The New England Patriots have arguably the top defensive line in the NFL (at least of all 3-4 teams) with Richard Seymour and Ty Warren at the ends, as well as big Vince Wilfork at nose tackle. They also have end Jarvis Green, who would be a starter on almost any team, as well as the versatile Mike Wright. Underrated end/tackle Le Kevin Smith rounds out the top 6 players. The Patriots seemingly look set along the line, but after 2009, they clearly are not. Richard Seymour, Vince Wilfork, Jarvis Green, and Le Kevin Smith all expire after the 2009 season. While the Patriots are working on an extension for Wilfork (and I believe one will be completed by training camp), extension talk for Seymour and Jarvis Green has been non-existent, or in the best case, limited. Because of this, I would expect the Patriots to make defensive end a primary area of focus on draft day. I have a strong feeling that they might snag San Jose State’s Jarron Gilbert with the 23rd or 34th selection, but more on that later. At some point, the Patriots may look to draft a true nose tackle to back up Vince Wilfork.
Current Grade: A+
Need: Extremely High
Richard Seymour, DE: Richard Seymour quietly had a career year in 2008, after an injury riddled 2007 campaign. Seymour is still only 29, and is still one of the top 3-4 defensive ends in the game. His contract expires after 2009.
Ty Warren, DE: Talk about underrated, there is a reason why Ty Warren is extended through 2013: he is simply that good. He now gets constantly double teamed, but he manages to hold up both gaps from the 5-technique. He is only 28, and may just be the best run stuffing 3-4 DE in the NFL.
Vince Wilfork, NT: One of the all-time draft steals, Wilfork is 27 and is one of the NFL’s greatest nose tackles. He put up a career high 66 tackles in 2008, and while his contract is expiring after the year, I’d expect him to be extended in the months following the draft.
Jarvis Green, DE: Jarvis Green had a down year in 2008 before turning it on late. Still, Green has got to be one of the best reserve defensive ends in the entire league, and he may use that to try and get himself a big contract next season, although he will be 31 when that time comes.
Mike Wright, DE/DT: Wright is the 5th guy in the Patriots rotation. He just received a nice meaty new contract. At 6-4, 295 pounds, he is perfect for the 5-technique as an end in the Pats’ 3-4. However, when the Patriots shift to a four man front, he can move to defensive tackle on a 3-technique and shoot the gaps.
Le Kevin Smith, DE/DT: Smith can play a similar role to Mike Wright for the Patriots. He is a guy I really like, and could be a good rotation player down the road, as he notched a career high 14 tackles in 2008.
Titus Adams, DE/DT: An NFL journey man drafted out of Nebraska in 2006, Adams can play at the nose, or at defensive end. I think he could actually surprise some, so it will be interesting to see if he can lock up a roster spot this year.
Draft Prospects:* (Probability of Patriots drafting in italics, 1-10, ten being the highest)
Jarron Gilbert, DE, San Jose State: Has 3-4 defensive end size at 6-5, 288 pounds. He has worked to add over 40 pounds of muscle since his freshman year, and could add more. He is freakishly quick and athletic, and should be able to stand up tackles at the point of attack, although there have been questions about his aggresiveness. Probability: 8.0 | Grade: 8.5
Evander “Ziggy” Hood, DT/DE, Missouri: Is a tweener in the 4-3, but could become an end in the 3-4. Shows good strength, athleticism, intsincts, and a quick first steph. However, I don’t think he is a great fit for the Patriots, as he is more of a shoot-the-gap, three technique type of player. Probability: 3.0 | Grade: 8.0
Josh Gaines, DT/DE, Penn State: Another tweener who can play any position on the line, although I’m not sure he really fits the Patriots 3-4. Probability: 2.5 | Grade: 3.0
Terrance Knighton, NT, Temple: Big, strong player who could play nose tackle or defensive end for the Patriots in the 3-4 (most likely nose tackle). However, he lacks explosiveness and athleticism. Probability: 3.0 | Grade: 4.5
Adrian Grady, DL, Louisville: A little undersized for a nose tackle, but he shows excellent strength and can bull rush well. An excellent run defender, but lacks playmaking ability, and doesn’t really have a position in the 3-4. Probability: 3.5 | Grade: 4.0
Sammie Lee Hill, NT, Stillman: At 6-4, 329 pounds, Hill looks like he would project as a nose tackle in the 3-4. However, he does have the athleticism and strength to be a 3-4 defensive end as well. Reminds me a little bit of a Shaun Rogers. Probability: 5.5 | Grade: 6.5
Chris Baker, NT, Hampton: At 6-2, 326 pounds, Baker fits the bill as a nose tackle for the Patriots. He has great strength and is an excellent run stuffer, although he has a questionable level of competition. Probability: 5.5 | Grade: 6.0
Alex Field, DE, Virginia: Played 3-4 defensive end under Al Groh at Virginia. However, could use to add some bulk. Probability: 3.5 | Grade: 3.0