We continue our exploration into the Patriots offseason needs in the NFL Draft: EDGE defender.
The departure of Trey Flowers has left New England rather barren in that category. Deatrich Wise hasn't broken through to the next level yet, and Derek Rivers struggled to scratch the active roster in 2018. The team could use an infusion of high-level talent.
Luckily, this draft class is loaded with talent all along the defensive line. The Patriots will have plenty of options if they want to add a top prospect.
*Just for reference, edge defenders are not exactly an official term. An edge defender is a type of defensive end/outside linebacker hybrid. They may not have the strength to play defensive end or the speed to play linebacker in a standard 3-4 defense. However, they usually excel as pass rushers and decent coverage linebackers in a 4-3 scheme. Jadeveon Clowney is one of the better examples of an edge defender. This is a vague definition that doesn't fit all situations, but should provide a basic understanding.*
- Josh Allen, Kentucky:
The Patriots have absolutely no shot to get Allen unless they want to mortgage their future to jump into the top five. However, he is the most talented edge defender in the draft. He has elite physical traits with his size and speed and has developed some brilliant pass rush moves. He could wreak havoc for years to come.
- Montez Sweat, Mississippi State:
Many mock drafts also put Sweat at the edge of the Patriots draft range. Some have him going as high as fifth overall. However, depending on how the draft falls, he could drop into New England's target area.
Sweat had a productive career at Miss State. He totaled 22.5 sacks over his previous two collegiate seasons, as well as 101 tackles. Sweat is a long defender who knows how to use his arm length to create great separation from blockers. While his pass rush moves are raw, he shows high developmental potential. The Patriots biggest concern with Sweat may be his size. He is lean for an edge defender, which could limit his ability against the run. However, is New England is confident that he could put on enough muscle mass, he would be a great addition to their defensive line.
- Brian Burns, Florida State:
As a player more likely in New England's range, Burns could be the perfect fit for New England going forward. Burns posted 23 sacks 123 tackles, and seven forced fumbles in his three-year career with Florida State.
He is not a prototypical edge defender simply based on his size; he is much lankier than more traditional edge rushers like Clowney and Flowers. However, he makes up for it in elite pass rush skills and impressive athleticism. His body control and acceleration allow him to get past blockers, and he has the ability to play in coverage as well. Burns may not fill Flowers' role completely because his size may limit his effectiveness against the run. However, he could provide New England with an athletic linebacker who can play in coverage with occasional pass rush duties.
- Jaylon Ferguson, Louisiana Tech:
The LA Tech prospect had one of the most productive collegiate careers out of any edge defender in this year's class. He totaled 187 tackles and 45 sacks in four seasons, numbers that dwarf his competitors.
Ferguson has an NFL-ready frame at 6'5 271 lbs. The biggest concern with him, however, is his ability to maintain a good weight. He may have a tendency to put on bad weight that slows down his performance. Ferguson's size and strength, if utilized properly, could lend him to be an extremely productive run stopper and occasional pass rusher. His play strength and tenacity could catch the eye of the Patriots coaching staff. He could be a round-one or round-two selection. for the team.
- D'Andre Walker, Georgia:
The Patriots sure do love their Georgia Bulldogs, which could make Walker an ideal selection. His previous two seasons with Georgia were productive; he finished with 13 sacks and 84 tackles on one of the best defenses in the nation.
Walker's biggest issue is a lack of significant open-field athleticism. He is not good in space because of his long, clunky movements that make it hard for him to change direction. He would also do well to add some weight to compete against NFL-sized blockers. On the other hand, Walker's speed, technique, and fluidity make him an effective pass rusher. He knows how to use leverage to beat stronger, or more athletic opponents. If Walker can improve his play strength to handle run responsibilities, he may be the Patriots best option to replace Flowers.
- Chase Winovich, Michigan:
A late second-to-third round selection, Winovich could be a steal for the Patriots if he falls to them in these rounds. The former Wolverine lacks some of the physical traits that the prospects mentioned above have. However, his motor, physicality, and football IQ would make him an ideal fit in New England. He was also extremely productive in college, with 18.5 sacks and 166 tackles.
Winovich's strength, speed, and technique are not quite at the same level as the other top edge defenders in the 2019 draft class. However, he is a violent and tenacious defender who always takes on blockers at the point of attack. He may not have the play-strength to seal the edge effectively against the run and become a true edge defender. However, New England could find a way to use him in a hybrid role similar to that of Rob Ninkovich. He