Prototypical Patriots: Asiata would provide power on the interior

Prototypical Patriots: Asiata would provide power on the interior

The Patriots are set to return each of their three starters on the interior of the offensive line from 2016: Joe Thuney, Shaq Mason and David Andrews. Even their top reserve, Ted Karras, is back in the fold as he's headed into his second season. 

Why, then, might Bill Belichick and his front office be looking at guards during the pre-draft process? (And we know they are.)

One doesn't have to dig all that far back into the recesses of their memory to remember when offensive line injuries plagued that unit in 2015 and served as an example of just how critical it is to employ athletic, versatile depth up front.

There's also the Patriots philosophy when it comes to the draft: Pick good players, and the rest will figure itself out.

Last week, director of player personnel Nick Caserio explained it thusly:

"We want to put good football players on our football team. Regardless of position. We've talked in years past about the Solder example. We had Matt Light, Sebastian Vollmer, and we drafted Nate Solder in the first round.

"Did we need a tackle? I mean, I don't know, but he played jumbo tight end and right tackle, which he had never played before his rookie year. Our job and our focus is to try to get good football players, put them on the team, and then as we get them, figure out what to do once we have them here."

Guards and centers? They're not a pressing need, but they're in play this weekend. And the Patriots have a type. If you take a look at some of the interior offensive linemen drafted by the Patriots in the early-to-middle rounds -- particularly lately -- some trends become apparent. 

They like players who are about 6-foot-3 or 6-foot-4 and between 300 and 315 pounds. Shorter arms (32 inches) are OK, though length doesn't hurt. And you have to be a relatively good athlete. Forty-yard dash times of 5.4 seconds or quicker will help, as will a sub-five second 20-yard shuttle and a three-cone drill in the 7.5-second range. If you can jump 26 inches in the vertical, 97 inches in the broad jump and bench 225 pounds 21 times or more . . . all the better. 

One exception to the above would be Shaq Mason, who's only 6-foot-1 with 31-inch arms, but he might be the best athlete the Patriots have ever had on the interior. Tre' Jackson is a bit of an anomaly as well since he weighed 330 pounds going into the draft. That hurt his testing numbers somewhat, but his standing was improved by the fact that he came from a pro-style system at Florida State and was coached by Seminoles offensive line coach Rick Trickett. 

By and large, if you fit the athletic profile above, if you're smart, tough, and can take coaching, you may have a chance in New England. Here are some of the names we've pegged as prototypical Patriots inside.

Forrest Lamp, Western Kentucky, 6-foot-4, 309 pounds: Lamp was a tackle -- and a very good one -- in college, but he'll likely kick inside at the next level because of his length (32-inch arms). Physically and athletically, he's a specimen. He ran the 40 in five seconds flat, broad-jumped 111 inches and ran the three-cone in 7.55 seconds. He also benched 225 pounds 34 times, which was one off the top mark at the combine. The Patriots would need a first-round pick to grab Lamp if they wanted him. 

Dan Feeney, Indiana, 6-foot-4, 305 pounds: He's not the headliner for this installment of the Prototypical Patriots series, but maybe he should be. His height, weight, length (33-inch arms) and testing numbers -- 5.24-second 40, 28-inch vertical, 101-inch broad, 4.68-second 20-yard shuttle, 7.52-second three-cone -- are all right where Bill Belichick likes them. He played guard and tackle to help clear space for now-NFL backs Tevin Coleman and Jordan Howard, and he was only flagged for 10 penalties in three years. Thought to have a good competitive streak, Feeney was solid as a run blocker and excellent in pass protection in college. Per Pro Football Focus, he allowed only two sacks, four hits and 19 quarterback hurries in 1,239 pass-block snaps at guard over the last three years. He might require a second-round pick if the Patriots are interested. 

Dion Dawkins, Temple, 6-foot-4, 314 pounds: If the Patriots are interested in linemen who've played in a pro-style offense, Dawkins may be among those at the top of their list. He played tackle for the Owls, but looks like a guard at the NFL level and played well there in the Senior Bowl. He has tackle-type length (35-inch arms) and is a very good athlete for his size (5.11-second 40, 26-inch vertical, 106-inch broad jump, 7.3-second three-cone, 4.78-second 20-yard shuttle). Caserio was at his pro day, but he's another who looks like a second-rounder.

Nico Siragusa, San Diego State, 6-foot-4, 319 pounds: He's a little heavier than most others the Patriots have selected at this position in the past, but Siragusa's still up to snuff athletically. He ran a 5.35 40-yard dash, jumped 32 inches in the vertical and clocked a 7.71-second three-cone drill. Experts say he's a highly-effective pull-blocker, and he's strong enough to hold up against defensive tackles in pass protection. 

Isaac Asiata, Utah, 6-foot-3, 323 pounds: Another heavier-than-the norm guard, Asiata was able to combine his tremendous power (a combine-best 35 bench reps of 225 pounds) with impressive testing numbers in Indianapolis. His vertical (25.5 inches) isn't quite where previous Patriots have hit, but his broad jump (102 inches), 40-yard dash (5.34 second), three-cone (7.83 seconds) and 20-yard shuttle (4.93 seconds) all make the grade despite the fact that he's carrying more weight than predecessors who've landed in Foxboro. Asiata is a force in the run game, especially while on the move, and he seems to be plenty comfortable in the passing game. He was one of 30 players the Patriots hosted at Gillette Stadium for a pre-draft visit. He should be available when they're on the clock at No. 72 overall.

Jermaine Eluemunor, Texas A&M, 6-foot-4, 332 pounds: OK now we're delving into bigger-isn't-always-better territory, but good gracious is Eluemunor athletic. Explosive (28.5-inch vertical, 103-inch broad jump) and agile (7.63-second three-cone, 4.85 20-yard shuttle), he'll have to clean up some technique, but there just aren't many humans his size who can move the way he can. Perhaps with the opportunity at a red-shirt year in New England, Dante Scarnecchia can mold him into a player.

Aviante Collins, TCU, 6-foot-4, 295 pounds: The fastest offensive lineman at this year's combine (4.81-second 40), Collins has plenty in the way of athleticism to compete for a role on the interior in New England. He also posted 34 reps of 225 pounds, and you don't have to watch him long to notice his eagerness to lock onto defenders. A tackle in college, he seems more physically suited to play guard at the next level. 

Ethan Pocic, LSU, 6-foot-6, 310 pounds: The Patriots were willing to invest in a big center three seasons ago when they draft Stork (6-foot-4 in the fourth round). Might they be willing to take on a pivot who looks like he could play power forward? Pocic is incredibly long for the position, but he might be the best in this year's class. He actually played some tackle in college, providing some of the versatility that the Patriots appreciate from their linemen. Though it may seem like it takes some time for Pocic's levers to get moving, he's a very good athlete. He ran a 5.15-second 40 and a 4.81-second 20-yard shuttle.

Chase Roullier, Wyoming, 6-foot-4, 312 pounds: If the Patriots are looking for another versatile guard/center option, Roullier wouldn't be a bad match. He may not play like the athlete his testing numbers indicated he is (7.6-second three-cone, 4.47-second 20-yard shuttle), but he's an experienced run-blocker solid in pass protection. He received solid grades from those at PFF, ranking near the top of the class in terms of his pass-blocking efficiency (fifth), which compares quarterback disruptions against the number of pass-protection snaps a player has played. 

Don't pigeonhole me: How will Adrian Clayborn fit into the Patriots defense?

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Don't pigeonhole me: How will Adrian Clayborn fit into the Patriots defense?

Looking for a two-word answer from Bill Belichick during a press conference? Ask him how a new addition to the roster might fit into the Patriots scheme. 

"We'll see," is Belichick's typical reply in those situations. 


We point that out here because it's hard to know exactly what any new player's role will be with the Patriots, particularly for an edge player like Adrian Clayborn. That spot in Belichick's defense can take on a variety of roles, from pass-rusher, to edge-setter, to coverage player. 

But we can take an educated guess as to how Clayborn will fit in the Patriots defense, based on what we know. That's what the Patriots did when they signed him. They saw certain skills. They saw Clayborn perform in certain situations. They made their projection. 

There's always the chance Clayborn asserts himself in a way that wasn't expected. Or maybe the way he fits with his new teammates will open his coaches' eyes in ways they weren't anticipating. But at this point, as is the case with every new addition, they're hypothesizing. So we will too. 

AGAINST THE PASS: Clayborn was, for the vast majority of his snaps, a pass-rusher for the Falcons last year. He played 631 snaps for the Falcons, which was 53.4 of their defensive snaps. Of those 631 plays, Clayborn rushed the quarterback 477 times, per Pro Football Focus (76 percent of his workload). And of those pass-rush snaps, only one came from the left side. (Clayborn was born with Erb's palsy, which means his right arm has some limitations compared to his left, which impacts the side of the field he aligns on. He played 91 percent of his snaps from the right side in 2016.)  Clayborn played over 80 percent of the snaps during each of his first three seasons in the league as a member of the Bucs so he's been a three-down player before. But recent history would suggest the 6-foot-2, 280-pounder is now more of a sub option.

Here's how Clayborn responded during a conference call on Wednesday when asked if he could chip in on first and second down for the Patriots. "I believe that’s what people have pigeon-holed me in as a third-down player, but I know I can play first, second, third down if need be," he said. "That was my role in Atlanta because that’s what they asked me to do, but I mean, I can play all three downs if you ask me."

AGAINST THE RUN: According to Pro Football Focus, Clayborn has been a negatively-graded player against the run during each of his seven seasons in the NFL. Last year he checked in as PFF's 78th-ranked run defender among edge players, which was far below the ranking Trey Flowers received (19th) but ahead of Deatrich Wise (85th) and Eric Lee (96th). During each of his last three seasons with the Falcons, he has seen his snap-counts break down similarly: about 75 percent of his work came against the pass, about 25 percent came against the run. He can defend the run. He's capable of it. He just hasn't been asked to consistently hold up on the edge on a down-in-down-out basis during the most recent phase of his career. 

THE FIT: Based on his history in Atlanta, it would make sense if the Patriots asked Clayborn to come off of the right edge in passing situations in 2018. That's where his recent experience has been. Keeping him away from the left side not only makes the most of where he's strongest, but it also keeps him from finding himself in coverage. As Belichick has explained in the past, the left end spot (Rob Ninkovich's old spot), going against right-handed quarterbacks, is typically asked to do more in coverage. The right edge has been Flowers' area in the recent past -- he played almost 65 percent of his passing-rush snaps last season off the right, per PFF -- but if the Patriots are fully-healthy up front, Flowers could kick inside to do his rushing. An ideal sub package for the Patriots, it could be argued, would have Clayborn on the right edge, Flowers and either Wise or Adam Butler on the interior, and Derek Rivers or Dont'a Hightower on the left edge. Rivers saw some work off the left side before suffering an injury in last year's training camp. Early last season, Hightower saw time on the left edge. 


Clayborn will have an opportunity to show he can do more than rush off the right side. He said on Wednesday that the Patriots have discussed multiple roles for him. (Perhaps he could rush from the interior, though he's not as long as Flowers or Wise, whose arms make them good matchups for stouter guards and tackles.) Wherever those opportunities come, Clayborn knows he'll have to make the most of them if he doesn't want to be pigeonholed. The deal for two years and $10 million he just signed in New England doesn't guarantee him myriad responsibilities.

"Whatever I can prove I can do,” he said. "I know I can rush the passer. I know I can set edge in the run. I mean, there’s a couple of different positions that they believe I can play, so it’s up to me to prove I can play them."


Ex-Patriot Ricky Jean-Francois signing with Lions

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Ex-Patriot Ricky Jean-Francois signing with Lions

Former Patriots defensive tackle Ricky Jean-Francois is signing with the Lions, according to Jordan Schultz of Yahoo Sports.

The 31-year-old had six tackles in six games for the Patriots in 2017. He'll reunite with ex-Patriots defensive coordinator and now Lions head coach Matt Patricia in Detroit.