Breaking Down New England Patriots Defensive Tackle Vince Wilfork

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Breaking Down New England Patriots Defensive Tackle Vince Wilfork
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Less than 24 hours after it became apparent that the New England Patriots would be adding Darrelle Revis to their defense, star defensive tackle Vince Wilfork reportedly asked to be released.

It's unclear if the two events are connected, but it's possible because some believe that Wilfork will need to take a paycut to accommodate Revis' salary. At 32 years of age, Wilfork is less likely to be an important player for the defense next season.

Not only is Wilfork old, but he is also coming off a season in which he tore his Achilles.

A torn Achilles at this stage of anyone's career can be fatal. If Wilfork wasn't so highly thought of in Boston, he could already have been cut. The Patriots generally don't make decisions based on sentimentality, but it wouldn't be easy for them to let go of their longest serving defensive player and an important leader in the locker room.

Wilfork may be on the decline, but he has a versatile skill set and could be very effective in a reduced role next season.

It's impossible to predict how he recovers from his torn Achilles injury, but the fact the Patriots are willing to keep him on the roster at all suggests that he hasn't suffered any setbacks to this point. Wilfork's age and injury shouldn't prevent him from landing on a roster, but rather make him a more affordable free agent.

At that point, it's about finding the right role for him.

In his prime, Wilfork could do everything. As a 3-4 nose tackle, he could command two gaps and shut down the running game. As a 4-3 defensive tackle, he could shoot through gaps in the line of scrimmage or overpower guards to pressure the quarterback.

Unless he loses some of his explosion, Wilfork should be able to do all of that again next season. The only difference at this stage of his career is that he will likely play fewer snaps.

Season Snaps Per Game
2013 56
2012 58
2011 62
2010 49
2009 40

Pro Football Focus(Subscription Required)

This chart shows how many snaps per game the veteran defensive tackle has played in recent seasons. As we can see, Wilfork's involvement on defense has been very high in recent years. That has largely been a result of the Patriots' lack of depth upfront.

Because Wilfork was so valuable to what they wanted to do, they couldn't simply rotate him in and out of the lineup.

Unless he prioritizes monetary gain over his role with his next team, Wilfork should land somewhere where he can play 25 to 40 snaps per game. Twenty-five to 40 snaps may not seem like a lot, but Michael Bennett of the Seattle Seahawks, a slightly different player to Wilfork, was able to have a huge impact while averaging 40 snaps per game (Subscription Required).

Wilfork may not have the flexibility to line up as a defensive tackle and a defensive end, but he has proven that he can push the pocket from the interior.

Interior pressure is incredibly valuable in today's NFL. It's the most effective way of disrupting the top quarterbacks in the league, because the league is now full of players who routinely adjust to edge pressure or use their athleticism to make plays on the move.

Wilfork has the quickness to take advantage of space against guards, but his most impressive trait is his strength.

NFL.com

On this play from Week 1 of the 2013 season, Wilfork is lined up at right defensive tackle. At the snap, he is left alone in space with the left guard. However, the left guard establishes a quick base and gets his hands on Wilfork in good position quickly.

NFL.com

Despite the blocker's good positioning and established base, Wilfork uses his strength to knock him backwards and to the side. The guard is falling down as Wilfork continues upfield towards the quarterback. Because of EJ Manuel's movement, Wilfork doesn't get the sack.

NFL.com

However, he does force the quarterback off his spot and shows good effort to chase him out of the pocket.

Even in his prime, Wilfork wasn't a dominant interior pass-rusher. His pass-rushing ability alone won't make him a valuable addition to any team. However, for nickel defensive linemen in particular, it's not all about rushing the passer.

Defenses in today's NFL need to be very balanced because offenses are generally very effective when they have a weakness to exploit. Against nickel packages, the obvious weakness is against the run. Therefore, having bigger defensive linemen who don't look out of place as pass rushers is ideal.

Wilfork is exactly that kind of player.

NFL.com

On this play, the Patriots are in their nickel package that features three defensive linemen and three linebackers. Wilfork is lined up between the left tackle and the left guard, as sort of an offset nose tackle. Seeing the six man box, the Jets are going to try and run the ball with their six blockers and running back.

At the snap, the left guard and left tackle engage Wilfork. The initial hit doesn't move Wilfork, so when the left guard disengages to move onto the second level, the Patriots defensive lineman is in a good position to get to the running back.

Wilfork not only had the ability to withstand the initial double team, he had the strength to hold off the left tackle while moving quickly to the ball-carrier.

Although he is very unlikely to return to his role as a defensive anchor ahead of the 2014 season, Wilfork should at the very least be a very valuable role player for somebody.

That is, presuming that he doesn't ultimately stay in New England.

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