In Depth Look At The Defensive Line: Past, Present, and Future

NEPD Staff Writer: Mike Gerken

With one preseason game in the books and another just around the corner, we start to get a look at the makeup of this team. We have only peaked through the keyhole, but we can see players who are excelling and some who are struggling. Things can change in the next three and a half weeks, but for the guys who are struggling, it is tough to get past that first impression. One position that still has question marks and may be the biggest concern going into the season is the Defensive Line, so it seems appropriate that we take a look at those players today to see what the team looks for, if they have enough to be competitive this season, and who they might look at next draft if they need to reload at the position.

The Past:

The Patriots have drafted 9 Defensive Tackles and  14 Defensive Ends/Outside Linebackers over the past 10 years. It is clear by those numbers that Belichick and the Patriots value these positions and are consistently looking to add youth and talent along the front seven. Here are the averages of the guys the Patriots have drafted.

Defensive Tackles:

Height: 6’3″

Weight: 312 Lbs

40 Yard Dash: 5.15 sec.

Vertical: 28.5″

Bench: 24 reps

Broad Jump: 8’5″

3cone: 7.97 sec.

Shuttle: 4.74 sec.


Defensive Ends/Outside Linebackers:

Height: 6’4″

Weight: 258 Lbs

40 Yard Dash: 4.76 sec.

Vertical: 34″

Bench: 23 reps

Broad Jump: 9’10”

3cone:7.23 sec

Shuttle: 4.42 sec

Honestly, nothing from an athletic or physical standpoint really sticks out from the averages of the rest of the players drafted at these positions. The Patriots again drafted players that performed better than the average in the 3cone, Shuttle and Broad Jump. The difference is pretty minimal and I wouldn’t rely on it as a way to pinpoint player the Patriots might draft.


The Present:

Here is the Patriots current depth chart along the defensive front:

Defensive Tackle:

Alan Branch

Malcom Brown

Vincent Valentine

Woodrow Hamilton

Josh Augusta

Darius Kilgo

Adam Butler

Defensive End/Outside Linebacker:

Trey Flowers

Kony Ealy

Deatrich Wise Jr

Derek Rivers

Lawrence Guy

Geneo Grissom

Keionta Davis

Caleb Kidder

The Defensive Tackle position seems set at the top with Branch, Brown, and Valentine. Adam Butler and Josh Augusta are two RFA’s that intrigued me after the draft. I don’t think either make the final roster, but I think Augusta could be a guy they try and groom for the long term. He has rare size and athleticism and could play a Vince Wilfork type role down the line. Defensive End is another story. Flowers played well down the stretch last year, but he is an unknown commodity at this point. Ealy was brought in to man the other side, but he has not had the type of camp most expected and would be a potential cut if the team was not so desperate at the position. Wise has played well, but is now hurt and Guy has been, well, just a guy up to this point. Rivers played well in the game and has shown improvement of late, but an injury today could sideline him for awhile and stunt his growth. Grissom has done nothing on defense to this point and while an intriguing prospect, Davis is another small school player with an injury history and really can’t be counted on to be anything more than a camp body at this point. This is a position I have real concern about as the team inches closer to the regular season. The team may have to get creative with their fronts and use some of their more traditional Linebackers in more hybrid roles.


The Future:

Here is a list of Seniors I will be watching this fall:

Defensive Tackles:

Lowell Lotulelei, Utah

Maurice Hurst, Michigan

Matt Elam, Kentucky

PJ Hall, Houston

Justin Jones, NC State

BJ Hill, NC State

Greg Gillmore, LSU

Christian LaCouture, LSU

Bijohn Jackson, Arkansas


Defensive Ends/Outside Linebackers:

Bradley Chubb, NC State

Sam Hubbard, Ohio State

Harold Landry, Boston College

Marcell Frazier, Missouri

Duke Ejiofor, Wake Forest

Tyquan Lewis, Ohio State

Jaylon Ferguson, LA Tech

Chad Thomas, Miami

Da’Shawn Hand, Alabama

Andrew Trumbetti, Notre Dame

Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, Oklahoma

Lorenzo Carter, Georgia

David Bellamy, Georgia

Jacob Pugh, Florida State

While the Defensive Tackle group lacks any elite Senior prospects, there is a nice group of Defensive End/Outside Linebacker prospects. The Patriots ask their Ends to do so much, it is tough to clearly define what prospects should go into what category, so that is why I lumped them all together. Players must be versatile, so look for guys this fall who show consistency in the run game as well as getting after the passer.












66 Responses to “In Depth Look At The Defensive Line: Past, Present, and Future”

  1. Russell says:

    Another new rule this year allows Teams to activate TWO players on Injured Reserve to Return. Past years only one IR to Return per Team.
    As I wrote in my article at , if your teams QB has an injury, and is placed on IR to Return, a P-Squad QB (Brissett?) could be brought up with out cutting another player.
    While being able to use another IR to Return, on another player, and not to save the IR to Return, for a QB issue.

    • steve earle says:

      It’s a rule that makes sense to me. It should allow any team that has a key player (especially a starting QB) injured the possibility to recover at least part of their season. Good for the team, good for the fans.

    • Jeff says:

      I wonder if they use that designation for Slater. He’s been banged up enough where at his age, they might benefit from having him play only half a season and playoffs, leaving a roster spot for someone else in the meantime.

      While we’re on the subject of IR, it seems like Rivers is headed to the regular IR – I wouldn’t be shocked if Garcia lands there as well. With his injury and lack of practice time, the book on him being that he needed to add bulk and strength before being a viable option, and their backups from last year still on rookie contracts, it might make some sense.

      Who is eligible for the PUP? I could see Jelks and new DE Davis landing there to start the season so they can be emergency midseason options or revert to IR to compete next year if injuries stay away.

      • steve earle says:

        Good thoughts there Jeff. Slater in particular might benefit from an abbreviated season. Wouldn’t mind if half dozen others started the year off under that designation too. Just have to be careful not to get to iffy with it. Rivers is a lock for IR, rushing him back would be the worst thing for him. Don’t know about Garcia, maybe, maybe not. Depends on injury. Would think, if able, sticking on 53 and working under Scar would speed his development even if he never played a single snap from scrimmage. Be watching to see how it all comes down in nine more days.

  2. macspak says:

    all these injured returned today

    Hightower, Gillislee, Solder, Waddle, Wise, Roberts and King. Long term injury and roster management. Hopefully at its best.

    Who remains out injured? Slater for one.

    • steve earle says:

      Makes a case for pre-season being to long.

    • Russell says:

      It would surprise me if Slater retired, opening another roster spot.

      • Russell says:

        would not surprise me…………………………

        • steve earle says:

          Possible, would be a loss though. Who do you think could fill the roster spot? My pick would be Hollister followed by Lucien then Carr.

        • Russell says:

          If Slater retires, RB Bolden is a lock, allowing 3 RB’s Burkhead, Gillislee, Lewis,, 1 FB Develin

        • steve earle says:

          Yea, that,s good thinking on Bolden. Only reason I didn’t mention him is I had him, in my mind, already sticking which I guess isn’t a sure thing. He has just had such a good camp and is so flexible it’s hard for me to think he would be cut.

  3. steve earle says:

    The idea of picking up another DE isn’t all that bad, it’s just who and for how much. That leads to the the question who may be on the bubble some where and can that guy actually help. How about Gilberry from Cinn? Not a big name, journeyman, been around but said to be able to set an edge. Depth player who could rotate in as needed and Cinn might part with him or trade for someone of our bubble guys.

  4. EdgeX says:

    Info leaking that Owamagbe Odighizuwa from the NY Giants is available for trade.

    I know there’s some fans here of him on this website.

    Should Pat’s bite?

    • EdgeX says:

      Correction “may be available for trade”.

    • GM-In-Training says:

      What’s correctable about him? Why has he underperformed? He competed against some good DE for playing time, but that doesn’t mean he’s above average, just that even with his physical gifts didn’t rise above a certain ceiling.

      • steve earle says:

        Good question GM. Another is does he project as rotational contributor or just ST emergency depth? If the prior might he be worth a draft pick and if so where? If not I question why bother?

      • EdgeX says:

        He hasn’t been able to stay healthy. But who knows a change of scenery will do him some good.

        • steve earle says:

          Gee I don’t know Edge sounds like a wish and a hope. Better to wait until he gets cut and clears wavers then bring him in for a look? Not anxious to spend even low draft picks for big question marks.

  5. Russell says:

    hearing Patriots trade talks with Detroit.
    “MY” guess is DE Jeremiah Valoaga, rookie, age 22 6’6″ 260 lbs from UNLV.
    Detroit just lost their #3 WR to injury.
    Patriots could offer;
    WR Lucien, LB Roberts, RB Foster, TE Lengel, WR Carter

    • GM-In-Training says:

      Dude is kind of slow. His broad jump was a foot below average, he only did 15 reps in the bp, and his 10-yard split in the 40 dash was 1.81….all below what you want to see for a DE.

      His one exceptional metric? 7.18 in the 3-cone. The man can change directions and turn corners.

      I couldn’t find any arm-length measurements on him, but at 6’6″, you would hope they’re closer to 35″, which is also pretty useful. If they are long, that might lessen the concern about his bench press.

    • steve earle says:

      Agree with GM. This kid was not highly rated you would be trading one camp body for another and be no further ahead. What we need is a DE who can make the 53 and contribute.

  6. Russell says:

    Interesting game to evaluate players. Adam Butler looks like a keeper to make the roster. Ealy looked lost out there. C Ferentz, G Croston played fairly well. Fleming looked shakey at LT. not a big fan of RB Foster in the running game. S D. Jones missed a tackle on Houston’s big play, he just needs more time. I like him better than Richards. DB D. Travis was in on a lot of tackles. (P-Squad)
    I’m beginning to question QB Brissett’s roster spot, given the other talent. I’m not sure if he can be on the P-Squad, I think so.

    • macspak says:

      I agree Russ, that game was almost impossible to evaluate personnel. I see no improvement in Brissett never mind the vaunted year one to year two leap. I don’t think the risk is high that he would be snatched up by another team if he didn’t make the 53 man roster. It would be a risk but if another team picked him up it would not be based upon his production or throwing ability. The last few spots will be tough. If Rivers hadn’t gone down Ealy most assuredly would be in trouble. He probably still is to a lesser degree. Earlier in preseason I didn’t see any UDFA’s making the team. Now – maybe Langi, Butler and maybe even one or two more including a S since Richards seems to have disappeared.

    • steve earle says:

      Interesting your thinking on Brissett? Hard to judge the kid when we know he gets very few reps even in practice. Do you think he would clear wavers to make it onto the PS? I’m terrible judge of QB’s. I was a big fan of Bortles on that QB’s draft year and they are talking about cutting him in Jacksonville. Huge bust! Anyway is your thinking we carry only two QB’s?

      • Russell says:

        Yes I think carring just two QBs is smart given the other talent, and move Brissett to the P-Squad. I don’t see another team picking him off the wire, and using a roster spot for him, this late.
        Roster openings;
        Ninkovich retired
        Rivers (IR)
        Grissom (to be cut?)
        Richards (to be cut?)
        Waddle (to be cut?)
        Forster (P-Squad )
        Bressitt (P-squad)
        Roberts & OR- WR ?? traded to Detroit?
        C. Jones ???/?/

        • steve earle says:

          Agree keeping only two QB’s the smart move and even if Brissett is claimed no damage is done. Not sure why Detroit is on your trade making list for Valoaga? Can you give us your insights on why BB might be interested in him?

  7. steve earle says:

    Game impressions: Def line looked better, Jimmy G impressive again, RB’s out of backfield very effective. C Jones not bad, Langi looked like an nfl player only needing experience, Butler had a tough night, O’Shaughnessy, Hollister and Carr looked best of the rest receivers.
    Against a very tough def team we looked good, not great, but still not all our starters played. In a real game I believe we would have come out ten points or more up.

    • macspak says:

      When the teams meet in week three I expect a close, hard fought game. The Texans D, especially up front, is just the type that gives TB and the team problems. Emotions and familiarity will be high. The biggest, seeming, advantage is the Pats D because the Texans lack a top QB, whether Savage or Watson. Though by no means am I sold on this D. Being a home gave gives an added advantage to the Patriots.

    • macspak says:

      The Texans D, especially their front 4/7, is exactly the type that gives TB and the Patriots front fits. In week three I expect a hard fought game with familiarity and emotions high. Between injuries and lack of edge players and a pass rush this D worries me though seemingly it should have the advantage over the Texans O whether Savage or Watson starts because the QB is Savage or Watson. The biggest advantage in week 3 will be home field.

      C. Jones looked better last night particularly fielding, and not fielding, punts. Questionable if he should have caught the deep one that sailed over his head but that was a heck of a catch. With Rivers out Langi likely makes the team but I am not as sold on him as many others seem to be. I wonder if Roberts fractured a rib last night? That likely will put him on the IR. I’ve always liked the way BB manages injuries, especially in the preseason, with the long term in mind. I trust that is what we are seeing this year with Solder, Hightower et al.

      • macspak says:

        sorry for the mostly duplicative entry but my computer malfunctioned half way through the first so I couldn’t finish my thought and it looked like it was lost.

        • steve earle says:

          PC’s can mess all the time if mine is any judge. However the Texans were last night, game 2, Detroit will be next Friday, game 3. Were you referring to Detroit or Houston in this post? I’m not up on Detroit’s def.

        • macspak says:

          regular season game 3. I believe the Texans are visiting Foxboro.

        • steve earle says:

          No Mac, We played the Texans Sat. night in Houston (game 2) Game 3 will be Detroit in Detroit next Friday night.

        • steve earle says:

          Oh I see where I’m confused your talking about the Regular season games. Sorry my mind was on the preseason game Saturday night.

  8. EdgeX says:

    Just spit balling here.

    I know some people believe Jimmy G is the heir apparent.

    But say the Pat’s franchise tag him then a realistic trade scenario could be:

    2 x 1st round picks (One in 2018 and 2019)
    2 x 2nd round picks (One in 2018 and 2019)

    Then my ideal, early round, draft scenario in 2018 alone, would be:

    1st – LT Connor Williams
    1st – best available out of: DE Sam Hubbard / DE Arden Key / DE Bradley Chubb / DE Dorance Armstrong / DE Josh Sweat
    2nd – DT Vita Vea
    2nd – best available out of : RB Derrius Guice / RB Bo Scarbrough / RB Nick Chubb / RB Royce Freeman

    I know a lot of people want to keep Jimmy G long term – but imagine what these guys would do to the team long term. A draft like this would be hard to pass up!

    It’s fun to think about all the different possibilities.

    • steve earle says:

      I agree with all the if’s and maybe’s but have trouble seeing such a mega deal coming along. Now it could happen but the kicker is the only way it could is if JG get’s a franchise tag first. That means BB is under the need to either make Jimmy a big bucks, starting QB guarantee and or trade Brady. I do not see Tom being traded now or ever, jmo. So, other teams would be aware of all this and could just as likely low ball Bill. A more realistic scenario is, and I’m repeating myself, Bill tags Jimmy then shops him for a !st in 18 and possibly a 2nd in 19 or multiple picks in 19 or some variation. 2x 1st, and 2x 2nds just not realistic. Also Bill wouldn’t use all those he’d trade down all over the place. Again jmo.

      • EdgeX says:

        The Redskins starting asking price for Kirk Cousins this past year was 2 x 1st round picks.

        The Rams moved up to pick Jared Goff and it cost them 2 x 1st round picks, 2 x 2nd round picks, and 1 x 3rd round picks.

        Reportedly the Pat’s were offered Cleveland’s 12th overall pick and 2nd this past year. Which they passed on.

        2 x 1st and 2 x 2nd round picks is not out of the ball park for what the Pats want and what they could get.

        • steve earle says:

          Well maybe your right and I’m just an old pessimist. 2×2 for JG would certainly stock the cupboard for the foreseeable next few years. Might even have to change the league name to the Patriots Football League, lol How would that look on the shield,PFL? Oh cripes! Goodell would be apoplectic.

    • td says:

      You’re comparing apples to oranges. Cousins has played at a high level for 2+ years as a starter and the Goff was the first pick in the draft and Rams have him under control for 5 years; that’s what’s worth all the draft picks not a second rounder that is a pending FA with a game and a half of starter experience.

      In order to trade him for anything meaningful the Pat’s would need to tag him at $20+million. The team that trades for him would need to start at $20million guaranteed to sign him long term and that is what would bring the draft pick haul down.

      As we have seen from Matt Cassell, Brian Hoyer and Mallett the only Pat’s QB that would garner significant return in a draft is Brady and the return is diminishing every year.

  9. Russell says:

    Given the Patriots history, it seems most likely BB looks at un-drafted guys, A.J. Wolf Duke and others before thinking about a costly free agent or trade.
    However “if” the Patriots have a guy from last years draft board they missed on, BB could offer a trade (draft choice 2018) to see if he could get the guy. (DE Evan Schwan ?)
    This helps a guy like Kony Ealy to be given more time & coaching.

    • steve earle says:

      Sounds like reasonable possibility’s there , wouldn’t be a shock for something like that to unfold. Actually given that it’s BB we”re talking about nothing is off the table. We just have to wait and see.

  10. GM-In-Training says:

    DE are tricky to find this time of year. After 29 or so, many of them experience a big drop off in performance, so finding a veteran with tread left on is trickier.

    Pats want someone with good attitude, which makes it that much harder.

    Pats are good at finding talented players who were out of position last year, but how many of those that are 6’4″ and 265# are there who were anything but DE last year?

    Pats have $15.9 M in cap available, and have to keep some for emergencies during the season. They might cut someone who is paid a few million to free up space, or trade somebody pricey, but when I look at their cap hits, I only see $2-$4 million freeing up that way on the way to the 53.

    So, sure, MAYBE Mario Williams will take a prove-it contract and step up, and MAYBE his last 2 years’ performance was all about attitude not attrition…but the Pats don’t normally take those types on.

    My gut says they focus on underappreciated second stringers for trade and try out a couple more UDFA in the next 2 weeks.

  11. Russell says:

    a guy I liked in last years draft was DE Evan Schwan who the N.Y.G. signed. worth a late draft pick??

  12. Russell says:

    What about DL Jared Odrick ??

    • EdgeX says:

      Pat’s had him in for a tryout earlier in the year – if they thought he had anything left in the tank they probably would have signed him already.

  13. Russell says:

    OK, sounds like most of you don’t like the Donald idea.

    What about DE Robert Quinn from the Rams? his contract has him at; $10 mil., $12 mil., $12 mil. for the next three years.

    The Rams have got to do something to keep Donald. (I was wrong he’s a UFA in 2019)
    Top Salaries for the Rams THIS year;
    CB Johnson (tag) $16 mil.
    WR Austin $14 mil.
    DT Brockers $11 mil.
    DE Quinn $10 mil.
    If they trade Quinn to open money for Donald?

    • EdgeX says:

      It’s not that we don’t like it per say – I’d love Donald on the team. Just don’t think it’s realistic.

      Plus if the Pat’s try to work out something with Jimmy G, Solder, and Butler – let’s not forget if one of them gets franchise tagged – where’s the money to sign Donald or Quinn?

      I’m not sold that the Pat’s are going to give up working out something long term for all three yet, even Butler – remember Logan Mankins ranting in 2010/2011 and they franchise tagged him and then worked out a long term deal. Or more recently you could look at how long it took the Pat’s and Hightower to work out a deal – boy did he take his time and still came back. So, I guess at this point I’m not ruling anything out yet.

      I know, as of right now, they have about $38 million if you combine their money carrying over from this year and next together – but still is that going to be enough if Jimmy G gets franchise tagged?

      Too many balls are being juggled right now to answer these questions I think.

  14. steve earle says:

    Looks like Rivers is headed for IR. Thin position getting thinner but doubt BB panics. Expect several DE’s will be made available on Sept 2nd so look for us to put in claims on one or two. Also if we don’t get one of those claims there is still possible prospects who clear wavers who may be of interest.
    On an interesting note I’m reading that spec down in Tampa is QB Bortles will be cut this summer. Guy was a 3rd OA pick a couple years back, jeeze!!! Wonder if he gets picked up by a QB needy team?

  15. EdgeX says:

    Well things don’t look good for Derek Rivers…reading initial test thought it was a sprain, now torn ACL…oy vey!!!

    Pat’s are definitely going to either trade or sign a FA DE – heck maybe both!

    Interesting note…Joe Mathis is a free agent being interviewed by teams supposedly he needed foot surgery but must he’s healed by now.

    I know Mike liked him a lot…

    • steve earle says:

      Good thought Edge someone to look at for sure if clear to play. A one year “prove it deal” could be in order with chance to play for winning team. Could be.

  16. GM-In-Training says:

    So…we need more DE talent. We double dipped at the position in the draft, but have lost 3 veterans from last year and one rookie. Wise is looking smart and Ealy may be another Easely. Kidder and Davis have the right build to be back ups if they play over their heads in year 1. Odds of a UDFA DE making the 53 are increasing by the moment.

    Which teams are deep at DE and would possibly consider parting with a pricey veteran?

    Which teams have a highly-drafted DE that they aren’t using properly and might consider moving on from?

    Which team needs a WR enough to trade a solid DE?

    Could we get a DE for Fleming of Waddle?

    • Russell says:

      The Rams are in a tough spot with DT Donald, if he is willing to hold out all year. pay him a long term deal, or trade him, as next year he is a free agent and you would have to tag him (BIG money), or lose him for a 3d round comp. pick.
      A trade seems likely, for a 1st round pick & ???

      • steve earle says:

        Quite possibly a trade could be done with us or some other team but from my perspective do we really want to buy another teams problem? Donald is a great talent but my impression is he is not a team kind of guy. Put the money he would cost into a contract for Butler, much better investment. Look elsewhere for DL help.

    • steve earle says:

      About which teams are deep at DE a quick glance shows most have eight to ten in camp but who could a deal be made for is the question? It may come down to one of the cuts, perhaps a vet with something left in the tank on a one year deal? Who knows? I waiting for that brilliant idea from someone that is practical and affordable. Come on guys, I know you can do it, I’m desperate!

  17. Russell says:

    So “IF” BB was to make a trade, an interesting Idea; DT Aaron Donald & L.A. ‘s 3d pick in 2018, FOR New England’s, 1st & 3d in 2018 & DL Geneo Grissom, and DL Kony Ealy.
    Now I know both these guys could be cut any way, but L.A. would get there contracts as is, while NOT paying Big money for Donald.
    Donald presently is under contract until 2018 at $1.8 mil. BUT is holding out for maybe the whole season. The Patriots could offer Donald a new two year deal (2017 & 18 ) , $10 mil. per year. Donald’s view of playing for a winner for two years then becoming a free agent may look good to him.
    The Patriots will free-up $10 mil. next year with Solders contract ending, and a more affordable LT from in the system.

    • Trev says:

      This is about as far fetched as it gets.

      • Russell says:

        If Donald hold’s out all year (because the Rams won’t pay) he is a free agent,(2018) and the Rams get a 3d round, compensatory pick………………

        • steve earle says:

          Is that right? I thought if a player under contract, if he holds out a year, that year carries over so he would not be a free agent. ????????????????????????????????????

    • steve earle says:

      Thinking more on this, why limit a contract offer to only two years and not, say three or four? Still not convinced Donald would be a good “fit” but given his talent if Bill was to pursue this line of approach? Mean if your going to go after a top DL might as well go “all in”.

    • EdgeX says:

      Russell…just no…LOL.

  18. Russell says:

    This is a tough group/ position to evaluate. Chubb is the guy I like, (watched the most) but hard to see him on the draft board when the Patriots select, BUT he would be a great fit.
    Adam Butler needs time but I think he has a future with the Patriots. Augusta maybe P-Squad. Ealy is not an intelligent player , hard to see making the cut. Grissom has not shown much other than special teams. Keionta Davis is another guy I watched a lot (injury issues) living close to his smaller school. In fact I liked him better than Rivers, from another small school.
    Because of the new player cut down rule, (just once to 53) I look for BB to make a trade before the 53 roster cut to get a guy he can work with some before the cut down. A trade player, name ?? I have a couple, but next post.

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