The 325 pounder has been a staple of the Patriots defense since his selection in the 2004 NFL Draft. He was selected in the first round out of Miami with the 21st overall pick and has only missed six games in his seven year career.
Wilfork saw nearly half of his snaps at the five technique defensive end position last season. New England was forced to shuffle it's personnel, as the injury bug ravaged their defensive line in 2010.
The team was without one of its starters in Ty Warren before training camp had even concluded. The defensive end was placed on the injured reserve with a hip injury which required surgery to repair.
Richard Seymour was traded to the Oakland Raiders prior to the 2009 season, and the loss of Warren compounded the mounting uncertainty on the defensive line.
To make matters worse, Mike Wright, arguably the most efficient pass rusher on the roster, suffered a severe concussion in November of last year and was unable to get back on the field for the remainder of the season.
The Patriots soldiered on and shuffled their lineups to make due with who they had left. Their defensive rankings versus the run didn't quite mimic what one might expect with all of the injuries taken into consideration.
Richard Seymour was traded for the 17th Overall Selection Two years Ago, Good move?
In 2008, with a lineup consisting of Seymour, Warren and Wilfork, the team ranked 15th in rushing yards allowed per game. The team improved to 13th in 2009 without Seymour and nearly cracked the top-10 in 2010 without Seymour and Warren, coming in at 11th best against the run.
The statistical improvement says a lot more about the organization's ability to consistently find the right puzzle pieces at certain positions than it does about the actual talent on the defensive line. One would be hard pressed to name a more dominant group than the likes of Seymour, Warren, and Wilfork during the Belichick era.
The same argument could be made for a couple of positions historically. The Patriots set multiple NFL records in 2007 with the most prolific receiving corp the team has ever had. Wes Welker, Randy Moss, and Donte Stallworth contributed to an undefeated regular season and were a major part of the record setting offense that year, but they didn't take home a ring.
Deion Branch, David Givens and Troy Brown don't have as much room on their fingers, however, and while they may be considered Patriot greats these three don't have comparable stats to the 2007 group.
With all of that said the rebuilding and revamping of the defense, and specifically the defensive line, will be in full effect during the 2011 NFL Draft.
New England signed veteran Marcus Stroud this offseason in a depth move, and still has developing young talent in the likes of Ron Brace, Myron Pryor and Kyle Love. However, there has been no clear replacement for Richard Seymour and with age and injury concerns mounting around Warren and Wright it would certainly make sense for the team to invest one of it's early picks in a defensive end prospect.
Were you surprised with the selection of Cornerback Devin McCourty last year?
The Patriots are notorious for making surprising selections early on and are known league wide to be one of the most willing trade partners when it comes to draft picks so it's not a stretch to say the team may choose to go in a completely different direction than defensive end early on.
It's completely possible that head coach Bill Belichick and director of player personnel Nick Casserio have their eyes on a prospect who they expect to fall into the later rounds.
Whichever direction they choose to go with their early selections on April 28th, you can rest assured it will be "in the best interest of the football team".