New England Patriots: Strengths and Weaknesses of Every Pats D-Lineman
The New England Patriots' defensive line has its strengths and its weaknesses.
In 2011, the Patriots' defensive front accounted for 31.5 of the team's 40 sacks, according to ESPN.com. However, NFL.com data shows the team still allowed 411.1 yards per game—good for 31st in the league.
New acquisitions like Jonathan Fanene, Trevor Scott, first-round draft pick Chandler Jones and third-rounder Jake Bequette will look to change that.
The added blend of experience and athleticism could pose a serious threat to opposing offenses in 2012.
With that said, here is a comprehensive assessment of each Patriot along the defensive line.
Chandler Jones, Defensive End
Jones is a very talented athlete who can make big plays using his long limbs and quick feet.
At 6'5", Jones fits the mold for the "Elephant" position that ex-Patriots Willie McGinest, Andre Carter and Mark Anderson excelled in.
"Bill Belichick loves diversity, and this kid is a difference-maker in how he pass rushes, how he defends the run and how he can drop in coverage," said NFL draft expert Mike Mayock in reaction to New England picking Jones.
During March's NFL scouting combine, the 22-year-old impressed with a 35-inch vertical leap and a measured arm length of 35-and-a-half inches. These physical tools will bode well for him when it comes to batting down passes and wrapping up ball carriers.
Even though he's got good height, Jones would fare better if he bulked up. He weighs 265 pounds, and benched 22 reps at 225 pounds during the combine. However, Jones will be facing offensive tackles who are well over 300 pounds, so leverage will be key.
For a first-round draft choice, Jones wasn't overly productive in college. Over three seasons, he totaled 101 tackles and 10 sacks. To be fair, a knee injury in 2011 did limit him to just seven games. Yet, that makes health a whole other issue in itself.
Trevor Scott, Defensive End
The New England Patriots inked a versatile player in Trevor Scott this offseason. ESPN Boston's Mike Rodak reports that Scott was converted from tight end to defensive end during his college career. He is expected to provide great depth to the Pats' pass rush.
The University of Buffalo product has an innate ability to sack the quarterback. As a rookie in 2008, the former Oakland Raider recorded five sacks and improved that number to seven in 2009.
A former sixth-round draft pick, Scott is a hard worker who is used to earning his keep. The 27-year-old will bring toughness and a blue-collar attitude to the table when he suits up for New England this fall.
Scott suffered a torn ACL midway through the 2010 season and has yet to rediscover his niche. After notching 12 sacks through his first two NFL seasons, Scott has posted just 1.5 sacks since.
His role on the Raiders diminished in 2011. The 6'5", 255-pound Scott saw action in all 16 games, but failed to make a single start—finishing with seven total tackles.
Scott's role for 2012 is quite unknown. Can he return to being the player he was before the knee injury? Training camp and preseason games will be critical tests for him.
Jermaine Cunningham, Defensive End
Jermaine Cunningham was a second-round draft choice back in 2010, but he will have a tough time even making the New England Patriots' 53-man roster in 2012.
As a rookie, the Florida product performed well at outside linebacker in a 3-4 defensive front. He started 11 of the 15 games he played in—making 34 total tackles, one sack and two forced fumbles.
Draftbreakdown.com's Will Spencer had this to say about the ex-Gator prior to the 2010 NFL draft:
Very quick first step. Shows great pursuit and does a nice job chasing down the play. Quick around the corner and knows how to get to the quarterback. Was used to drop into coverage on multiple occasions at Florida and seemed comfortable doing so.
His natural abilities haven't shown up during his time with the Pats. Although it's important to remember that Cunningham is just 24 years old. His best days could still be ahead of him.
Cunningham's second NFL season wasn't as successful as his first. When the team went to a 4-3 scheme and Cunningham transitioned back to defensive end, the results weren't there. No. 96's 2011 season ended with a hamstring injury after just nine games.
In limited action during his sophomore season, Cunningham played primarily on special teams and recorded only one tackle.
The 6'3", 260-pound tackler hasn't fit the billing up front as a pro.
Vince Wilfork, Defensive Tackle
No. 75 is a four-time Pro Bowler who's been invaluable to New England's success.
Over the course of eight seasons with the Patriots, Wilfork has made 412 total tackles, 13 sacks, two interceptions and two forced fumbles.
Wilfork is exceptional at clogging the lanes and eating up blockers. He's surprisingly athletic for his 6'2", 325-pound frame and is a threat to disrupt almost any play.
The 30-year-old has been utilized as a nose tackle in a 3-4 defense, a defensive tackle in a 4-3 system and he's also played defensive end in a heavy defensive front.
Among interior lineman, Wilfork ranked sixth on Pro Football Focus' run-stopping rankings in 2011. Last season, the defensive tackle had his hands in 34 tackles and four assists during 334 run plays. To put the statistic in perspective, B.J. Raji of the Green Bay Packers placed 46th.
Wilfork is a very well-rounded player—in every sense of the word.
This is a tough one.
To nitpick, ah forget it. There's really nothing to complain about when it comes to Vince Wilfork.
He's a leader, he's a play maker, he's a play stopper. Big Vince has become one of the elite at his position.
Ron Brace, Defensive Tackle
Ron Brace's first three seasons with the New England Patriots have been uneventful. The 2009 second-rounder has not lived up to expectations.
Brace's girth is desirable for a defensive linemen. His 6'3", 330-pound body is built to stuff rushing lanes. As a result, the potential is still there.
He's started seven games in his NFL career and has lined up at multiple spots along the D-line. According to ESPNBoston.com's Mike Reiss in a Patriots mailbag, Brace has played nose tackle, defensive end as well as defensive tackle for New England.
Durability is an issue when it comes to Brace. The former Boston College Eagle has appeared in a mere 29 of 48 regular season games with the Patriots. At age 25, Brace has already experienced the physically unable to perform list and injured reserve.
A lack of production is certainly a thorn in Brace's side. He hasn't flashed much in terms of play-making abilities—accumulating only 35 combined tackles and a forced fumble for the Patriots. His inconsistency puts him on the fringe of the roster.
Gerard Warren, Defensive Tackle
Veteran defensive lineman Gerard Warren is a plug-and-play depth guy for the New England Patriots. Entering his 12th NFL season, what you see is what you get with Warren—but that's not necessarily a bad thing.
Warren has started 10 games in two seasons with the Pats, making 40 tackles and 4.5 sacks. He's been a steady contributor in New England.
The No. 3 pick in the 2001 draft brings a team-first mentality and excellent leadership to the table. Warren will soon be 34, and remains on the quest for a Super Bowl ring. However, his hunger for a championship is an asset for the Patriots.
Warren is in the twilight of his football career. His performance is consistent, but unspectacular.
The 6'4", 330-pound lineman is no longer a starting defensive tackle, but barring an injury to Vince Wilfork or Kyle Love, he doesn't need to be.
Kyle Love, Defensive Tackle
Kyle Love went undrafted in 2010, but has solidified himself as a dependable defensive tackle for the New England Patriots.
Love is a good run defender for the Patriots and uses his 310-pound body to his advantage.
During his rookie year, Love amassed only seven tackles in nine games.
Yet in 2011, the Mississippi State stopper made 13 starts next to Vince Wilfork. Needless to say he made the most of the opportunity—33 tackles, three sacks and a fumble recovery. He finished the season with the ninth-most snaps played among all Patriot defenders, per ESPNBoston.com's Mike Reiss.
At times, Love gets absorbed by blockers and struggles to make a play on the ball.
As a defensive tackle, he's not going to attack the QB all too often, but Love has still managed four sacks in 25 career games.
He's no Vince Wilfork, but not many players are.
Myron Pryor, Defensive Tackle
Myron Pryor has experienced some ups and downs since entering the league as a sixth-round draft pick in 2009.
When healthy, Pryor is a decent backup defensive tackle who can play important snaps. During his three NFL seasons, the ex-Kentucky Wildcat has recorded 34 tackles, one sack and a forced fumble.
Pryor has fought the injury bug throughout his young career. He's only been able to play in 24 of 48 regular-season games with New England. In 2011, Pryor's season was cut short two games into September with a shoulder injury.
"Pryor was solid as a rookie, but has had trouble staying on the field recently," said Field Yates of ESPN Boston. "He was not seen at the previous OTA, and may still be recovering from a shoulder injury that shelved him for most of 2011."
With his medical history, 2012 will be a deciding year for Pryor.
Marcus Harrison, Defensive Tackle
In 2008 and 2009, Harrison played in all 16 games for the Bears and started nine contests. In three seasons with Chicago, the Arkansas lineman made 55 combined tackles and three sacks.
Proficient against the run, according to Robert Davis of Footballsfuture.com, Harrison could help shore up the defensive tackle position for New England.
Harrison hasn't bested his rookie season, where he tallied 28 tackles and two sacks. During his last year with the Bears, Harrison played in only five games.
He spent the 2011 season out of the NFL. According to Brad Biggs of the National Football Post (via Joe Person of the Charlotte Observer), Harrison failed his physical with the Carolina Panthers last September—a red flag.
Marcus Forston, Defensive Tackle
The University of Miami's Marcus Forston will try to make the New England Patriots' roster after joining the team as an undrafted free agent.
In 2008, Forston was named to multiple freshman All-American teams.
At Indianapolis' scouting combine he benched 35 reps of 225 pounds and ran a 5.17 40-yard dash. That power and deceptive speed should help him in his NFL career.
Out of high school, Forston was a top tier prospect, but he didn't leave college with the same honors.
Due to injury, the 300-pound lineman played in just three games during his sophomore and senior seasons at Miami, respectively. His injury-riddled college career is a legitimate question mark for the 22-year-old rookie.
According to CBSSports.com's analysis, fundamentals are also a problem when it comes to Forston:
Plays upright and struggles with leverage. Too often stonewalled at the line of scrimmage and doesn't show the handstrength or technique to shed or redirect blockers. Unpolished fundamentally and doesn't appear as concerned with that part of his game. Has very little gap integrity and doesn't consistently play assignment football.
Marcus Forston must stay injury free and adapt to the NFL game in order to make the Patriots' 53-man squad.
Jonathan Fanene, Defensive End
The 30-year-old is large for a defensive end at 6'4", 292 pounds and has also played snaps at defensive tackle.
"Versatility is the key with Fanene, who we can expect to be used in a variety of ways in his first season with the Patriots," said ESPN Boston's Field Yates.
Fanene knows how to get to the quarterback as well. The former Utah Ute collected 6.5 sacks in 2011 and has put together two six-sack seasons since 2009.
Fanene has missed significant time since entering the league in 2005. In his rookie year, he played in three games. He played in only four games in 2006 and just two in 2010. Injuries have beaten Fanene down from time to time, but he's coming off his best NFL season.
A D-lineman with durability woes, Fanene isn't an every-down player. Last year, he played 379 snaps, according to Pro Football Focus (via cincyjungle.com). In comparison, Cincinnati safety Reggie Nelson was on the field for 1,049 downs in 2011.
Brandon Deaderick, Defensive End
Brandon Deaderick is prepped for his third season with the New England Patriots. His work load increased in 2011, and the Alabama alumnus performed respectably.
For a former seventh-round draft pick, Deaderick has outdone himself. Last season, the 24-year-old eclipsed veteran defensive end Shaun Ellis on the depth chart, making five starts. In 10 games, Deaderick had 17 total tackles and two sacks.
He's an imposing figure at 6'4", 305 pounds—which gives him flexibility to line up on the inside or outside of the line.
Deaderick is a strong and serviceable body on the line who can make stops from time to time.
Deaderick has missed 12 games in his two NFL seasons, and began 2011 on the physically unable to perform list. He needs to stay in good health in order to stay in the defensive line rotation in 2012.
Pass rushing is not his forte and he's not going to rack up the sacks, but Deaderick helps in other facets.
Jake Bequette, Defensive End
Arkansas' Jake Bequette was taken by the New England Patriots in the third round of this year's draft. The 6'5", 274-pound athlete will be an intriguing prospect for the coaching staff to groom moving forward.
Bequette is very capable of making plays in blitz situations. He totaled 17 sacks between his junior and seniors years for the Razorbacks.
Even on rushing downs, Bequette's high motor makes him determined to bring down the ball carrier. According to Patriots.com, he made 32.5 tackles for loss during his four collegiate seasons.
Bequette may play aggressively, but he does have some shortcomings—mainly with technique.
The National Football Post had this to say of Bequette's play-style:
Doesn't have the ability to consistently threaten the edge at the next level. Tries to drop his pad level when trying to flatten out, but isn't real flexible. Tends to drop his head and bend at the waist and initially can get under blockers, but then pops upright and can routinely be pushed past the pocket.
Bequette's statistical output was tremendous during his college days, but it remains to be seen whether or not his old rushing moves will work in the NFL.
Alex Silvestro, Defensive End
Alex Silvestro is yet to make his mark in the NFL. The former Rutgers player signed on with the New England Patriots in 2011 as an undrafted free agent.
Silvestro is largely in New England because of his connection to Rutgers, as coach Bill Belichick is very fond of Scarlet Knights. His son, Stephen, was a lacrosse player and longsnapper there. Not to mention, Belichick is good friends with ex-Rutgers and current Tampa Bay Buccaneers football coach Greg Schiano.
Aside from Silvestro's ties to Rutgers, he's a scrappy special teams player who saw action in one regular-season game for the Pats in 2011.
He was also signed to New England's active roster just a day before Super Bowl XLVI—suggesting Belichick has confidence in his abilities.
Silvestro is a do-everything type of player who is nice to have within the Patriots' organization. At the end of the day, however, he's not the most talented defensive end.
Justin Francis, Defensive End
Justin Francis signed with the New England Patriots this offseason as an undrafted free agent out of—you guessed it—Rutgers.
Francis is a 6'4", 275-pound defensive lineman with experience at defensive end, defensive tackle and linebacker, according to Jenny Vrentas of the Star-Ledger. The 23-year-old's familiarity with different positions should give him an opportunity to find a role with the Patriots.
At the scouting combine, Francis had the fifth-best time among defensive lineman in the three-cone drill, showing that he's quick in short bursts.
In his senior season, Francis made 60 tackles, 6.5 sacks and nabbed an interception—proving he can do a little bit of everything.
Francis isn't of intimidating size, and he's not very fast either. That makes for a bad combination. He might need to gain some weight if he wants to be effective in the NFL.
NFL.com's scouting report on Francis examined his reaction time and lack of size for a trench D-lineman:
Francis is slow at times to read lineman and get into the correct gaps to cover his responsibilities. He is slightly undersized, especially when working inside, and stronger linemen can get a grip on him that he has a difficult time shedding.
Francis wasn't a full-time starter until his senior year at Rutgers. However, he's been in college since 2007 due to transfer rules, which has given him extra time work on his craft.
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