Buzz
    This from Mike Loyko

    @MikeReiss who is usually dead on with this kind of stuff has been all over Devontae Booker to #Patriots over the last few weeks. Good fit

    Then Mel Kiper mocks Devontae Booker to the Patriots in the 3rd Round

  8. Stephen J says:

    Dane Brugler of CBS Sports 7 round mock here are his Pats picks
    60. Sean Davis, DB The Patriots have shown a great deal of interest in Davis who provides corner/safety versatility
    61 Bronson Kaufusi, DE, BYU: Kaufusi was moved around in BYU’s hybrid front-seven and offers flexibility for the Patriots
    As a side note pick 62 was WR Sterling Shephard
    91 Hassan Ridgeway, DT, Texas: The Patriots will draft defensive tackle depth in the draft and Ridgeway is tremendous value here
    96 Austin Hooper, TE, Stanford: With Martellus Bennett a free agent after 2016, Hooper can serve as his understudy as a rookie
    196. New England Patriots – Vadal Alexander, OG, LSU
    204. New England Patriots – David Onyemata, DL, Manitoba
    208. New England Patriots – Marquez North, WR, Tennessee
    214. New England Patriots – Keenan Reynolds, WR/RB, Navy
    221. New England Patriots – Cleveland Wallace, CB, San Jose State
    243. New England Patriots – Dan Vitale, FB, Northwestern
    250. New England Patriots – Cole Toner, OT, Harvard

    • Stephen J says:

      Dane had Devin Lucien going undrafted

    • steve earle says:

      He doesn’t take an OT until #250? Seems unlikely then a TE because of a maybe next year? Te is about as good as it gets this year and would still be solid next if Bennett goes. Brulger has some good names I just don’t like his rationals.

  9. Russell says:

    Thanks Mike good insight. Nassib is a guy I’ve been studying a lot as of late. Really like him very solid personality, and works hard at being better. Smart guy as well. Finished my look at the defensive line prospects in the draft, at and I think Nassib looks like a Patriot to me.
    If the Patriots move to a 3-4 D, they will need LB/SS help in the draft. LB Perry, LB Williams, CB/S Davis look like strong prospects.

    • Todti says:

      With a switch to more of a 3-4 maybe they do plan to convert SS Richards into their communicating ILB. BB had to have a plan for him and his smarts are his biggest strength.

      • Stephen J says:

        Interesting thought so I checked to see what is the average inside linebackers measurements are and here is what I found Middle/inside linebackers: 6’2-6’3, 240-255 while Jordan Richards is 5’11” and 211 then I checked Maryland’s Sean Davis 6’1 and 208 both are undersized for that position.

      • Ryan says:

        If they want one of those, I have one name for you: Miles Killebrew.

      • td says:

        Back when they ran a 3-4 base the size of guys were

        DT 6′ & 320-330 lbs
        DE 6’4″-6’6″ & 300 lbs
        ILB 6′-6’1″ & 240-250 lbs
        OLB 6’3″ & 250+ lbs

        The inside backers were a tad smaller because the DL’s were 2-gapping and holding off the OLinemen from getting to the second level. The outside backers had to be tall enough to effect throws to the zone between them and the DBacks while stout enough to take on blockers and set the edge.

        Not sure what they are going to do in the DBackfield. Probably switch in and out of zone and press depending on team.

  10. Stephen J says:

    With Mike Loyko tweeting out UCLA WR Jordan Payton is a name to watch for #Patriots when it comes to receiver targets. Heard his workout/visits went over pretty well.

    I came across a scouting report of his tonight/this morning just posted recently

    My first thought was to look at 3-Cone: 7.08 then I noticed his Cons of Lacks ideal burst out of route breaks. Separation on intermediate routes could be an issue seemed to confirm one another. Which left me unexcited but I told myself he did beat out one guy I do like his former teammate Devin Lucien and looked at Jordon Payton’s Pro’s but I just keep coming back to that 3 Cone time.

    Draftwire also had Lucien’s scouting report notice his 3 Cone

    For me even though Jordan Payton beat Lucien out at UCLA he made Lucien better. Then last year it came together for Lucien and he ended up having a breakout season.

    Whose better now. I don’t know. The thing I am left asking myself is who is better suited or fits better for the Pats and can either one of them become better than Keshawn Martin or Nate Washington

  11. munchkin says:

    Ditto on the kudos:) I have enjoyed all of your breakdowns. Thanks for making your hard work available!

  12. EdgeX says:

    I can echo those feelings of confusion – 11 days to go until the Pats are scheduled to pick and I don’t have a clue who the Pats are going to take either.

    Out of this list I like Carl Nassib the most.

    Question is, though, with all the Patriots needs this year do they draft a DE early, late, or even at all?

    I guess we won’t find out until draft night!

    • Kevan says:

      The only certainty is with one of the first few picks all pats fans will say, wait what!? Who? Really Belicheck

      • steve earle says:

        This year I’m hoping will be different. After losing our 1st rd pick which is enough drama Bill is less likely to go for an injury prone, reach for a head scratcher or go for a high risk early on pick. I sure hope!

        • Kevan says:

          That’s a very good point, I hope your right Steve. Margin for error is smaller this year, BB better bring his A game.

        • Ryan says:

          As a counterpoint, we have four day 2 picks this year, and Belicheck has said before that he likes to take unconventional players in the second round. I’m just hoping there’s only one wild-card this year.

        • steve earle says:

          @Ryan, Yea there is that, but as I wrote with no 1st his thinking could change this year, I hope.

      • EdgeX says:

        Oh god – I hope that doesn’t happen again!

        We don’t need another bust like Easley or a reach like Tavon Wilson.

        Bill if you can hear me listen to the scouts don’t ignore the red flags this year!!

    • steve earle says:

      I agree Nassib sounds like the best off that list but I’m also thinking Trapper might be a nice fit. AS you say though no one has a clue at this point what Bill is planing.

  13. Ryan says:

    I appreciate all the effort you put in Mike! You work extremely hard around draft season and we’re all the better for it.

    • Mike Gerken says:

      Thank you Ryan,
      That means a lot. I am glad that you are enjoying the information. I love the draft and am glad I can share my thoughts with others who love it as well.

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