We kick off our series of 2015 draft roundtables with talented writers Ned Brady, Adam Bogdan and Liam Cunningham!
We start off by taking a look at one of the positions most believe is a significant need for the Super Bowl champion Patriots - Defensive Tackle!
1. How high do you view the Pats need at Defensive Tackle, and where do you see them addressing that need?
To me, this is their second highest need behind offensive guard. I would be surprised if they do not address this need in the first or second round considering the top talent and lack of worthy prospects passed the 3rd round.
While I don't view the need at defensive tackle to be as dire as some Patriots fans do, the team would clearly benefit from adding another big body or two to a unit that is suddenly missing the massive presence of Vince Wilfork. On paper, the Patriots could already have a solid rotation, but there are a lot of question marks up front. Sealver Siliga has flashed talent but also been injury prone in his New England career, Chris Jones gets pushed around in the run game, and Alan Branch is starting to get up there in age at 30. The wild card of the group is last year's first round pick, Dominique Easley, who spent most of his rookie season hampered by injuries. If he can regain the explosiveness that made him a dominant force in college, he'll be a big disruptive addition to the front seven, but that appears to be a risky projection at this point.
I expect the Patriots to stick to their board and take the best player available in the first round. That approach could very well lead them to taking a defensive tackle, as depth at other positions in the draft could push a good one into the Pats range. Even if they don't address the position that early, I'd be surprised if the Pats don't tap into a decent crop of defensive tackles at some point to add to their rotation up front.
I view defensive tackle as a moderate to high need for the team at this point. I would only prioritize offensive line and safety/cornerback as bigger needs for the team at this time.
The need for an addition in the middle of the defensive line is obvious as longtime fixture Vince Wilfork has departed. While Vince skills regressed in recent years, he was still a force to be reckoned with and consistently drew double teams while clogging up the middle.
As of now, the Patriots primary run-stoppers up the middle are Sealver Siliga, Alan Branch, and last season's first round pick Dominique Easley.
This position will be addressed at some point in the draft, however my gut tells me the team is going offensive line in the first round. I believe they will selected a defensive tackle in the 2nd or 3rd round.
2. Who do you view as an ideal fit at Defensive Tackle in the first round?
This is difficult to determine, solely because we won't know who will be on the board when the Patriots pick. That said, in a perfect world, either Arik Armstead or Danny Shelton would be ideal, given their size and ability to play a variety of techniques up front. That said I don't know if either will be there. So the most realistic possibility is either Eddie Goldman or Jordan Phillips.
If the Patriots are seeking a replacement for Wilfork, there won't be a better available option than Florida State's Eddie Goldman. At 6'4" and 336 pounds, Goldman is built like a house and possesses excellent power. A prototypical two-gapper, Goldman has the frame and strength to anchor against double teams and hold the point of attack. Goldman also has deceptive athleticism for a man his size (he was a high school basketball player) and will chip in with the occasional pass rush, but his real value comes in his ability to clog up rushing lanes. Drafting a space eater of this caliber would certainly make Jamie Collins and Dont'a Hightower very happy, as both linebackers benefited greatly from Wilfork's ability to occupy extra blockers. It would also dramatically improve the Patriots overall depth up front, which could be extra important this year with divison rival Buffalo shifting to a run-heavy attack under new coordinator Greg Roman.
Malcolm Brown- Texas
The big question here is whether or not this player will be available at the 32nd pick. Currently being mocked in the mid to late 1st round, it is possible Bill would have to maneuver up within the round to select Brown.
Brown, at 6'2", 320 pounds, shows impressive quickness for his size, and at his best was one of the more disruptive defensive lineman in college football. He is an excellent run stopper and fits the bill as Vince Wilfork's replacement. Much like Big Vince, he has proven adept at shedding blockers and dealing with consistent double teams. From a Patriots perspective, another attractive quality is his ability to play in multiple schemes. His biggest question mark is his ability to maintain a high level of play for extended periods of time, but I don't view this as an insurmountable flaw.
There are a number of great first round candidates in this draft, but Malcolm Brown tops my personal list of players I would like to see in Foxborough. If Brown is selected prior to the Patriots time at the podium (very possible), my second preference at this spot would be Eddie Goldman from Florida State.
3. Should the Pats wait until Day 2 to address this need, who do you view as possible fits?
I do not believe they should wait until day two to take a DT, unless there is still a top flight player at the CB or OG positions. If the Patriots do decide to wait, top options would include Carl Davis, Michael Bennet, and Grady Jarrett. Out of those three, Bennett intrigues me the most. Having the Urban Meyer connection only helps his odds of Belichick liking him.
While there will be plenty of possibilities in the range, two names have stood out to me so far. One is Auburn's Gabe Wright, who boasts an impressive combination of size (6'3", 300) and burst off the snap. Wright isn't the anchor Goldman is against the run, but he uses his quick first step well to disrupt plays with upfield penetration. Scouts were disappointed in a dip in his production from 2013 to 2014, but he clearly has the physical tools to make an impact at the next level. Wright appears to be on the Patriots radar (none other than Bill Belichick worked him out after Auburn's Pro Day), and could still be on the board when the Pats are projected to hit the clock (64th overall pick). He likely won't last much longer if the Pats don't pounce on him there.
Another intriguing name is Fresno State's Tyeler Davison. Davison comes in a bit under the radar thanks to playing lesser competition in the Mountain West, where he was all conference first team in 2014 and 2012 and second team in 2013. At 6'2" and 316 pounds with exciting raw power, quick feet and long (34") arms, Davison has an intriguing skill-set that leads NFL.com's Lance Zierlein to compare him to Bills standout Kyle Williams. Nicknamed "Rhino" for his violent playing style, Davison has enough size to take on double teams and is an absolute bull of a pass rusher (8 sacks in 2014). He also comes lauded for his character and was a workhorse in college, playing 80% of the defensive snaps. He could be an ideal target in the late third/early fourth round range, where the Patriots currently have three picks.
Grady Jarrett is a player to keep an eye on if the Patriots choose to address the position on day 2 of the draft. Grady played college ball at Clemson, and at 6'1", 304 pounds is considered undersized for the position. His player profile is comparable to Dom Easley, and the two could make a dynamic tandem on the interior of the defensive line of the Patriots.
With Siliga and Branch likely serving as the go-to "cloggers," Easley and Jarrett are both smaller, but more explosive D-tackles who specialize at penetrating the backfield and being disruptive. The main knock on Jarrett is that he is moved easily, largely due to the fact he is undersized at the position, but I think it is a flaw that could be overcome.
He seems like a player who fits the mold of what Bill Belichick is trying to do with the defense, and is definitely a player I could see emerging as an intriguing second day prospect for New England.
4. Give us a late round sleeper who could emerge as a surprise contributor in camp
Henry Anderson is not a true sleeper, but is viewed as more of a DT/DE hybrid. At his size (6'6", 295 lbs), he can play either position, though experts seem to like him more at DE. I think he could add a bit of weight and become a decent defensive tackle.
I'm going back to Auburn and another prospect Belichick personally worked out in private following their Pro Day with Angelo Blackson. Blackson was a merely rotational cog with the Tigers, starting only five games in 2014, but his physical ability has drawn scouts attention during the pre-draft process. At 6'4" and 318 pounds, Blackson has a big frame with enough power to occupy double teams against the run. He's also flashed plus athleticism for a man his size throughout testing, and finished second on Auburn's defense in sacks last season despite his strictly rotational role. That disruptive potential was on display on the game's biggest stage in the 2013 National Championship Game, when he forced a Jameis Winston fumble that Auburn recovered.. His prowess on special teams (four blocked kicks in his career) surely hasn't gone unnoticed by Belichick and the coaching staff either, who would likely relish the opportunity to land a previously under-utilized talent like this with their sixth round pick (177th overall, second pick of the round).
One thing we know when it comes to Bill Belichick's draft habits: He loves him some Rutgers players, and he loves him some Florida players. The list of current and former Patriots from these schools is long, and was lengthened last season with the selection of defensive tackle Dominique Easley.
A name to keep an eye on at the D-Tackle position as a late round sleeper for the Patriots is former Florida lineman Leon Orr. His senior season was not pretty. He dealt with injuries and ended up leaving the team in-season after losing his starting role. So there are both injury and maturity red flags, but Orr strikes me as a classic Bill Belichick project player.
Orr does have great upside. At 6'5", 323 lbs, he is a monstrosity of a main, and brings excellent athleticism to the position. He can play multiple positions and has flashed ability as a phenomenal run stopping tackle. He is currently projected as a 7th round pick or UDFA, but he jumps out to me as a player I could see the Patriots taking a chance on.
5. The Pats have shown a willingness in the past to invest in prospects whose stock has taken a hit due to injury rather than on-field performance. Name a prospect at Defensive Tackle that fits that bill.
Michael Bennett was unable to participate at the combine due to a hamstring issue, and has had injury concerns during his time at Ohio State. That said, Bennett still will likely go on day two in the 2nd or 3rd round.
Injuries aren't the only factor that have pushed UCLA's Ellis McCarthy down draft boards, but they've certainly contributed to his projected slide. At 6'5" and 338 pounds, McCarthy has rare size and power, which once had him a five-star recruit coming into college. However, discipline/weight/injury issues (likely all related) derailed his college career, as the big man only made eight starts in three years as a Bruin. Despite his physical talent, he'll likely be around late in the draft thanks to an alarming medical history that includes surgeries on both knees, including a torn meniscus. Questions about his commitment, stemming largely (pun intended) from his constantly fluctuating weight (he ballooned up to 350 pounds at one point) haven't made him any more attractive to teams, and it now appears that he could slide deep into Day Three. However, if properly motivated, his size and space-eating upside could make him worth a shot with late round pick.
Orr, the player I just mentioned, struggled with injury throughout his days at Florida and is someone I could see the team taking a chance on late in the draft.
Another name to keep an eye on is Michael Bennett, a prospect out of Ohio State. A nagging groin injury kept him out of the combine, but his stock has not taken a serious hit, and he is currently projected as a first or second round pick. If he is there, despite the groin issue, I could see the Patriots selecting Bennett.