Tag Archives: Patriots defensive tackles

Patriots 2019 Draft Profiles – Defensive Tackle

Steve Balestrieri
April 1, 2019 at 6:30 am ET

As we count down the days until the 2019 NFL Draft is upon us, we’re going to look at some of the positions that the Patriots need to address to restock, reload and prepare to defend their Super Bowl title. As everyone knows, winning back-to-back titles is never easy.

So, with that in mind, we’ve been taking a look at several positions that the team needs to address. And next up is the defensive tackle position. The Patriots lost former first-round pick Malcom Brown and Danny Shelton during free agency. But then they turned around and signed Mike Pennel of the Jets, who we called for before free agency began on one of our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts. You can go back and listen to that here .

With a plethora of draft picks, the Patriots could still swing a trade for an established veteran, which we assume, they’ll try to do. One veteran who has been linked to the Patriots (I know, isn’t everybody?), is Chiefs DT Allen Bailey. Or the team can add thru the draft and they can possibly do both.

Here’s a list of some guys slotted to go early in the draft, in the mid-rounds and some late round guys that we believe would be a good fit here. We can start off by saying that we’d love Alabama’s Quinnen Williams, Ed Oliver from Houston, or Christian Wilkins from Clemson. But none of those guys in our opinion will last long enough for the Patriots to pounce…so we move on. One name to keep an eye on is Mississippi State’s, Jeffery Simmons. He was a top 4 interior DL on most boards but tore his ACL while prepping for the draft. He could be a steal later.  

Dexter Lawrence, Clemson:

Lawrence is a natural two-gap run stuff who was an anchor in Clemson’s outstanding defense in 2018. He is a huge 6’4, 342-pound immovable object in the middle of the defense, but is not fat. He’s surprisingly athletic for his size with incredible size and strength. He’s a natural nose guard in the Vince Wilfork, Haloti Ngata mold.

Pros :

  • Outstanding run defender
  • Quick off the line
  • Doesn’t give ground on double teams
  • Very disruptive inside

Cons:

  • Not a great pass rusher
  • Can tire easily, works best in a rotation
  • PED red flag caused him to be suspended for the playoffs and championship

What his Role Will Be: Lawrence could step in and start on Day 1 as a two-down run stuffer. The Pats love big guys who can play over the nose.

Will his Role Change from Year 1-2? Not much, he should have a big role right off the bat, if anything, with some improved pass rush moves, he could see more snaps

How Many Downs Can He Play? Three

What Current Player on the Roster Will He Replace?

Lawrence would replace either Shelton or Brown as another big body on the inside as a run stuffer

What is his ST Value? None

Lawrence has that big red flag when he tested positive for Ostarine and was suspended for all of Clemson’s playoff run. But if those issues are capped, he would immediately provide a huge presence inside against the run and would immediately become quite popular with the linebackers.

Jerry Tillery, Notre Dame:

Tillery is a guy that has been frequently linked to the Patriots lately in many mock drafts. Tillery played in a rotation his first two years and was a starter for his final two. He has excellent size, (6’6, 295), speed (4.93), and athleticism (7.45 in the Three Cone) for a man of his size.  

Pros :

  • Excellent penetrator in a one-gap scheme
  • Quick off the snap
  • Good closing speed on runners
  • Improving as a pass rusher, went from 4.5 to 8 sacks in 2018

Cons:

  • Plays too tall and upright at times
  • Had maturity issues earlier in college
  • Many interests outside of football have some questioning his commitment

What his Role Will Be: Tillery also could step in and start on Day 1 as a one-gap penetrating interior lineman.

Will his Role Change from Year 1-2? Depending on how much is asked of him in Year 1, he could see a huge uptick in snaps in Year 2

How Many Downs Can He Play? Three

What Current Player on the Roster Will He Replace?

Tillery would replace the aforementioned free agents but could cut into the snap totals of Adam Butler, the interior pass rusher in the NE defense

What is his ST Value? Minimal, potential kick blocker on FGs/EPs.

Watching the tape of Tillery, one is immediately reminded of Stephon Tuitt. He is an interesting prospect and there were times last year, where he appeared absolutely dominant inside. He has that potential. If the Patriots go after him, they’d be more of a one-gap penetration type of defensive call. Tillery, like Lawrence, is a 1st or 2nd round pick.

Gerald Willis, Miami:

Willis is another one-gap penetrator who has had some off-field issues but was a very productive player for the Canes this season. Willis was very disruptive in the backfield with a terrific blend of quickness, and agility with excellent hand usage. He had 18 tackles for a loss and 4 sacks rushing from the interior.

Pros :

  • Very athletic for a big man
  • Very quick off the snap
  • Hands are quick and powerful
  • Ideal fit is a 3-technique in a 4-3 defense

Cons:

  • Gets too upright at times
  • Red flags at Florida and Miami earlier will have to be checked out.
  • Could add some size and strength at the NFL level

What his Role Will Be: Willis could initially start as a 3rd down interior guy and gradually work his way up to being a three-down lineman

Will his Role Change from Year 1-2? With improved size, strength and technique, Willis could become a very effective all-around player.

How Many Downs Can He Play? Three

What Current Player on the Roster Will He Replace?

No one, he isn’t a two-gapping space eater

What is his ST Value? Minimal

Willis is a guy who when he’s on his game, literally jumps off the screen on tape. He’s very disruptive and has the type of penetration skills the NFL is looking for. He can get washed out at times in the running game and won’t be a two-gap guy but has a ton of upside.

Isaiah Buggs, Alabama:

Buggs is another one of those Alabama defensive linemen who they played out on the edge but will move inside at the next level. Good size at 6’3, 306 pounds. He’s versatile and can one-gap or two-gap. Buggs didn’t test well at the NFL Combine and that may cause his draft stock to go down.

Pros :

  • Had a productive 2018, with 9.5 sacks
  • Very quick off the snap and instinctive
  • Very good physicality
  • Versatile, interior pass rusher

Cons:

  • Very short arms
  • Long speed a question
  • Pass rush repertoire lacking

What his Role Will Be: Buggs will be a guy that will have to be more consistent at the next level. But it seems he could fill in at any down as a one, or two-gapping lineman.

Will his Role Change from Year 1-2? With coaching and consistency, he has the talent to be an every-down player from the interior for the team

How Many Downs Can He Play? Three

What Current Player on the Roster Will He Replace?

Brown or Shelton on the interior, but has work to do.

What is his ST Value? Minimal

Buggs is a good, but not a great interior pass rusher. He cleaned up last year because of Quinnen Williams being next to him. But he can be a productive interior rusher at the pro level. He’s versatile and can play 3-technique, 5-technique, out wide in a 3-4 look or as a nose shade defensively. Buggs is a mid-round prospect whose versatility good be a good fit with the Patriots.

Renell Wren, Arizona State:

Wren is kind of a sleeper and could be a “boom or bust” prospect at the next level. At this time he may be a better athlete than football player and whatever team drafts him may require patience until he can show his potential.

Pros :

  • Physically imposing
  • Freaky athlete, great explosion
  • Disruptive in the gaps
  • Can play one or two-gap style

Cons:

  • Production doesn’t match physical traits
  • Bad footwork needs fixing
  • Plays upright too much

What his Role Will Be: Wrenn is a developmental guy, in his first year, he may see the field only sparingly but has the physical capability for much more.

Will his Role Change from Year 1-2? With hard work with his coaches on his hand and footwork, he has the ability to be a pocket pusher inside.

How Many Downs Can He Play? Three

What Current Player on the Roster Will He Replace?

No one, he’ll be trying to make the roster as a project.

What is his ST Value? Minimal

Wrenn is a good gamble for a late round pick, if he’s there in the 6th or 7th round, he could be an enticing player with a lot of potential upside. He’s got the size at 6’5, 318 pounds to be a very enticing prospect.

Daylon Mack, Texas A&M:

Mack is still somewhat of a raw talent and plays the zero technique, as a true nose tackle. Mack underwhelmed for three years at A&M but a coaching shuffle brought the most out of him in his senior season. He’s a 6’1, 336 bowling ball who flashed big time at the Senior Bowl, being basically immovable at the point of attack.

Pros :

  • Very stout, thick build, perfect for a NT
  • Immovable object against double teams
  • Excellent leg drive
  • Can disrupt with good initial quickness

Cons:

  • Just phone booth quickness
  • Not a good pass rusher
  • Gets too upright as he tires

What his Role Will Be: Mack is a classic nose tackle in the Wilfork, Ngata mold. He can eat two gaps and be a two-down run stuffer.

Will his Role Change from Year 1-2? With some increased pass rush moves, he could see a slight uptick in playing time

How Many Downs Can He Play? Two

What Current Player on the Roster Will He Replace?

He is a good run stuffing replacement for the departed Brown and Shelton.

What is his ST Value? None

Mack is a guy who the NFL is moving away from, with the trend moving towards pass rushing specialists, but the Patriots love a big guy who can set the anchor and two gap over the nose. He’s probably going to go later in the draft and would be a big body who can defend the run and be a good disruptor for two downs.

Other players that could fit the Patriots defense depending on how the board plays out, include Kingsley Keke, Texas A&M, Ed Alexander, LSU, Chris Slayton, Syracuse, and Daniel Wise, Kansas (brother of Deatrich)

_______________________

The Patriots will address the defensive tackle position in the draft and still possibly add a veteran free agent. After losing Brown and Shelton in free agency, they were thin there but the addition of Mike Pennel should immediately ease some of that as he should get starter reps right off the bat.

They have Adam Butler who is more of an interior pass rusher like Wise who they can kick inside, Lawrence Guy is a big man who can stuff the run and generate some pass rush. I’d look for another big man inside who can anchor and take on double teams but there are some very disruptive, penetrating tackles in this draft. It should be interesting to see how they approach this year’s crop of rookies.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and myself from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news and game analysis.

New England Patriots Free Agent Profile Alan Branch

Steve Balestrieri
February 16, 2017 at 9:30 am ET

The Patriots will enter the beginning of the 2017 league season with several important decisions to make in regards to free agency. While the team has the third most salary cap room in the NFL this season, they have a slew of free agents including several who are either starters or important role players.

We’ll be doing profiles on each of the free agents in the upcoming days and give you our take on whether they return or move on. One of the starters and a very important piece is defensive lineman Alan Branch.

The Patriots picked up Branch during the 2014 Super Bowl run after Chandler Jones injured his hip in midseason. The Buffalo Bills released Branch after a DUI arrest earlier that year. He then played very well but sparingly down the stretch for the Patriots and was an integral part of the team that defeated the Seahawks.

He was even more valuable this time around, being arguably the Patriots best interior defensive lineman all season long being a two-gap run stuffer inside and providing outstanding support against the run and the occasional pocket push against the pass.

Branch was originally drafted by the Arizona Cardinals in the 2007 NFL Draft and played four seasons for the Cardinals before playing well in two seasons for the Seahawks. Branch spent 2013 as a member of the Buffalo Bills. After playing well for Buffalo that year, he was given a three-year contract extension and paid a $3.1 million dollar signing bonus.

But like Michael Floyd this season, he let a lapse in judgment cost him. But since his release by Buffalo, he’s been a solid teammate and a veteran presence on the team providing very solid play next to two younger players inside with Malcom Brown and Vincent Valentine.

Alan Branch was a tremendous run-stuffer for the Patriots defense in 2016. (SBalestrieri photo)

Why Branch Will Return: The Patriots don’t have a lot of depth inside with just Branch, Brown, and Valentine along with Woodrow Hamilton and the three players have little experience. Brown finished his 2nd season and the latter two were rookies in 2016.

Branch at 32, shouldn’t break the bank in terms of free agency. After the last Super Bowl run he signed a two-year deal for a moderate sum ($5 million-dollar range). If he is willing to accept a similar deal again, it would be easy to see the Patriots paying him around the same amount of money with weight and playing time incentives worked in.

The Patriots are happy with his play the past few years as Branch has been a very solid performer both on the practice and playing fields. There is no reason to think he couldn’t continue to perform at a high level for the next season or two and provide the big immovable object inside, eating up two gaps which allow the linebackers to come in and make plays.

The 6’6, 350-pound Branch while an immovable force inside is quite athletic for a big man and enjoys skateboarding since he was a kid in New Mexico. He didn’t panic after a slow start in Super Bowl LI by the Patriots defense. Instead, he said, the players just trusted in themselves and the process.

“Honestly, we just started finally executing,” he said after the game. “We were on the field and we knew what we had to do, but we weren’t getting it done in the first half. When we came into halftime, we talked to each other. We weren’t down, we didn’t give up. We weren’t talking about rolling over or anything. We just started talking about being on our job, being more positive, having fun out there.”

Branch actually leapfrogged Brown this season on the Patriots depth chart and played more snaps than the 2nd year player after Brown in his rookie year, led the defensive line in snap percentage in 2015. Branch played just under 60 percent of the snaps after playing in under 40 percent of them last year.

Why Branch Won’t Return: Branch has won a pair of Super Bowls with New England and may be wanting to cash in one final time. There are always teams looking for veteran run-stuffing help inside and it is possible that a team will pony up more money than the Patriots will feel fits his value. In that scenario, one could easily see Branch leaving for one final payday in the sun.

It is possible that the Patriots will want to get younger at the position and bring in a rookie player that can stuff the run and play for about 20 percent of what they’d have to pay Branch to return.

Branch is at that age when the big men begin to break down and perhaps the coaches will feel that they’ve already gotten the best that they can ask for from Branch at this stage of his career and be prepared to move on. Remember, they did much the same thing with Vince Wilfork after Super Bowl XLIX.

Bottom Line: The Patriots coach Bill Belichick was asked about Branch earlier during the playoffs and praised his size and athleticism. The Providence Journal quoted Belichick as saying this about Branch:

“How unique is it? I mean, yeah, guys that weigh 350 pounds and are athletic and long like he is — I mean they don’t grow on trees,” Belichick said. “They’re hard to find. Ted Washington had that kind of length and size. Ted was 6-5, but Alan moves better than Ted does, or did at that point in his career. We’ve had some other longer guys like Richard Seymour or guys like that, but they weren’t 350 pounds. There’re not too many of them. Gerard Warren was a big guy that ran well. Money [Warren] was a very athletic player who wasn’t quite as long as Branch, but moving into that range.”

“It’s hard to measure the disruptive plays but he’s certainly got his share of those. He’s played very well for us in the running game. He’s given us a presence in the pass rush of a long, physical player in the middle. That’s all been really good, and he’s played more plays, so all of that is good.”

It will be interesting to see how this scenario plays out. Branch is a very valuable member of the defense. He was a key cog in a Patriots defense that was very solid against the run and his presence inside allowed players like Hightower and Roberts at linebacker to flow and make plays.

If the money is right, it is easy to see him returning for a final contract that will allow him to retire as a Patriot. He’s been very happy here in Matt Patricia’s defense and that factor may sway him to remain. But other teams love to pluck players off of Super Bowl-winning rosters to provide that type of presence and mentorship to their younger players. If someone ponies up the cash, he could bolt. Right now, I’d say it is even money that Branch returns in 2017.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

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If Vince Wilfork Retires, His Next Stop Should be Canton

Steve Balestrieri
January 16, 2017 at 6:00 am ET

The Patriots defeated the Houston Texans last night 34-16 in the Divisional Round of the playoffs and will host the AFC Championship Game next Sunday against either the Steelers or Chiefs. After the game, Vince Wilfork said he may have played his last game in the NFL and may retire. It was sad to watch the big man walk off the field for perhaps the last time.  If he indeed does retire, he should have a bust in Canton.

It won’t be easy, the voters for the NFL Hall of Fame don’t like the big heavies. The two-gap run stuffers who are so integral to what some teams do defensively. Why? We live in the era of fantasy football. Voters want the guys who have the impressive sack totals, the penetrators, the fast, speedy guys who make the crowd ooh and ah when they rush the quarterback.

Guys like Wilfork and Casey Hampton who played for the Steelers for a long time will never get those gaudy sack numbers and don’t have that streamlined physique that makes those guys the subject of so many articles and photos for the media. Nope, guys like Wilfork are built like a fire hydrant. Wide, squat, and low to the ground with legs like tree trunks. Built for the marathon of taking on double teams in the interior of the trenches.


Vince Wilfork was an immovable object inside for the Patriots for nine seasons. (USA TODAY Images)

Wilfork never had more than 3.5 sacks in any season but his worth went far beyond that. The Patriots defense relied on him to eat space and double teams at the point of attack in the running game and set the table for the linebackers to clean up. Early in his career, those linebackers were Ted Johnson, Tedy Bruschi, and Mike Vrabel. All of whom had great success in the Patriots defense.

Later, players like Jerod Mayo, Junior Seau, Jamie Collins and Dont’a Hightower took their places and the defense continued to use Wilfork as the immovable object inside. The defensive philosophy demanded his solid play and the fact that he played on multiple Super Bowl teams speaks of his worth.

Another player that immediately comes to mind was Richard Seymour who was a dominant defensive lineman for the Patriots for several years and had a couple of very productive years for the Raiders. As adept at rushing the passer as stopping the run, Seymour didn’t have eye-popping sack totals but was a tremendous, versatile player who could play inside or outside.

There was an extended period of several seasons where it easy to make the argument that Wilfork was the best at his position, doing what he did better than anyone else in the NFL. From 2007 to 2012, Wilfork made the Pro-Bowl five times and was a first-team All-Pro member once. His 2011 season was arguably his best with 52 tackles, 3.5 sacks and a memorable interception of Philip Rivers, where the big man rumbled for 28 yards downfield. He added nine tackles and 2.5 sacks in three playoff games.

One thing is certain…if indeed Wilfork retires which it appears he will, in five years, he’ll be a first-ballot inductee to the Patriots Hall of Fame. That is a no brainer. But Canton? That will be a difficult sell. Like the catcher in baseball that calls tremendous games for his pitchers and is integral to their success, no one remembers who caught the no-hitters or the perfect games, just the pitchers.

Wilfork is worthy of the gold jacket and will need some help in getting in there. Someone will have to stand up and advocate for him. Which is a shame really. Just turn on the tape from any number of years and watch the traffic jam inside the trenches. Right in the middle of it was #75.

Look around the Hall of Fame and see how many big, two-gapping run stuffers are in there. It is about time that Canton recognizes the excellence of one of them… Just clear off a big space, give his bust a two-gap and very large gold jacket.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Patriots DL Faces Questions With Alan Branch Suspended

Steve Balestrieri
November 21, 2016 at 8:04 pm ET

The Patriots defense took another hit as they will be without one of their top defensive players and a starter on the defensive line for possibly four games.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter has reported that defensive tackle Alan Branch has been suspended four games for violating the NFL’s drug policy. Apparently, Branch tested positive for marijuana. Branch is appealing per Schefter’s report.

Branch has been playing some of his best football since becoming a member of the Patriots in 2014. He’s been a valued anchor on the defensive line with Malcom Brown on the interior. This leaves the Patriots thin at the position with just Brown, and rookies Vincent Valentine and Woodrow Hamilton, both of whom have missed time this season due to injuries.

So what is in store for the Patriots who have upcoming games against the Jets, Rams, Ravens, and Broncos during Branch’s league imposed vacation? The good news in the short term is that his appeal won’t be heard until next week, so he’ll be able to play against the Jets.

But until Branch is eligible to return expect the Patriots to add another big body to the inside. Who is available?  Scouring the free agent market, there are a few names that could be of interest to the Patriots. Former Dolphin and Cleveland Brown Randy Starks, Ishmaa’ily Kitchen who spent some time with the Patriots, Kenrick Ellis as well as two players who spent training camp with the team, Terrance Knighton and Markus Kuhn.

With the Patriots defense struggling in recent weeks and facing teams that like to run the football, this could be a costly suspension. The rookies will be looked at to step up in the interim and play some valuable snaps.

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Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Patriots Sign DT John Hughes, Cut Anthony Johnson

Steve Balestrieri
September 26, 2016 at 3:54 pm ET

The Patriots are rapidly becoming the home of former Cleveland Browns.

ESPN’s Field Yates has reported that the Patriots are signing former Cleveland defensive tackle John Hughes. Hughes was a 3rd -round 2012 NFL Draft pick out of Cincinnati. He was released by the Browns last week after signing a 4-year, $14.4 million-dollar contract extension just a year ago.

He was supposed to be one of the anchors of the Browns defensive line but missed significant time during training camp due to a personal issue. He was used sparingly in the first two games and was shown the gate by Hue Jackson. With the emergence of rookie Carl Nassib, Hughes became expendable for Cleveland.

The 6’4, 320-pound Hughes played in 53 games, starting 10 and notched 109 combined tackles to go with 5.5 sacks and a forced fumble in his time for the Browns.

With the Patriots releasing undersized DT Anthony Johnson, today, this may be a move considering the Patriots next opponent, the Buffalo Bills who have a potent rushing attack that gained 208 yards against Arizona yesterday.

I asked Yates about him minutes ago and he said, that he’s a hard man to miss in person and that he’s a big run stuffing body inside and that he could provide insurance for both Alan Branch and Malcom Brown.

Hughes the Patriots roster that includes three other former Browns in linebacker Barkevious Mingo, defensive end Jabaal Sheard and running back Dion Lewis.

 

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Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Possible Patriots Draft Target, DL Javon Hargrave

Steve Balestrieri
April 16, 2016 at 6:00 am ET

Small School Stud, an intriguing Day 3 Pocket-Pushing Prospect

As the 2016 NFL Draft draws closer we’ll profile some of the players that may be on the Patriots radar that we feel would be a great fit.

The Patriots have a need at defensive tackle following the release of Dominique Easley this week.  More specifically the team again has a need for an interior defensive lineman that is good against the run but can penetrate into the backfield as well as pressure the quarterback and collapse the pocket.

The team brought in a trio of big-bodied run stuffers in Frank Kearse, Terrance Knighton and Markus Kuhn which will help the run defense that suffered the loss of both Akiem Hicks and Sealver Siliga during the off-season. Now the team must try to replace the interior pocket push of Easley and Hicks.

The team used a nice rotation last year of rookie Malcom Brown, Alan Branch, Hicks and Easley during 2015. With Chris Jones being released on Friday along with Ishmaa’ily Kitchen, don’t rule out his returning this season, he’s provided a bit of pocket push at times and Brown in his second season will be looked to, to add some production there as well. Jones’ contract will probably get re-done at a more team friendly cap hit. On the roster right now the team has DTs Malcom Brown, Alan Branch, Terrance Knighton, Markus Kuhn, Frank Kearse and Joe Vellano.

The Patriots will look to the draft to find some depth for a big man that can push the pocket, penetrate inside and provide run support as well.

Javon Hargrave from South Carolina State is a player who immediately comes to mind. One of the more under the radar defensive tackle prospects, he played against lesser opponents at the FCS level but there is no arguing with his domination and production.

In his final two seasons at SCS, in 23 games the 6’2, 310-pound Hargrave racked up an incredible 45.5 tackles for loss (TFL), 29.5 sacks, 19 QB hits, and five forced fumbles. He was the MEAC Defensive Player of the year two seasons in a row and was a two-time FCS All-American.

In his senior season despite having every team on their schedule, game-plan specifically for him, he produced some outstanding numbers and earned an invitation to the East-West Shrine Game. There, against solid, top competition, he played very well and looks quite at home facing NFL-level talent.

Javon Hargrave2

Pros:

– Has good first step explosion, keeps pad level low and drives thru the play

– Excellent short area quickness, will blow thru gaps to make the play

– Powerful lower body can fill up gaps in the running game

– Non-stop motor and good flexibility make him a disruptive influence inside

Cons

– Competition at FCS level wasn’t near the NFL level

– Stopped moving his feet at times when pushing the pocket

– Shorter arms (31½) could be an issue in disengaging from NFL linemen

What his Role Will Be:
His role is part of the rotation inside for the Patriots defensive line. He’d project initially as a sub-package pass rusher; he’s a guy who can shed blockers quickly and get after the quarterback.

Will his Role Change from Year 1-2?
Yes, with some experience and some added strength

How Many Downs Can He Play?
Three

What Current Player on the Roster Will He Replace?
He’ll push Kearse and veteran Chris Jones for a roster spot

What is his ST Value?
None

Conclusion:
Hargrave could fit in very well in the New England system. Big men who can play inside, stuff the run and push the pocket are always sought after in the NFL; regardless of where they played in college.

He moves very well for a 310-pound defensive lineman and has the ability to easily change direction due to very good flexibility in his lower body. That translates to short-area quickness where he can beat interior blockers and disrupt the running game and the timing of the passing game.

With a stout, strong lower body, he has the ability to anchor and stop the running game in its tracks. Hargrave has the first step explosion to get off the line quickly and get after the quarterback with excellent snap anticipation.

He is a disruptive, deceptively good athlete and his 10-yard split and 3-Cone Drill time was good for a big man, and with a non-stop motor, Hargrave could be a potential steal for the Patriots.

He projects in the Patriots system to be a solid Backup on Day 1, with the potential to be a starter in the future. He should fit in very well into the defensive line rotation.

Hargrave has been thought to be available on Day 3 of the draft. If he’s available in the later rounds he could be a very nice addition to the defense

Hargrave’s highlight film can be found here, courtesy of Wesley Lemon:

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcast on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Possible Patriots Draft Target, DL Hassan Ridgeway

Steve Balestrieri
March 26, 2016 at 9:40 am ET

 

Texas Two-Step? Could the Patriots re-unite Ridgeway with Malcom Brown?

As the 2016 NFL Draft draws closer we’ll profile some of the players that may be on the Patriots radar that we feel would be a great fit.

The Patriots still have a need at defensive tackle following the loss of Akiem Hicks during free agency. The team signed journeyman Frank Kearse but could use another big body inside who can help stuff the run and push the pocket from the interior.

The team used a nice rotation last year of rookie Malcom Brown, Alan Branch, Hicks and Dominique Easley during 2015. With Easley’s injury concerns still an issue, more depth is needed. Branch and Brown may prove to be the top two players but keeping fresh legs and bodies is imperative for the big men inside.

The Patriots kicked the tires on free agent Nick Fairley of the Lions and Rams but were thought to be out of the loop now for a deal. While there are still other free agents still available and still a possibility, the draft is chock full of prospects right thru the middle rounds of players who can step up and play immediately.

Hassan Ridgeway from Texas is a player who immediately comes to mind and could become a Patriots draft target. One of the more underrated defensive tackle prospects, he was brought to the Longhorns as a 250-pound edge rusher. He put on 50 pounds and is now an interior presence. Powerfully built at 6’3, 307 pounds, he’s an interior disruptor who can stuff plays in the backfield and push the pocket from the inside.

When teamed with the Pats Brown during his sophomore season, he was immense, stuffing 11 plays for a loss. In his final season at Texas, he was again a factor notching 36 tackles, 3.5 sacks and 6.5 tackles for a loss.

Ridgeway played mostly five-technique in Charlie Strong’s 3-4 defense but switched to a one-technique when the Longhorns went to a four-man front. He decided to forego his senior season and enter the NFL Draft a year early. So for the second season in a row, Texas loses its top defensive lineman to the NFL Draft. The last one ended up in New England. Where will Ridgeway end up?

Ridgeway turned heads at his Pro Day by running the 20-yard short-shuttle in 4.69 seconds and the 3-Cone Drill in 7.33 which for a big man of his size is pretty impressive. At the NFL Combine he ran a 5.02 in the 40-yard dash with a 1.71 time in the 10-yard split. That is outstanding short area burst and quickness something NFL Network’s Mike Mayock was pointing out when evaluating big men.

Pros:

– Very strong and powerful and extremely difficult to move at the point of attack

– Quick first step and will blow thru gaps to make the play

– Good vision, can sniff out plays at the snap and adjust

– Violent hitter, will punish ball carriers

Cons

– Conditioning was an issue at Texas

– Had a lot of nagging injuries that could be an issue

– Not yet the sum of his parts, needs to step up his production

What his Role Will Be:
His role is part of the rotation inside for the Patriots defensive line. He’d project initially as an earlier down run stuffing player, but he’s a guy who can shed blockers quickly and get after the quarterback.

Will his Role Change from Year 1-2?
Yes, with some better conditioning and experience in the pro game, he’ll be looked at in Year 2 to produce more in the pass rush department

How Many Downs Can He Play?
Three

What Current Player on the Roster Will He Replace?
He’ll push Kearse, Ishmaa’ily Kitchen and Chris Jones for a roster spot

What is his ST Value?
None

Conclusion:
Ridgeway would fit in very well in the New England system. He’s a powerfully built young man who won’t be easy to move at the point of attack. He has a good football I.Q. and can diagnose plays at the snap, anticipate the design of the play and disrupt.

He’s mature and that will play out well with Bill Belichick and the coaching staff. With the Patriots rotating interior men in and out, he’ll benefit playing with veteran Alan Branch and his former Texas teammate Brown.

He’s versatile (another Belichick checkmark), and having played both inside and outside on the defensive line will serve him well. As a former edge rusher, he shows good hand work which can still be improved. His pass rushing skills are good, not top notch but can definitely improve with time.

There are some conditioning and nagging injury issues but he’d be a very good addition to an already stout defense in 2016.

He projects in the Patriots system to be a Potential Starter on Day 1. He should fit in very well into the NE defense as a member of the defensive line rotation.

Ridgeway was initially thought to be available around the 4th round of the draft. His impressive Pro Day with Texas may have him moving up draft boards.

Ridgeway’s highlight film can be found here, courtesy of Harris Highlights:

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Patriots Free Agent Profile Sealver Siliga

Steve Balestrieri
February 11, 2016 at 6:43 am ET

The Patriots have a couple of decisions to make in regard to free agents this offseason, but they are mainly to do with their role players and not with the starters like last year or the upcoming 2017 season.

The Patriots are deep at the defensive tackle position; starters last season were rookie Malcom Brown and Alan Branch, the latter who played very well but is entering into the last season on his contract. The rotation consisted of Dominique Easley, Sealver Siliga, Akiem Hicks and Ishmaa’ily Kitchen. The team also has Chris Jones returning as well as Joe Vellano. Easley was the team’s top draft choice in 2014 but has never played a full season due to injuries.

Siliga was signed to the Patriots practice squad back in October 2013 and if re-signed will start his fourth season with the team. With the departure of Vince Wilfork last spring, it was penciled in that he’d take over the starting tackle position while the rookie Brown found his feet in the pro game.

But after starting the first few games, Siliga had a poor outing against the Colts in Week 5, losing containment on several plays. The next week, he lost the starting job to Brown and played only 10 defensive snaps against the Jets, although chipping in with three tackles.

The big 6’2, 325-pound run stuffer is one of two free agents (Hicks), the Patriots have in their interior. He’ll turn 26 in April and still has plenty of tread left on his tires. Now the question is, after losing his starting job and a lot of snaps to the duo of Brown and Branch, will the Patriots bring Siliga back for the 2016 season?

Why Siliga Will Return: Siliga is one of those big bodied guys who are invaluable as run stuffers. One of the indelible moments of training camp was his crunching hit of Tyler Gaffney on August 1, shooting across the gap and leveling the runner as he was trying to get to the second level. That’s his type of play and frankly the type that the Patriots need more of.

With the injury history of both Easley and Jones and Branch’s uncertain future given his age (31) and his contract status, it would certainly bode well for the Patriots to at least bring him back to compete for a slot in training camp. He certainly shouldn’t break the bank and with Hicks possibly commanding a lot of money in free agency, their depth would certainly take a hit if they were to lose both.

At a minimum, if Hicks returns and Easley is healthy, Siliga would provide the big-bodied run stuffing rotation against the run heavy teams that the Patriots will face in 2016.

Why Siliga Won’t Return: The Patriots may see the diminishing returns of Siliga this season as a sign of things to come. If they re-sign Hicks then their rotation with he, Branch, Brown and Easley would be close to being set and Siliga would be relegated to a #5 role.

The big man has also battled some injury concerns as well and that will also have to be taken into consideration.

Bottom Line:  It makes too much sense for the Patriots not to offer Siliga a team-friendly deal and bring him back to compete for playing time during the spring and summer workouts. Training camp snaps will become important as they have potentially a lot of depth to work with.

There shouldn’t be a ton of pursuers coming after Siliga so a bidding war isn’t in the cards. Much of their decision may come down to how their negotiations go with Hicks and monitoring the health of Easley and Jones in the spring. Easley didn’t need surgery on his injured quad so that was a positive sign for the 2nd year player.

Siliga has been a nice part of the team’s rotation up front and given the extent of the injuries the team has suffered the past few years, the chances are 60/40 or better that they’ll bring him back in 2016.

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