The Patriots defense has a lot of holes to fill for the 2018 season. Their defensive line is in better shape than other spots on the roster – but there’s still room for improvement. Especially if they want an immediate upgrade to their pass rush.
Long-term, the Patriots’ defensive front is actually not in bad shape. They still have Trey Flowers, who remains a high-end every-down talent on the edge. Defensive end Deatrich Wise flashed some legit talent as a rookie, and 2017 third-round pick Derek Rivers is still in the fold. They’ll also still have Malcom Brown up the middle, although he’ll be entering the last year of his rookie deal, as well as Lawrence Guy. Even undrafted rookie Adam Butler showed a little something in the playoffs, and perhaps James Harrison sticks around for another year.
But besides Flowers, who can the Patriots really trust to make a big play in a big game as soon as 2018? Wise may get there next season, and maybe Malcom Brown is on the cusp of a career-best season as he plays for his next contract. Still, arguably the team’s biggest problem on defense remains that they could not consistently get pressure on the quarterback. Just a smidgen of legitimate pressure on Nick Foles could’ve made a big difference in the Super Bowl.
So what could they do to get better on the D-line, beyond getting improvement from the young players they already have?
On the market…
The Pats have started their re-tooling along the defensive line by declining to pick up the option of Alan Branch, according to Doug Kyed of NESN. Branch had a bad year in 2017 and was on the way out anyway. If they feel good enough about Malcom Brown and Lawrence Guy defending the run up the middle, then maybe they look for a piece to push the pocket over the center like Adam Butler was able to do at times.
In addition, they could almost certainly use a rotational pass-rusher to park opposite Flowers and perhaps next to Don’ta Hightower. It would be a big gamble to depend on Rivers being that guy, or Wise carrying a full workload in just his second season.
Unfortunately, the market for edge rushers this season is flawed on multiple levels. Most of the “top” targets are either old, expensive, or riddled with question marks. The 39-year-old Julius Peppers may still have a bit in the tank, but he’s just so, so old and the Pats certainly don’t need another one of those. Adrian Clayborn could be a strong addition, but the 29-year-old may not be worth the price he could command as one of the better edge rushers on the market. Alex Okafor is still just 27 years old with upside, but will be coming off a season-ending Achilles tear. Muhammad Wilkerson is similarly young and talented, but has too many off-field issues to make him trustworthy.
Elsewhere, keep an eye on soon-to-be-former Redskins Junior Galette and Trent Murphy, and the Titans’ DaQuan Jones.
What To Expect
Much like the Patriots’ potential plans at the tight end position, probably nothing big. They already have to re-sign Nate Solder for big money and perhaps devote real money to keep Danny Amendola as well. And the linebackers are in much bigger need of reinforcements. If they can add one of the aforementioned names on a relatively short or affordable deal, it could be a nice boost for the team’s ability to rush the passer.
The likelihood, however, is that they don’t go after the biggest fish at this spot.
— By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at email@example.com.