It's no secret that defensive tackle is one of the Patriots bigger draft needs this year. With Vince Wilfork joining a plethora of former Patriots in Houston, the rotation is currently headlined by injury question marks (Sealver Siliga, Dominique Easley) and an aging veteran in Alan Branch. While that rotation could be solid if all breaks the Pats way, heading into the season without reinforcements would be risky to say the least.
Fortunately for the Patriots, there's a strong class of defensive tackles in this years draft. Even if USC's Leonard Williams, Washington's Danny Shelton and Texas' Malcom Brown all go early as projected, the Pats could have a shot at either FSU's Eddie Goldman (whom I wrote about on Monday) or Oklahoma's Jordan Phillips as a consolation prize.
While I view Goldman as the safer pick and better overall scheme-fit, Phillips has the upside to develop into an All-Pro caliber defender. Boasting a rare combination of size, power and athleticism, Phillips is a monster capable of single-handedly taking over a game when fully focused and motivated. Equally adept at holding his ground against multiple blockers or penetrating upfield, his unique skillset could be utilized in any scheme. Pairing him with the explosive Easley could give the Patriots a dynamic duo on the interior for years to come.
Arm length: 34 3/4th"
Hands: 9 3/8th"
40 time 5.17
Broad jump 105"
3 cone drill 7.88
20 yd shuffle 4.68
|Graphic via www.sports-reference.com|
NFL.com makes an apt comparison of Phillips to newly signed Redskins NT Terrance Knighton. Like Knighton, Phillips stands out immediately on tape due to his size. When on their game, both players are capable of physically dominating a game both as run pluggers and pass rushers. Just as Knighton struggled earlier in his career to realize his massive potential, Phillips arguably underachieved as a Sooner, merely flashing the dominance he's capable of. Phillips' hot-and-cold motor also brings to mind former Lion and new Rams DT Nick Fairley, who has been a productive pro but has yet to truly put together the kind of dominant season his talent suggests he's capable of. If a pro team can unlock his potential the way Denver eventually did with Knighton, Phillips could turn into one hell of a pro.
- Rare size and length
- Power to anchor against double teams
- Size to clog interior rushing lanes
- Extremely athletic for his size, surprisingly rangy in pursuit (check out 4:46 mark of the Clemson film for evidence of freak ability)
- Height and length to disrupt passing lanes
- Developing pass rusher who overwhelms single blocking
- Immense upside, only scratching the surface of his potential
- Motor/focus runs hot and cold. Disappears for stretches
- Tendency to stand upright and negate natural strength advantage
- College production didn't match physical talent
- Missed all but 4 games in 2013 with back surgery
At this point, Phillips seems entrenched in the second-tier of top defensive tackle prospects. The aforementioned trio of Williams, Shelton and Brown appear to have separated themselves as the top three prospects at the position, with Oregon's Arik Armstead lurking as a high-upside wild card that could go in the top 15 or slide out of the first round entirely. Goldman and Phillips are the remaining prospects with first round grades and appear to be the two most likely to be on the board when the Pats pick at 32.
Will the Patriots draft him?
If both Phillips and Goldman are on the board, my gut tells me they'll lean towards the safer pick in Goldman, who appears to be a ready-made pro with a high floor as a two-gapping run stuffer. However, that certainly doesn't eliminate Phillips from consideration, as his upside will certainly make him a tempting option at 32.
As of now, the Patriots have not met privately with Phillips, although they had representation at Oklahoma's Pro Day. I wouldn't read too much into that; like most teams, the Patriots put most of their evaluation stock in the game tape over anything else. They've drafted plenty of players without formally meeting them in the pre-draft process, and likely will again later this month.
The bottom line is simple: if they like the potential Phillips showed on tape, he'll receive serious consideration for their first round pick. It's questionable whether he'll be available at pick 32, as the Lions (pick 22) have shown a lot of interest in Phillips as a potential Suh replacement/Ngata complement. If he falls to 32, he'll certainly be one of the most talented prospects on the board, regardless of position, and a tempting option for a Patriots team with a major need for his size up front.