One of the most important tasks for the New England Patriots this offseason is replenishing their depth and talent at defensive tackle. Luckily for them, the 2019 draft class has one of the best DT groups in years. The Patriots should be in a good spot to bolster their roster even if they just stay pat at the 32nd pick.
Here are some options they could explore:
– Ed Oliver, Houston:
The Houston product could very well end up being the best prospect in this draft class. His athleticism is nearly unparalleled, especially for a player his size. He plays with a low base, and has unreal quickness and twitch. Many compare him to Aaron Donald, and for good reason. He is the same type of player, slightly undersized but ridiculously athletic for an interior defensive lineman. In fact, he is an even better prospect than Donald was coming out of college.
The biggest question mark with Oliver will be whether he can add more size at the next level. He may struggle facing offensive lineman who have clear size and strength advantages. If he can put on strength and mass like Donald did, he could become a force at the next level. For that reason, he is unlikely to fall to the Patriots range.
– Jeffrey Simmons, Mississippi State:
Another athletic freak, Simmons has an elite combination strength and athleticism that could make him a future All-Pro player. He has explosiveness and power that make it hard for opposing offensive linemen to gain leverage on him. Unfortunately for Simmons, he tore his ACL in a pre-draft workout and may miss a solid portion of his rookie season. The good thing for New England is that it means that a top-10 talent may drop to them at the end of the first round. Simmons’ biggest on-field issue is average instincts, which is something that coaching from Bill Belichick could negate.
Off-field, Simmons has some issues in his past that could cause concern. He was arrested in 2015 for a fight in which he was caught on video punching a woman. He plead no contest to simple assault. Since then, he has seemingly been a model citizen both on and off the field. The Patriots will need to determine if he has overcome his issues from that incident.
– Dexter Lawrence, Clemson:
The former Clemson Tiger has the prototypical size for a defensive tackle at 6’4, 342 lbs. He has the strength, length, and power to be a dominant run stopper, with potential pass rush upside. Lawrence is also surprisingly athletic for a player of his size. He is able to beat single blocks with ease, and can also eat up double teams. If Lawrence can become more consistent with his play, he could become a top defensive tackle.
Lawrence may fall into New England’s range at 32. Mock drafts from a variety of analysts have had Lawrence going anywhere from the mid-teens to the early second round. If he falls to the Patriots, they may find their defensive stalwart for the future.
– Christian Wilkins, Clemson:
Considered by many to be an extremely high character player, what Wilkins lacks in strength he makes up for in impressive athleticism and production. He has great technique and does not waste movement or energy. He moves with linebacker agility and has a knack for knowing where the ball is. Wilkins’ most concerning issues come with length and play strength. He will struggle at times in the NFL against double teams and offensive linemen who have longer arms than him.
Wilkins may not quite have the talent to be a revolutionary force on the Patriots defensive line. However, paired with more talent, he may be the perfect fit. He is a coachable, high character player who could make an immediate impact on the team as a whole.
– Jerry Tillery, Notre Dame:
The former Notre Dame standout is one of the most physically gifted prospects in the draft. Tillery has elite length and size and flashes immense power. If he can put on more mass and strength at the next level, he could become an absolute freak on the interior. His physicality as a rusher is also a plus, allowing him to fight off blocks and generate pressure through bull rushes. Right now, Tillery is still a raw product. He could definitely work to improve his technique, particularly with his pad level and the use of his hands. He also struggles with agility, making it easy for runners to use quick cuts to pass him.
If Tillery can learn technique and control at the next level, he could become an elite interior defensive lineman. His physical tools are there. The question will be if a coach can get the most out of him. He will likely be available for New England at the end of the first or could be an option to trade up and grab at the beginning of the second.
– Dre’mont Jones, Ohio State:
Undersized for an interior defensive lineman, Jones wins through elite athleticism and impressive technique. He explodes off the line and has fluid lateral movement. His short area quickness, ability to change direction and high motor make him a tackling machine. The biggest concerns with Jones all surround his size. He will need to put on significant weight at the next level, particularly in his legs and base, if he wants to compete with NFL offensive linemen. His light frame and tall pad level would make it easy for him to get bullied by strong opponents.
Jones could be an intriguing option for New England in the second round of the draft. He does not have the traditional size that the Patriots may want in a defensive tackle, but he seems to make up for that in athleticism. If the Patriots believe Jones can add some size, he may be an ideal fit. He would allow them to do different things along their defensive front, just as they did with Trey Flowers.