Even while the NFL labor drama unfolds, teams must keep their eye on the ball as they prepare for the upcoming draft. This is the position by position status I believe the New England Patriots are looking at as they prepare for the 2011 NFL draft.
Nose Tackle: Any review of the Patriots Defensive line starts with the big guy in the middle, Vince Wilfork.
The former Miami Hurricane put together perhaps the strongest campaign of his seven year career. Wilfork’s versatility allowed Patriots coach, Bill Belichick, to use him at all three positions along the Pat’s defensive line.
The Patriots may have been considered thin at some positions in 2010 but nose tackle surely wasn’t one of them. In fact there were often times when New England had all three DL positions manned by lineman who have spent at least some of their NFL snaps playing NT. Wilfork, Gerard Warren, Mike Wright and Ron Brace each have experience at NT yet often found some combination of themselves playing together as a unit.
Position Summary: Wilfork remains the hub of the Pats line and enters the second season of a lucrative five year contract signed before the start of 2010.
Former BC Eagle Brace saw considerable improvement from his rookie season and could conceivably allow the Pats to continue to move Wilfork around as they see fit. Mike Wright who battled injuries all season long and Kyle Love an undrafted rookie free agent figure to continue to contribute along the DL, occasionally at NT.
Defensive End: A season ending injury to veteran starter Ty Warren caused a shakeup along the line often leading to the shifting of Wilfork to the DE spot.
Another veteran, Gerard Warren, was brought in as a free agent and did a solid but unspectacular job often switching between DE and NT depending on how Wilfork was being used.
Overall injuries and/or ineffectiveness contributed to a revolving door among other Pats D lineman. Mike Wright and Ron Brace (5 starts apiece), Brandon Deadrick (4 starts), Eric Moore (3 starts), Myron Pryor (2 starts), and Kyle Love (1 start) all had brief moments in the sun only to be nicked up or swapped out as situations warranted it.
Position Summary: It wasn’t long ago that the Patriots could routinely pencil in a starting defensive line that was manned by three highly successful first round draft picks (T. Warren, V. Wilfork and Richard Seymour).
Those days are gone, at least temporarily.
Today New England’s defensive line faces some serious questions, the first of which is how Ty Warren will bounce back from injury. A healthy Warren would immediately impact depth and allow Belichick greater freedom to mix and match his other lineman based on their individual strengths.
Expect Mike Wright, if healthy, to stick around a little longer as he gives New England the most versatility off the bench.
The recent signing of Marcus Stroud will push fellow veteran, Gerard Warren. It’s debatable how much Stroud has left in the tank. By most accounts Stroud’s 2010 season in Buffalo was mediocre at best (though it should be noted that he had a pretty disruptive afternoon when playing the Pats in Buffalo).
Warren may very well be more versatile than Stroud but I’m thinking Stroud may have an advantage playing out at the DE spot. I don’t see both coming out of training camp.
Myron Pryor and Brandon Deadrick are good young players to fill out a roster but haven’t risen to a level that one of them being cut out of camp is out of the question either.
One player who made some surprising contributions when given a chance is Eric Moore a DE/OLB tweener who hadn’t appeared in an NFL game in over a year prior to signing in NE.
Kyle Love, Darryl Richard, Kade Weston, Landon Cohen and Marlin Favorite round out the current roster.
Defensive Line Summary: Big two-gap defensive linemen don’t grow on trees and as a result are pretty hot commodities when the draft rolls around.
Draft experts like Mel Kiper have the Pats looking to take California DE Cameron Jordan with the 17th pick, the first of their two round one picks.
Will the Pats go DL that early? They could, but remember value is key in New England.
An early run at DL may move the Pats in a different direction most likely O-line or defensive back in my opinion. The Patriots have three of the first thirty three picks in the draft and I believe one will be used on a defensive linemen. If Jordan or Wisconsin’s JJ Watt slip to 17 I think they pull the trigger; if not, don’t expect them to reach.
If Belichick is able to find a rookie who can come in and contribute right away at DE, and Ty Warren returns, the Pats defensive line could see a real jump in effectiveness in 2011. If not, Belichick will once again have to piece-together a makeshift line and hope that some of his good young players develop sooner rather than later.
This weekend:Running Backs/Receivers
Link to previous positions summary