The New England Patriots defense hasn’t been elite in a long time. Despite the presence of head coach/defensive wizard Bill Belichick, the Pats haven’t been dominant on D since the beginning of the Tom Brady era. The secondary has really begun to come alive with the play of CBs Aqib Talib, Alfonzo Dennard and Kyle Arrington, and Devin McCourty seems to really have settled in at FS after moving from corner.
Of course, the loss of players like DTs Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly along with MLB Jerod Mayo to season-ending injuries has contributed to the porous rush-d. But Wilfork will be 33 next year coming off a torn Achilles and will be in the last year of his deal. Kelly will also be 33 and only has one year left on his deal. While young and unheralded rookies like Joe Vellano and Chris Jones have been a pleasant surprise, they’re best suited in a rotational unit.
The Pats will more than likely be picking towards the end of round one (as usual), so top guys like Louis Nix (Notre Dame) and Timmy Jernigan (Florida State) will more than likely be off the board, barring a New England trade up. Ra’Shede Hageman (Minnesota) and Will Sutton (Arizona State) should still be available, however.
Hageman probably has more raw talent and athleticism than any defensive tackle in the draft. He’s big (6-foot 6, 310-pounds), strong (465-bench) and fast (1.57 10-yard). But he’s still very raw. He’s only been playing the position for a few years as he was recruited as a 250-pound tight end. His versatility is an added bonus. Really the only defensive line position he couldn’t play at an elite level is 4-3 end. 3-4 nose, 3-4 5-tech, 4-3 3-tech, 4-3 nose, you name it, he can do it.
Sutton isn’t quite as athletic or versatile as Hageman but would still be a good fit at 4-3 nose for the Pats. He wouldn’t be able to play outside the 3 due to his short arms, but he has experience playing all along the line. He’s a little undersized at 6-foot, 300-pounds but offers good pass rushing ability from the interior. Sutton and Jones inside would be an intriguing option on third downs or nickel and dime packages to present a formidable rush.
The Pats don’t necessarily have to take a DT with their first pick, but the depth of the position in this years draft isn’t terrific.
Adding a durable and physical receiver like Donte Moncrief (Ole Miss) is also an option at the top, who should still be available when the Pats pick, and I’m sure Brady wouldn’t mind adding another weapon.