Prototypical Patriots: Big bodies and versatile defensive tackle options abound
The Patriots have made it very clear over the years. They won't shy away from big bodies as they build their defensive line. Here's what Bill Belichick had to say about Mike Pennel -- then with the Jets and signed this offseason by the Patriots -- when he was asked about the future of the 330-pound defensive tackle in a league focused on the passing game.
"How many 330-pound guys are there? There’s just not that many of them," he said. "So, they’re always hard to find. Those guys are always hard to find. I don’t care if they’re tackles, offensive tackles, defensive tackles. For every guy that’s 330, there’s 20 that are 290. So, if you can find the 330 guys, or whatever the number is, that are as athletic and have the skill of guys that weigh 40 pounds less that play the same position, generally speaking, those guys are probably going to outperform the guys that are lesser."
The Patriots added Pennel but no longer have Malcom Brown or Danny Shelton on the roster. How do they re-stock? There are a handful of extra-large bodies in this draft. There are also lighter interior linemen -- built more like Lawrence Guy -- who could interest Belichick. We've listed both types here, understanding size matters.
JERRY TILLERY, NOTRE DAME, 6-6, 295 POUNDS
Tillery is long (34-inch arms, 10.5-inch hands) and an impressive athlete (4.93 40, 4.33-second short shuttle). In some ways, his physical profile is reminiscent of Richard Seymour's (6-6, 299, 34-inch arms, 4.95 40). Tillery is a refined pass-rusher -- he had the highest interior pass-rushing grade handed out by Pro Football Focus last season -- but is stout enough to hold up in all situations and could play a variety of techniques.
Making Tillery even more intriguing is he said he played with a torn labrum last season that might've hindered his production. Long? Versatile? Productive? He's among the better Patriots fits in this year's class if he falls to No. 32.
2019 NFL Draft Highlights: DT Jerry Tillery, Notre Dame
CHRISTIAN WILKINS, CLEMSON, 6-3, 315 POUNDS
Is there any chance one of the best defensive linemen in the draft makes it to the Patriots at No. 32? According to Pro Football Focus, he was top-three among interior linemen in the class in both run defense and pass-rush grading. He's not quite as heavy as some of the interior run-stuffers the Patriots have liked, but he plays with good technique and produced in a big way for one of the best teams in the country.
2019 NFL Draft Highlights: DT Christian Wilkins, Clemson
DEXTER LAWRENCE, CLEMSON, 6-5, 342 POUNDS
That Clemson team had a little bit of talent along the defensive line, huh? (And there's another Tigers lineman who'll be listed here later.) Lawrence fits the Patriots "don't grow on trees" mold perfectly. Not only are his size and length (35-inch arms) rare, Lawrence would've broken 5.0 seconds in the 40 -yard dash had he not tweaked his quad at the combine in Indy. Not many humans like him. He could make it to the end of the first round and it'd come as little surprise if the Patriots called his name.
2019 NFL Draft Highlights: DE Dexter Lawrence, Clemson
RENELL WREN, ARIZONA STATE, 6-5, 318 POUNDS
Another combination of eye-opening size and athleticism, Wren could represent real value as he's not projected to be drafted until late on Day 2 or Day 3. He has 34-inch arms, 10-inch hands and he ran a 5.01-second 40 with a vertical of 32 inches a broad jump of 118 inches. Even if he needs to clean up some things technique-wise, he's a specimen and could be worthy of a third-round choice.
DAYLON MACK, TEXAS A&M, 6-1, 336 POUNDS
Mack doesn't possess the length of players like Lawrence or Wren, but it's hard to find someone with his size, power (30 bench reps), and a history of production in a conference like the SEC. He played a significant role for the Aggies as a freshman and continued to provide a massive presence on the interior of the defensive line through his four years there. He started all 13 games last season, recording 10 tackles for a loss and 5.5 sacks. In the middle rounds, he could provide real value.
2019 NFL Draft Highlights: DT Daylon Mack, Texas A & M
KHALEN SAUNDERS, WESTERN ILLINOIS, 6-0, 324 POUNDS
Saunders has the weight to handle work on the interior. Saunders is much more than a space-eater, though. He's incredibly explosive (121-inch broad jump), and when given the opportunity to compete against top-tier competition at the Senior Bowl he was hard to handle. He had the second-highest win rate among interior defenders in Mobile, according to Pro Football Focus, winning all seven of his reps against potential first-rounders Garrett Bradbury, Chris Lindstrom and Erik McCoy.
KINGSLEY KEKE, TEXAS A&M, 6-2, 288 POUNDS
Not exactly the "prototype" physically, Keke is an intriguing match for the Patriots. He has very long arms (34.5 inches) and might best be served by taking on an interior-rusher's role at the next level -- a role Adam Butler has dutifully taken on the last couple of seasons. At the Senior Bowl, according to PFF, Keke dominated his reps on the inside.
The Patriots reportedly had Keke in for a visit, and though he's not the prototype from a size perspective, his frame is very similar to that of 2014 first-rounder Dominque Easley (6-2, 288 pounds), who also projected to an interior pass-rusher's role. Interior rushers are incredibly valuable in today's NFL, and two of the best in this year's class (Alabama's Quinnen Williams and Houston's Ed Oliver) are players the Patriots likely will have no chance to draft.
ARMON WATTS, ARKANSAS, 6-5, 300 POUNDS
Watts, who was recruited by Patriots assistant Bret Bielema, didn't see his NFL chances really take off until Bielema's departure, when he started to see more playing time. The seventh-best interior pass-rusher in the class from a grading perspective, according to PFF, Watts has the size to take on a versatile lineman's role at the next level. He had 7.0 sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss last season and could be a find on Day 3.
ALBERT HUGGINS, CLEMSON, 6-3, 305 POUNDS
He ain't Christian Wilkins. He ain't Dexter Lawrence. But when Lawrence was suspended for the college football playoffs last season, Huggins started against Notre Dame and helped hold the Irish to three points. He started again in the national championship game and made five tackles against Alabama.
Huggins might be closer to Lawrence Guy size-wise than Malcom Brown -- he's got 34-inch arms that will help him wherever he ends up -- but there's clearly a role for that kind of versatile interior presence in New England. He's more a prototype than someone like Isaiah Buggs, who despite his time at Alabama doesn't have the size (6-2, 295), length (31-inch arms) or athleticism to project as a great fit.
DONTAVIUS RUSSELL, AUBURN, 6-3, 319 POUNDS
Russell doesn't have great length (32-inch arms) but you'd be hard-pressed to find someone with more experience. That kind of playing time in the SEC is something the Patriots would appreciate. A four-year starter at Auburn, he projects as a late-round, first- and second-down option at the next level.
2019 NFL Draft Highlights: DT Dontavius Russell, Auburn
BYRON COWART, MARYLAND, 6-3, 298 POUNDS
Cowart was once Russell's teammate at Auburn but transferred, spent some time at Hillsborough Community College and then landed with the Terps for 2018. He was immediately made a starter and recorded three sacks, two picks and a forced fumble in 12 games. With his size and arm length (34 inches) he looks like another five-technique guy who could be used at a variety of different spots along the defensive line. Cowart reportedly had a workout with the Patriots during the pre-draft process. At the Senior Bowl, he had strong reps against top-end offensive linemen Kaleb McGary, Erik McCoy and Michael Deiter, according to Pro Football Focus.
PJ JOHNSON, ARIZONA, 6-4, 334 POUNDS
Johnson was utilized all over the defensive line for the Wildcats, even occasionally rushing quarterbacks off the edge as a stand-up rusher. He was primarily -- as his size would indicate -- used on the interior. He might've been gassed at the ends of games at times, and he might've found himself on the ground more often that he would've liked, but when he got his hands inside blockers and used his length, he made some eye-popping plays. If he's an undrafted free agent, he'd definitely be worth a spot on a 90-man roster just to see if he'd see drastic improvement with NFL coaching.
BRYAN MONE, MICHIGAN, 6-3, 335 POUNDS
The Patriots had a nice little run run with a gargantuan defensive lineman from Michigan when Alan Branch was a staple on the interior of Belichick's front for four seasons. Could Mone be the next? He won't be a second-round pick as Branch was. But with long arms (34 inches) and a build that would hold up against NFL guards and centers in a two-gapping scheme like New England's.
ED ALEXANDER, LSU, 6-1, 320 POUNDS
What's this? Another big-bodied SEC interior lineman? Alexander hails from NFL factory St. Thomas Aquinas (James White's alma mater) and was a four-star recruit. He's leaving school a year early despite dealing with knee issues that have hampered him to a certain extent. If he's healthy, he has the build to be a space-eater in New England -- particularly since he looks like a Day 3 choice or an undrafted option.
OLIVE SAGAPOLU, WISCONSIN, 6-2, 324 POUNDS
What is it with big men and their backflips? It's become a thing. Khalen Saunders put on a show at the senior bowl with his gymnast routine. Sagapolu also went semi-viral with a backflip of his own last year.
Trendy as it may be, it does show that there's a good athlete within that space-eater's frame. An injury ended Sagapolu's season last year but he's a high-motor player who could be a factor defensively somewhere because of his size, explosiveness and effort level.