New England Patriots

Oct 9, 2021; Dallas, Texas, USA; Oklahoma Sooners defensive lineman Perrion Winfrey (8) pressures Texas Longhorns quarterback Casey Thompson (11) during the game at the Cotton Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
  • After ranking 20th against the run and 27th in quarterback hits in 2020, the Patriots set out to overhaul their defensive front during the 2021 offseason. Those moves came with mixed results – second-round draft pick Christian Barmore was an unquestionable hit, while free agent nose tackle Davon Godchaux was inconsistent and defensive end Henry Anderson missed most of the season with an injury.

    Stopping the run and containing mobile quarterbacks remained an issue for the Patriots in 2021, especially down the stretch. In the final five weeks of the season after the bye (including the playoff loss to Buffalo), the Patriots allowed 157.8 rushing yards per game and 5.03  yards per carry. The quarterbacks they faced in that stretch (Josh Allen twice, Carson Wentz, Trevor Lawrence, and Tua Tagovailoa) accounted for 40.2 yards per game and 6.1 yards per carry.

    (Click here to subscribe to 98.5 The Sports Hub Patriots Audio.)

    To this point, the Patriots haven’t added any defensive linemen in free agency. It’s a position they clearly feel comfortable drafting, taking multiple defensive linemen in two of the last three and three of their last five drafts. From edge defenders to nose tackles, lets take a look at this year’s class…

    Note: We’re not going an EDGE preview since these players are all being looked at in relation to the Patriots. If a player looks like he’s ‘missing,’ he’ll likely be included in the linebacker preview as an outside linebacker. 

  • Reaches

    EUGENE, OR - OCTOBER 30: Kayvon Thibodeaux #5 of the Oregon Ducks rushes against the Colorado Buffaloes at Autzen Stadium on October 30, 2021 in Eugene, Oregon. (Photo by Tom Hauck/Getty Images)

    EUGENE, OR – OCTOBER 30: Kayvon Thibodeaux #5 of the Oregon Ducks rushes against the Colorado Buffaloes at Autzen Stadium on October 30, 2021 in Eugene, Oregon. (Photo by Tom Hauck/Getty Images)

    The top of this draft is loaded with defensive line talent. That includes defensive ends Kayvon Thibodeaux out of Oregon and Aidan Hutchinson out of Michigan, both of who are in the running to be the first overall pick.

    Another defensive end, Georgia’s Travon Walker, has shot up draft boards and now may not get out of the top five. His teammate, Jordan Davis, proved at the NFL Combine he’s more than just a run-stopping nose tackle despite his 6-foot-6, 341 pound frame. He shouldn’t get out of the top half of the draft. For the Patriots to land any of these players, it would take a monumental trade.

  • Round 1

    Nov 27, 2021; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Georgia Bulldogs defensive lineman Devonte Wyatt (95) tries to tackle Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets running back Dontae Smith (4) during the first half at Bobby Dodd Stadium. Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

    Nov 27, 2021; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Georgia Bulldogs defensive lineman Devonte Wyatt (95) tries to tackle Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets running back Dontae Smith (4) during the first half at Bobby Dodd Stadium. Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

    The majority of the first-round caliber defensive line talent this year is top of the first talent. As for the back half of the first round, it currently projects to be more heavy on the offensive line, linebackers, and defensive backs.

    There’s two players who could end up possibilities for the Patriots at 21 on the defensive line, although neither is guaranteed to be on the board at 21. The first is Purdue’s George Karlaftis, who we profiled as a potential slide candidate on Monday. Karlaftis, once seen as a potential top 10 pick, has seen his stock dip since the Combine. He’s a pure power rusher through and through right now, but with the right coaching has the base to be a well-rounded edge player in New England.

    There’s also a third Georgia defensive lineman to go in the first round in Devonte Wyatt. At 6-foot-3, 304 pounds, Wyatt is a three down player that can play both inside and on the edge. He’s got an incredibly high motor, which paired with his quick get off and raw strength allows him to play above his size and be more of a disruptor than a space eater. Putting him next to Christian Barmore across from Matthew Judon could create some serious pass rush mismatches for the Patriots’ front.

  • Round 2

    Oct 7, 2021; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA;  Houston Cougars defensive lineman Logan Hall (92) sacks Tulane Green Wave quarterback Michael Pratt (7) during the second half at Yulman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

    Oct 7, 2021; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; Houston Cougars defensive lineman Logan Hall (92) sacks Tulane Green Wave quarterback Michael Pratt (7) during the second half at Yulman Stadium. Credit: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

    Here’s where this class really hits its high point, especially for defensive ends and multi-positional linemen. The Patriots have taken at least one edge defender on Day 2 in each of the last three drafts, and in four of the last five, so based on their historical tendencies this board lines up well for them.

    Let’s start with Oklahoma lineman Perrion Winfrey, who was the MVP of the Senior Bowl – an event the Patriots have traditionally played very close attention to. Whether he’s playing end or tackle, Winfrey knows how to get his way into the backfield. Just over 40 percent of his tackles last year went for a loss, including 5.5 sacks in 11 games. He’s slightly smaller Wyatt at 6-foot-4, 290, and his football instincts – while still good – aren’t quite the same. Still, he’d be a solid pick early in the second round.

    Logan Hall out of Houston is another versatile defensive lineman who is expected to go early in the first round. Hall mainly played tackle for the Cougars, but his frame (6-foot-6, 283 pounds) and athleticism (4.88 40, 7.25 3-cone) project him as mainly an edge in the pros. He should be able to contribute across the line as a pass rusher right away, as he develops his run defending on the edge. It’s not unrealistic to think he could be a three-down player by the end of his rookie deal, especially if he can get his lateral movement to line up with his play length.

    At Texas A&M, DeMarvin Leal played mostly tackle but in a 3-4 system projects as more of an end on early downs then kicking inside as a pass rusher. He showed flashes of potential first round talent at times for the Aggies, but just not consistently enough – especially against elite opponents.

    Let’s move on to defensive ends, starting with San Diego State’s Cameron Thomas. In his first and only season as a primary starter, Thomas was incredibly productive for the Aztecs with 20.5 tackles for a loss and 10.5 sacks in 14 games. He’ll need to put on muscle to play on the edge in a 3-4 system like the Patriots run, but he’s not incredibly far off from an ideal playing size (6-foot-4, 267 pounds). If he can due that, his ability to truly set the edge could lead to a long, successful career in New England. Drae Harris of The Draft Network compares Thomas to former Patriot John Simon.

    Kingsley Enagbare is similar to Thomas in that he’s coming from a system where he played 4-3 end, but by putting on some weight (currently 6-foot-4, 258 pounds, although he lost some weight for the Combine) would be a fit as a 3-4 end in New England. Right now, he’s less of a ‘playmaker’ himself, but more of a guy who will set up plays for those around him by getting off the line quick, occupying blockers, and shifting the pocket. The Patriots have had success with those kind of players before, and that kind of skillset would play well along with Judon and Barmore.

    What if the Patriots want to go with a true nose tackle in the second round, to really help sure up their run defense? They could turn to another Senior Bowl standout in UConn’s Travis Jones. At 6-foot-4, 325 pounds, Jones is the prototypical two down space-eating run defender who will open things up for those coming downhill from the second level. Outside of Davis, who really isn’t a true nose, Jones is likely the best interior-specific player in this draft.

  • Round 3

    LEXINGTON, KENTUCKY - SEPTEMBER 04: Joshua Paschal #4 of the Kentucky Wildcats on defense against the ULM War Hawks at Kroger Field on September 04, 2021 in Lexington, Kentucky. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

    LEXINGTON, KENTUCKY – SEPTEMBER 04: Joshua Paschal #4 of the Kentucky Wildcats on defense against the ULM War Hawks at Kroger Field on September 04, 2021 in Lexington, Kentucky. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

    Right now, the second round is projected to be crowded when it comes to defensive linemen thanks to a number of strong workouts at the Combine and Pro Days. That’s left the third round somewhat thinner, although it’s very possible a couple of those second round players fall.

    So, who has a third round grade? Joshua Paschal out of Kentucky is among the most textbook fits for the Patriots in this draft. He’s a multi-year starter and captain from an SEC school, and can play all across the defensive line. Paschal is a very technically sound player who can contribute on all three downs.

    Phidarian Mathis was the starting defensive tackle for Alabama this season, and the team’s top run stopper up front. He’s not a true nose, as he wins more with an explosive first step, raw strength, and a deep tool box. While his pass rushing skills don’t jump off the tape, he projects to grow that aspect of his game and could potentially become a three-down interior lineman.

  • Early Day 3

    Florida Gators defensive lineman Zachary Carter (6) get the crowd excited. The Florida Gators played the University of South Florida Bulls Saturday September 11, 2021 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. (Doug Engle/Gainesville Sun)

    Florida Gators defensive lineman Zachary Carter (6) get the crowd excited. The Florida Gators played the University of South Florida Bulls Saturday September 11, 2021 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. (Doug Engle/Gainesville Sun)

    This year’s draft class is especially strong at the nose tackle position. That really starts to become apparent as Day 3 gets underway.

    John Ridgeway out of Arkansas had a strong showing at the Senior Bowl, which should put him on the Patriots’ radar. The Patriots have also taken six players from the Razorbacks’ program since 2010, which is tied for the second most from any school. At 6-foot-5, 321 pounds he’s a prototypical early-down nose tackle.

    Slightly behind Ridgeway on the board is another two-down nose tackle UCLA’s Otito Ogbonnia. Also a Senior Bowl participant, Ogbonnia is a three-year starter described as a “good worker with high football character” by NFL Network’s Lance Zierlein. Ogbonnia checked in at the Combine at 6-foot-4, 324 pounds. At UCLA, Ogbonnia played for Chip Kelly, who is reportedly good friends with Bill Belichick.

    Sticking with Belichick preferred programs, Zachary Carter is a multi-positional lineman out of Florida. At 6-foot-4, 282 pounds Carter projects mainly as a pass-rush specialist off the edge, but has experience rushing up the middle as well. Carter c’s athleticism should allow him to contribute as a situational pass rusher right away, as well as in a special teams role. At the same time, if he can sure up his technique on the edge and become a more consistent run defender he has an impact-player ceiling.

    Minnesota’s Esezi Otomewo is another upside pick, although he’s more of a project player than Carter. At 6-foot-5, 282 pounds, Otomewu was a primarily run-stopping defensive end for the Gophers.

  • Late Day 3

    Kentucky nose guard Marquan McCall (50) reacts after a stop during a NCAA college football game in the Vrbo Citrus Bowl against Iowa, Saturday, Jan. 1, 2022, at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Fla.

    Kentucky nose guard Marquan McCall (50) reacts after a stop during a NCAA college football game in the Vrbo Citrus Bowl against Iowa, Saturday, Jan. 1, 2022, at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Fla. (Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen/USA Today Network)

    Starting the late rounds with the nose tackles again, Marquan McCall from Kentucky is one of the biggest players in this draft. McCall is this low on the board because there are concerns about his conditioning after he played last season at 379 pounds. However, he’s spoken about his work to get in better shape, and the results have showed. He measured in at the Combine at 6-foot-3 and 342 pounds, a much more realistic playing weight. Clearly, he still has plenty of size and should be able to clog up the middle of the line of scrimmage at the next level.

    Another option if the Patriots want to add some serious size is Noah Elliss from Idaho. At the Combine, Elliss measured in at 6-foot-4, 346 pounds – down from the 367 pounds he played at last year for the Vandals. Like McCall, he’s purely an early down space eater. He’s the nephew of former Lions Pro Bowl defensive tackle and currently Utah defensive line coach Luther Elliss.

    Continuing on with players from NFL families, Michigan defensive tackle Chris Hinton is the son of former All-Pro Colts and Falcons tackle Chris Hinton. The younger Hinton is a relatively smaller defensive tackle at 6-foot-4, 305 pounds who’s strong technique helps him win both against the run and as a pass rusher from the interior. He’s relatively limited athletically which drops his ceiling, but he could be a good, versatile depth option.

    Another versatile player expected to go in this range is LaBryan Ray from Alabama. Ray was limited significantly by injuries in his five years with the Tide, but was able to play 11 games last year and showed flashes of NFL ability. At 6-foot-4, 283 pounds he’s played mostly on the interior but could fill an edge role in a 3-4 defense as well if he can strengthen his lower body.

    Closing with a project player who is once again from an NFL family, Notre Dame’s Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa is the cousin of Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. Tagovailoa-Amosa is an end prospect with good athleticism at 6-foot-2, 270. He’s still very raw technically having played just 39 games in five seasons with the Irish. A team captain with a big-time motor, there may be enough there for the Patriots to give him a look late in the draft.

  • UDFAs

    Michigan State defensive end Jacub Panasiuk (96) defends Michigan quarterback Cade McNamara (12) during the first half at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing on Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021. (Junfu Han/USA Today Network)

    Michigan State defensive end Jacub Panasiuk (96) defends Michigan quarterback Cade McNamara (12) during the first half at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing on Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021. (Junfu Han/USA Today Network)

    Wrapping up with two UDFA’s – one nose tackle, and one defensive end. If the Patriots want to add a big nose tackle without using a draft pick, D.J. Daniel of Arizona State projects to be one of if not the top UDFA at the position. He checks in at 6-foot-3, 327 pounds and has shown an ability to hold ground even when facing double teams.

    At end, Jacub Panasiuk comes out of Michigan State with plenty of experience having started 43 games in five seasons. He’s a high effort player who could be able to contribute on special teams right away and compete for a backup role on defense.