The NFL is a passing league and the quarterbacks are the driving force in it. Some of the most important players on each team are the quarterbacks and those players trying to sack them.
The Patriots will have some work to do to replenish their players on the edge in 2017. Prior to the 2016 season, they traded away Chandler Jones to the Arizona Cardinals. And now Chris Long and Jabaal Sheard are free agents and neither is likely to return. That leaves them with Trey Flowers who shined down the stretch for the team and steady, reliable veteran Rob Ninkovich, who is closer to the end of his run than the beginning.
But the good news is, despite free agency starting this week, the NFL Draft will be chock full of talented edge rushers. There are several players available that may be of interest to the Patriots as either a defensive end or as an outside linebacker. We’ll list a few here, some have already been linked to the Patriots.
While Miles Garrett is far above everyone else with his combine showing, forget about him coming to New England. His performance solidified what we already knew, he’s going to be the #1 pick and is heading to the Cleveland Browns. Ditto for Solomon Thomas from Stanford and Tennessee’s Derek Barnett. They should all be gone before New England is on the clock. And Malik McDowell who had a very good day at the Combine on Sunday? I think the Patriots pass on him, he doesn’t seem like their type of player with his lack of effort at times at MSU.
So. who may be around for the Pats to select? Here are some intriguing players to do some thinking about:
Taco Charlton from Michigan is an athletic big man at 6’6, 277-pounds and can play on the outside or kick in to be an interior pass rusher. He had 9.5 sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss for a stout Michigan defense in 2016 and would be a great fit for what the Patriots love to do.
“I play a little bit of every position, inside, outside. I’ve played heavy, I’ve played light,” Charlton said at the Combine. “Look at my pass-rush moves, I’ve done a little of everything. My arsenal is wide, I can stab, I can bull, I can spin, I can speed rush. So, the arsenal I have and the combination of all the positions I’ve played: three-tech, four-tech, five-tech, weak-side end, all of those things kind of add up to separate me a little bit.”
Charlton is still filling out his massive frame and has possibly not even scratched the surface on his potential. Has the prototypical size, length, athleticism, to be a dominant pass rusher in the league.
Carl Lawson from Auburn looks the part as an edge rusher in the NFL. He’s 6’2, 253-pounds with a chiseled upper body and had the most bench presses for defensive linemen at the Combine with 35. He also had the fastest time in the 20-Yard Shuttle Run with a time of 4:19. The shuttle run measures lateral quickness and agility.
Lawson had issues with injuries in 2014-15 but he put it together for War Eagles this past season. He logged 13.5 tackles for loss and nine sacks. He has very good power off the edge and is aggressive.
With his injury history, Lawson may drop into the 2nd round which would be a nice pickup for a team looking for an explosive edge rusher.
Charles Harris from Missouri is a hybrid edge rusher who can be a DE/OLB at the next level. He ran a 1.65 split which is a good indicator of burst and explosion at the line. Harris is 6’2, 253, and has excellent agility and footwork.
He was arguably the smoothest dropping into coverage and changing direction at the Combine on Sunday. Missouri has a history of producing very good edge rushers and Harris in 2015-16 showed what he can do. With 30.5 tackles for loss and 16 sacks in those two seasons, Harris is another intriguing prospect.
He’s versatile can play defensive end on either side or stand up as an outside linebacker. Harris plays with a high motor and is very athletic.
Kansas State’s Jordan Willis had a tremendous showing at the Combine and seemed to put to rest the concerns that he was too stiff and sluggish to be an effective edge rusher. Willis finished second among defensive linemen only to Myles Garrett in the vertical jump with a leap of 39 inches. He finished second to Hasson Reddick in the 40-yard dash at 4.53 seconds. He won the all-important (especially to the Patriots), three-cone drill at 6.85 seconds and tied for third in the 20-yard shuttle at 4.28 seconds.
When looking at his game tape Willis appeared to be a nice complimentary sub-rusher. But with his dedication to improving himself this spring, he’s shown that with some more time in a strength and conditioning program, and his impressive showing in the agility drills, he could become an impact pass rusher.
His 10-yard split, which measures explosion off the snap at 1.54 was better than Jadaveon Clowney, Bruce Irvin, and Ziggy Ansah, via Mike Loyko NEPatriotsDraft.com. He really helped his own case on Sunday.
Haason Reddick from Temple is truly a jack of all trades, he walked on at Temple as a defensive back, bulked up and moved to defensive end, and now will probably play linebacker in the NFL. He’s got the straight-line speed, he ran a 4.52 in the 40 on Sunday.
He dropped into coverage for the first time at the Senior Bowl and turned scouts’ heads with how seasoned he appeared in coverage. He may play outside or inside linebacker in the NFL or possibly both. He could be an inside backer on early downs and slow outside as an edge rusher on passing downs.
“Some want me at outside linebacker. Some want me inside. Some are willing to let me play both: inside on first and second down, and outside on third down.”
“I’m hoping to do both. I’m looking to take on a challenge. I want to dominate two positions.” He’s another guy that’s been linked to the Patriots and it is easy to see why.
One dark horse player to take a second look at is Trey Hendrickson from Florida Atlantic. He’s another hybrid DE/OLB who turned some heads at the Shrine Game. He ran very well with a 4.65 time in the 40 with a blistering 1.59 10-yard split.
He’s got good size at 6’4, 266 and showed his agility with a 4:20 time in the 20-yard shuttle and a top time of 11:43 in the 60-yard shuttle. He seems like a Patriots type of player, with nine sacks, 15 tackles for loss and four blocked kicks in 2016.