Prototypical Patriots: Edge defender fits in 2020 NFL Draft
K'Lavon Chaisson, LSU
6-foot-4, 254 pounds
Chaisson's physical skill set could get him drafted in the top half of the first round, which means the Patriots may never have a chance to get him with their first pick at No. 23 overall. Still, if he's there, he'd be worth considering. He's a dynamic athlete who has the traits to become an effective pass-rusher with a little more polish. He's already good to go against the run, which the Patriots would appreciate.
His tools didn't necessarily translate to big-time production in the SEC, which could be cause for concern, but he was still named First-Team All-SEC by coaches, and he has high-end football character. He was a captain for the Tigers and wore No. 18 at LSU, which is reserved for players who've exhibited a selfless attitude and are considered the epitome of an LSU football player.
2020 NFL Draft Highlights: K'Lavon Chaisson
Julian Okwara, Notre Dame
6-foot-4, 252 pounds
Okwara is a player who didn't test at the combine, but he didn't need to for anyone to understand what kind of athlete he is. He's fluid yet powerful. He's long (34-inch arms, 10-inch hands) and explosive. He has the ability to drop into coverage if asked, and yet his best move as a pass-rusher is to bull-rush tackles. His strength as a rusher should allow him to function as a better run-defender with coaching, but that's an area that could use some polish if he's going to play in a variety of situations at the next level.
All it might take is some fine-tuning across the board to help Okwara find some consistency and be one of the steals of the draft. He suffered a season-ending broken leg last year so he'll have to get the OK medically to warrant being taken with an early pick.
Bradlee Anae, Utah
6-foot-3, 257 pounds
From an elite-level athlete in need of polish . . . to a polished outside linebacker who tested like a borderline NFL athlete. Anae is a strong hand-fighter already, it appears, possessing a variety of moves off the edge to get to quarterbacks. And he's a try-hard player whose effort will keep him around the football. But at his size, his 4.93-second 40, 7.44-second three-cone and 4.43-second short-shuttle indicate he's not the most explosive or bendy of athletes available here.
2020 NFL Draft Highlights: Bradlee Anae
Anfernee Jennings, Alabama
6-foot-2, 256 pounds
For our purposes, there might not be a more logical fit in the class. Jennings isn't getting much buzz and could be available at the bottom of the third round, where the Patriots have three selections. He's a 'Bama guy, and was an All-SEC First-Teamer with eight sacks (leading the Crimson Tide). His NFL.com comparison? Kyle Van Noy. Seems like a fit, right?
He didn't test at the combine so we don't know exactly how to slot him athletically, but "twitch" isn't necessarily his game. But he was consistent against both the run and the pass, and his familiarity with a grind-it-out program would make him a no-brainer choice for Belichick with a good recommendation from Nick Saban.
Terrell Lewis, Alabama
6-foot-5, 262 pounds
Lewis would be a big-bodied outside linebacker in this scheme, but that's worked before. With 34-inch arms and 10-inch hands, he has some Willie McGinest-type size to be able to control the point of attack. Lewis is explosive as well, which he proved at the combine with a 37-inch vertical (82nd percentile for linebackers) and a 124-inch broad jump (88th). But he's more than a physical prototype.
Like Jennings, he has the Alabama pedigree. And like Jennings, he produced — perhaps even to a greater level. He had a pressure rate of 19.8 percent, per Pro Football Focus, which was third in the class of edge rushers with at least 100 pass-rushing snaps. The fact that Lewis has the ability to cover, at that size, is incredibly intriguing. And the fact that he had a strong 2019 after a knee injury forced him to miss all of 2018? That might indicate his best football is still ahead of him.
2020 NFL Draft Highlights: Terrell Lewis
D.J. Wonnum, South Carolina
6-foot-5, 258 pounds
From the SEC. NFL-caliber length (34-inch arms, 10.5-inch hands). An impressive athletic profile (4.73-second 40, 34.5-inch vertical, 123-inch broad, 7.25-second three-cone). He was named a permanent captain as a sophomore. Wonnum looks like a fit. He just never played consistently enough to warrant landing way up the ladder on this list.
Part of that might've been scheme. He was asked to set the edge and play the run quite a bit, something the Patriots won't mind. And he's been injured — he played just 216 snaps last season — so it's still hard to gauge where his ceiling is. That make him a risk? Or a buy-low candidate? I'd lean the latter.
Alex Highsmith, Charlotte
6-foot-3, 248 pounds
Hard to quantify how well someone like Highsmith will project to the NFL game. At Charlotte, against relatively weak competition, he caved in offensive lines for teams like Gardner-Webb and Old Dominion. And despite the fact he was a walk-on at Charlotte as a late-bloomer, he did test as a very good athlete at the combine. Maybe his skill set would've led to production at a higher level?
A 4.70 40 with a 125-inch broad jump is pretty impressive for someone his size regardless of where he went to school. His size and athleticism — and the grit required to walk-on anywhere and have the career he's had — indicate he'd be a fit in New England. He'll have to learn to cover, though, and he'll need to have a role in the kicking game to stick and be worthy of a roster spot as a developmental guy.
2020 NFL Draft Highlights: Alex Highsmith
Derrek Tuszka, North Dakota State
6-foot-4, 251 pounds
Smaller program. Big-time production. And a big-time athlete. Tuszka helped lead the Bison to their third-straight FCS championship and was named a first-team AP All-American as well as Missouri Valley Defensive Player of the Year in the process.
Is he truly a 3-4 outside 'backer? We'll see. Wasn't his role in college. But he tested well with a 4.79 40, a 120-inch broad and a blazing 6.87-second three-cone. If he's not a defensive fit, he could end up a late-round special-teams option.
Casey Toohill, Stanford
6-foot-4, 250 pounds
One of the best fits for our series in this year's class at this position. Why? Physically, he checks just about every box with 33.5-inch arms and 9.5-inch hands. He also lit up the combine workouts with a 4.62 40 time, a 39-inch vertical, a 126-inch broad and very quick change-of-direction times (7.08 three-cone, 4.21 short-shuttle). Those are outstanding. He's an NFL athlete. And he's one of the smartest players in the class as well having been named a finalist for the "academic Heisman," the Campbell Trophy.
An All-Pac 12 player with 11.5 tackles for loss and eight sacks, Toohill has plenty of production to his name. Hard to know if he's ready for a regular defensive role just yet because he's not a finished run-game player at this point. He might be a Day 3 choice and a special-teamer to start his career, but that should be OK with him. He was a "teams" guy at Stanford, too, and had two career blocked extra points.
Zack Baun, Wisconsin
6-foot-2, 238 pounds
Baun may be considered simply too light to be serviceable in a full-time role on the edge of the Patriots defense. But he's considered one of the smartest defenders in the class and should be a versatile chess piece who can be used in a variety of positions at the next level. That's what makes him a "prototype" in our eyes.
Someone who can play at the second level, process with the best of 'em, and make plays in the run game? He can do that. Rush off the edge in passing situations and give tackles headaches with his moves and countermoves? He can do that. Cover in short spaces and understand his responsibilities? He played over the slot at times for the Badgers and should be able to make that transition. He could've very well ended up as a Prototypical linebacker for us, but we'll keep him here on the edge. He may be a first-rounder, so the Patriots will have to be ready to pull the trigger early if they want him to help replace recent versatile front-seven departure Kyle Van Noy.
2020 NFL Draft Highlights: Zack Baun
Josh Uche, Michigan
6-foot-1, 245 pounds
Like Baun, Uche is a little light to truly fit the "prototype" mold here. But like Baun, he has some versatility to his game that could be intriguing for New England. He didn't test at the combine but his numbers would've been off the charts. He's shifty in tight spaces and he bends easily around tackles. He's plenty athletic enough to be able to cover backs out of the backfield. And when used off the ball, he has the speed to run and chase.
He lit it up at the Senior Bowl to the point where executive director of the Senior Bowl Jim Nagy thought Uche was one of the best defenders in Mobile, Ala. after South Carolina defensive lineman Javon Kinlaw, who looks like a top-15 player. Uche had 8.5 sacks in just over 400 snaps for the Wolverines this season. You can question why he wasn't on the field more, but that's production personified off the edge. Could a reunion with Michigan teammate Chase Winovich be in the offing? "Baun and Uche, to me, are two that totally seem like Patriots-type linebackers," said Nagy, a former Patriots scout.
Darrell Taylor, Tennessee
6-foot-4, 267 pounds
We're at the other end of the spectrum now with a player who might be a little too bulked-up to play the "Sam" or "Jack" spots for the Patriots. But one of Taylor's physical comps, according to Mockdraftable.com, is Dont'a Hightower, who entered the league at 6-foot-2, 265 pounds. Taylor won't be a first-rounder this year, but he looks like a good enough athlete at his size to warrant consideration by New England.
He had 10 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks last season and has the power to hold at the point of attack. He has some experience taking backs out of the backfield, but as is the case with his pass-rush plans, his coverage skills could use some cleaning up. Perhaps with some coaching, the Patriots see more than just a run-stuffing edge.
James Smith-Williams, N.C. State
6-foot-4, 265 pounds
Like Taylor, Smith-Williams is on the heavy end to show up on this list. But given his physical transformation at N.C. State, he should be able to shed a few pounds to get lighter and more athletic if asked. He's a tremendous athlete already, checking in with a 4.60-second 40 and a 123-inch broad jump at the combine. His closest comp on Mockdraftable.com is Texans pass-rusher Whitney Mercilus.
Despite struggling with injuries throughout his career, Smith-Williams made the most of his time at N.C. State off the field. He graduated in December of 2018 and interned at IBM for two years, working on robotic animation. Coach Dave Doeren game Smith-Williams the team's No. 1 jersey in 2019 for his work ethic, character, leadership and accomplishments.
Jonathan Garvin, Miami
6-foot-4, 263 pounds
He may not have been quite as big a name early in the year as edge-defender rival at Florida Jonathan Greenard. But as a much more explosive athlete, Garvin looks like the better fit for the Patriots.
While Greenard appears ready to set the edge at a high level, Garvin seems to be the more versatile player. His 36-inch vertical and 125-inch broad indicate he'll be able to get off the line with some pop in the NFL. He could have some special-teams ability as well thanks to his size and athletic ability. Garvin, who won't turn 21 years old until late July, has been compared to Patriots outside linebacker Shilique Calhoun by Pro Football Focus.
Jonathan Greenard, Florida
6-foot-3, 263 pounds
Greenard should still be included here just because he was so effective at stopping the run — a trait the Patriots respect — against some of the best competition in the country in the SEC. PFF gave Greenard a very strong 87.7 run-stop grad for his work in 2019.
He's not going to light the NFL on fire from a pass-rushing perspective, but if they want a big body to be able to set a hard edge — someone who could perhaps develop into more as a rusher — there are worse options.
Jabari Zuniga, Florida
6-foot-3, 264 pounds
Zuniga feels like he has a better shot at having the Patriots call his name than Greenard just because of his athletic profile alone. Zuniga may be more of an unfinished prospect, but he has impressive movement skills (4.64-second 40 time and a 127-inch broad) for someone with his frame.
Zuniga is far from polished as a rusher, but he was used in a variety of ways for the Gators — outside of tackles, head-up on tackles and even inside occasionally — which could interest the Patriots since they're usually on the lookout for multi-faceted pieces.