Patriots draft positional preview: Defensive tackle
PATRIOTS DRAFT POSITIONAL PREVIEW: DEFENSIVE TACKLE
By Phil Perry
The Patriots have been neutered at the top of the 2016 NFL Draft, but they aren’t wholly impotent with 11 total picks . . . including four in the first 100 picks. Enjoy this Patriot-centric look at the team’s status at defensive tackle, the best available players at that position and which direction the Patriots may be inclined to go when they are on the clock.
DEFENSIVE TACKLE NEED: 7
Well, it's a good thing we didn't attack this position earlier in the week . . . While the news of Dominique Easley's release doesn't constitute a roster upheaval -- he played about one-fifth of the team's defensive snaps over the last two seasons -- it may serve as some indication of where the Patriots are leaning in this year's draft. This is supposed to be the deepest incoming class of defensive tackles the league has seen in a long, long time. Knowing that, did it make the Patriots decision to part with their former first-round pick any easier? Maybe. But the Patriots were probably interested in adding to this position all along, with Easley or without him. They have what looks to be a cornerstone type of player on the interior already in second-year tackle Malcom Brown. Fellow starter Alan Branch is back in the fold for another year as well. And signing Terrance Knighton gave the Patriots a big body to work into the rotation after losing both Akiem Hicks and Sealver Siliga to free agency. Other than adding an interior pass-rusher to help replace what they lost in Easley, the Patriots look pretty well set at this spot for 2016. But what about 2017 and beyond? They'll need another wave of behemoths since both Branch and Knighton's contracts are up after this season. If the draft class is as good as everyone's saying it is, the Patriots might be better served addressing the position in a year when they could potentially grab a first-round talent late in the second.
DeForest Buckner, Oregon, 6-7, 291 pounds
Buckner is more of a 3-4 defensive end than a true defensive tackle in a 4-3 scheme, but no matter what a team runs, they'd find a place for this guy. The comparisons to Arizona's Calais Campbell seem to be good ones. Buckner should be a top-10 pick.
Sheldon Rankins, Louisville, 6-1, 299 pounds
Undersized but versatile in his skill set along the defensive line, Rankins plays with good leverage and has off-the-ball quickness that should translate to production at the next level.
Jarran Reed, Alabama, 6-3, 307 pounds
For teams interested in a true run-stuffer on the interior, Reed will be difficult to pass on. His sound technique paired with his frame makes him very difficult to move off of the line of scrimmage.
Chris Jones, Mississippi State, 6-6, 310 pounds
Raw but explosive, Jones has been one of the fastest-rising players on expert big boards since the pre-draft process began. While his productivity waned at times in college, if he can muster any sort of consistency in the NFL he has the length and strength to be dominant.
Robert Nkemdiche, Ole Miss, 6-3, 294 pounds
Some have him pegged as an edge player. Some like him as an interior rusher. Despite rare athleticism for someone his size, it seems as though few will like him well enough to pick in the top half of the first round. Off-the-field red flags and on-the-field disappearing acts have hurt his stock.
Jonathan Bullard, Florida, 6-3, 285 pounds
For the Gators, Bullard was more polished as a run defender, but his instincts and his physical traits could help him round into a menace for opposing quarterbacks down the road.
Sheldon Day, Notre Dame, 6-1, 293 pounds
If the Patriots are looking for a pure interior rusher to replace Easley, Day might be the best fit. A high-motor player who uses his hands well to defeat blocks, Day's size may limit him in the running game, but the pressure he'll create on passing downs will more than make up for it.
Austin Johnson, Penn State, 6-4, 314 pounds
Pro Football Focus compares Johnson to Patriots defensive tackle Malcom Brown. Like Brown, he's quick and powerful and has the versatility to play a variety of spots on the defensive line. Will the Patriots want a more varied skill set on the line, though?
Adolphus Washington, Ohio State, 6-3, 301 pounds
Washington played on the nose at times in college and looks like a natural fit as a 3-technique. Maturity concerns -- he was arrested for solicitation and suspended from the Fiesta Bowl -- could cause him to slide down draft boards.
Hassan Ridgeway, Texas, 6-3, 303 pounds
Is a reunion in order for Brown and his former Longhorns teammate? Ridgeway looks like a steady presence on the interior who understands the game. He doesn't have the eye-popping physical skills that some others at this position possess, but he has the ability to develop into a starter who plays on all three downs.
Andrew Billings (Baylor, 6-1, 311 pounds), Vernon Butler (Louisiana Tech, 6-4, 323 pounds), A'Shawn Robinson (Alabama, 6-4, 307 pounds) and Kenny Clark (UCLA, 6-3, 314 pounds) would make for nice fits as well, but chances are they'll be off the board by pick No. 60.